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Quenching a thirst for fun in Coney Island

Eighteen local beer brewers embellished the “freaky fun” nature of Coney Island as Peggy O’Neill’s, 1904 Surf Avenue, hosted its first annual Coney Island Homebrew competition on Saturday, March 7. Attendees tasted samples that included golden vanilla beer, lavender and cherry pale ale.

The event was the brainchild of James Quigley, co-owner of Peggy O’Neil’s, who was more than happy to host, as it combined his three passions: Coney Island, running a business and homebrewed beer.

First, second and third place cash prizes were decided by a celebrity judge panel that included John Avelluto of the Bay Ridge Homebrewers League; Roger Clark of NY1 News; Dick Zigun, founder/artistic director of Coney Island USA (CIUSA) and others.

Sponsored by several breweries, all proceeds went to benefit CIUSA, a not-for-profit arts organization behind the Mermaid Parade and other Coney-friendly happenings.

“That’s what’s great about homebrewing – it’s that even if there is a competition, everybody is on everybody’s side,” said John LaPolla, founder of Bitter & Ester’s, an event sponsor. “Nobody stabs each other. Everyone loves what they’re doing. They all want to try everyone’s beers.”

The event was met with wide approval amongst the brewers.

“Well, it’s very exhilarating,” said Kevin Heidel, brewer of Lavendula, which won the People’s Choice award. “This community of beermaking is very supportive and very fun to be a part of.”

“I think if he does this for another two or three years, this is going to end up being an entire community thing,” said Tony Kilmer, one homebrewer. “We’re bringing together a whole bunch of people that A) love the art of crafting beer and B) love the art of drinking beer. How could you go wrong? It’s a beautiful thing. How often do you get a chance to make something in your own home out of your own love, so you share with everybody?”

First place prize went to Charles Gotard, who has homebrewed with his girlfriend for nearly two years and entered the competition to showcase a fourth batch of beer created last summer, often having friends taste-test.

“He’s good, dedicated, he likes brewing beer,” said Greg Morrich, Gotard’s close friend. “If anything, I just hope the prize gives him the confidence that his beer is good. Tonight just proved that it’s not just us who say it’s a good beer. Eight judges, Sam Adams and Brooklyn Brewery voted and they picked him number one and I’m happy for him.”

Quigley said the event’s purpose was to help draw more people to Coney Island, a place open all-year round.

“From a Coney Island perspective, rides open up in three weeks, summer’s right around the corner,” said Quigley. “Come out to Coney Island and have a great time.”

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