By Julia Burke, Beer Editor

This weekend hundreds of beer drinkers gathered on Grand Island to celebrate a single passion: homebrewing.

The "Amber Waves of Grain Homebrewing Competition," hosted by the Niagara Association of Homebrewers, celebrates the ultimate in "drinking local" over two days of tasting and judging over 420 entries, from double IPAs to meads to barleywines.

The quality of the homebrews I tasted was unequivocally impressive. Of the beers I tasted in the American Stout/Imperial Stout/Foreign Export Stout category, almost all were pleasures to drink, and one was so good I would have chosen it over many classic commercial examples.

Judge Tim Collins, who has been judging AWOG for 15 years, noted, "the quality has risen thanks to the availability of good information. Beginning homebrewers can get a recipe online, get advice from friends or a homebrewing club, and make a great beer."

Many of the judges I spoke with were longtime homebrewers who were enthusiastic about the competition not only because of the sensory challenge and sense of camaraderie, but the chance to learn and improve their own brewing. Other judges were professional brewers, BJCP-certified experts in beer evaluation, and leaders of local beer clubs. The diversity in background and the open, friendly, discussion-based atmosphere made for a tremendous beer tasting experience.

As more and more homebrewers team up to form brewing clubs and even nanobreweries and microbreweries of their own, it's exciting to experience the amazing talent and great beer emerging from the basements, kitchens and garages of western New York.

You can view the results of the Amber Waves of Grain 2011 competition online.