What I Learned: 2013 National Homebrew Competition

What did I get out of from this year’s National  Homebrew Competition? One that I cannot complain about my scores at all. Two, it is pretty awesome that all of my beers went to their respective Mini-BOS. Three, what can I do to make my beer stand out against the competition in a Mini-BOS? The beers I sent to this year’s NHC were just five beers I had around the house that were worth submitting to this year’s competition.

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Three of them are my go to beers the other two beers were experiments per se, and they scored the best!

Chocolate Hazelnut Porter (BJCP Category 21A) – this beer has won m
e quite a few awards. It advanced to the second round of 2011 NHC with the same recipe, and it’s normally a holiday time brew. It’s usually on tap at my house up until May. I’ve almost blown that keg this year.

Judges Overall Impression –

Judge 1 – Certified: Great example of your chosen style and description! Score: 41

Judge 2 – Certified: Well balanced cocoa & hazelnut – Roasted grain & other porter characteristics are subdued & might benefit from being brought forward a bit. Score: 38

Hoppin’ Oaked Saison Squared (BJCP Category 22C) – woah! This scored a 41? I entered it as a Saison IPA aged on medium french oak chips. I brewed this beer for an intra-club competition and I entered this solely to get feedback from people outside of my homebrew club. I’ll enter this into other competitions just to see how it will do, and as the judges noted, I needed to be better on my description which the next competition I entered it into, I was a bit more descriptive.

Judges Overall Impression –

Judge 1 – Certified: An excellent beer. The flavors are well matched and compliment each other. You need to do a better description in the future and don’t make the judges guess what the base style is. Score: 43

Judge 2 – Provisional: An interesting beer which as much not a saison as its not an IPA but its nice the wheat and oak makes for a great texture. While Belgian yeast and hops provide a nice bubble gum spiciness, very unique, slightly fusel, but not solventy. For the competition I judged it as an IPA with Saison aspects. Score: 40

Let’s Stout It Out (2012) (BJCP Category 13F), the 2011 version of this turned out really good, but the only problem was that I only brewed a 3 gallon batch and it was really good. So in 2012 I tweaked the recipe a bit based on the success I had with my Regal Porter. I used the base malt I had on hand and also changed to Scottish yeast, which my little secret in 2012 on the malty beers I brewed this year.

Judges Overall Impression –

Judge 1 – Rank Pending: A good representation of the style. Fermentation was well done in order to not be hotter than it is. The alcohol aroma is a bit much. Score: 37

Judge 2 – Master: Has al the right flavor elements, but higher alcohols are a bit too fruity / floral and harsh / hot. Be sure to pitch HUGE for high-grav beer like this, oxygenate well, keep temps under control. Consider different yeast strain. Score: 34

Two Sides of the Schwarz (BJCP Category 4C) – ok I have pretty much had a Schwarzbier on tap at my house since I got a fermentation chamber. I received really good feedback from 2012 NHC so I tweaked the recipe a bit. 2012’s was a bit too roasty for the style. So I backed off of it a bit, and I get a lower score in 2013. Live and learn and keep brewing it.

Judges Overall Impression –

Judge 1 – National: A fairly nice beer that suffers from a little diacetyl. Aside form a diacetyl rest at 68 degrees F 75% of the way through fermentation (75% x (OG – FG)) maybe aerate more and/or lager longer. Otherwise nicely done. Score: 35

Judge 2 – Certified: This is a good beer. That has balance between the base male and the roast. Also has enough hops to balance the malt. Score: 34

Regal Porter (BJCP Category 23A) – this was another experiment at the Wickham Brewery and it turned out phenomenal! This was brewed as an Imperial Porter. Sweet, chewy, luscious, and it is awesome with some ice cream! I only hope I can recreate it. The experiment for this beer was to do a parti-gyle brew day. Which if you haven’t done one, it is a long brew day, but you get TWO beers out of it, which is spectacular. The beer had almost six months of age on it and it is just getting better with time. I’m really proud to get a 43 on this beer.

Judges Overall Impression –

Judge 1 – National: Very well made beer with no major technical flaws. Imperialzing this beer amped up the good parts of the base style without adding any unpleasant harshness. It may benefit slight with more carb & perhaps cutting back on the highly kilned malts a touch. Score: 42

Judge 2 – Certified: An excellent Impl porter. Roastiness, malt sweetness, hops & alcohol are all bumped up but not harsh or conflicting. More carbonation is needed to improve aroma, appearance, and to maybe thin (dry) out the flavor a little. Score: 44

I learned quite a bit from most of these sheets. The one glaring thing is when submitting specialty beers, be very descriptive of your beer. You do not want to keep the judge guessing. After judging at my local competition this weekend I totally I understand. I was judging fruit beers and there were a couple beers that did not state the base style so I had to make assumptions. After we were done judging the competition I found the second bottle of the entry and the name says what the style was. So there you have it and of course I was wrong on one of the base styles. But it still scored well, I at least got the category number right.

I submitted the same five beers to my homebrew club’s local competition, and I will compare those sheets with these judge comments. Should be interesting. Hopefully this will kick start me to write on my blog more.

Cheers!


Deciphering Judge Comments

I think I’m going to do a series on the blog about this. I just entered two more beers that have been in competitions this year. This will be something good to write about in an upcoming blog post.

I’ve entered quite a few homebrew competitions, and I have really tried to take the feedback as constructive criticism. It is hard to take when someone rips your beer. I’ve sent soured beers, flawed beers, and some good beers. I have been fortunate to get some good feedback, but I have never really been told your beer sucks, which is a good thing. When studying for the BJCP, I learned that the overall impression is not just your impression, but using your brewing knowledge to suggest what the brewer can do to make that beer a better fit into the style in which it was entered. What will make this beer a 50 point beer. I’ll give you a couple examples of what judges have said on my sheets, and just maybe this will help lure you to enter more competitions.

Category 4C: Schwarzbier – Two Sides of the Schwarz

2013 National Homebrew Competition

Judge 1 – National – A fairly nice beer that suffers from a little diacetyl. Aside form a diacetyl rest at 68 degrees F 75% of the way through fermentation (75% x (OG – FG)) maybe aerate more and/or lager longer. Otherwise nicely done.

Judge 2 – Certified – This is a good beer. That has balance between the base malt and the roast. Also has enough hops to balance the malt.

2013 War of the Wort

Judge 3 – Recognized – Light smooth roast with malty richness made a very nice beer. Hop character was a little low in flavor and ok to be hidden in the aroma. Would like to see a little more hop flavor, although with a lighter roasted schwarz this is not completely a bad thing. Very nice beer!

Judge 4 – Certified – Enjoyable well brewed schwarz. I think the bitterness is a tad too intense. Suggest reducing hop bitterness and backing down a little on the sharpness of the roast. Very dry.

Let me note, these entries were from the same keg. So technically unless something was wrong with the bottle, these should have been the same beer. But you know that finicky home brew. So what can I do to make this beer fit better into style? One judge noted diacetyl. Shall I worry too much about the diacetyl that was noted? Not really since I should make my diacetyl rest good practice. It wasn’t a major flaw noted. So what did the judges tell me that will make this a 50 point beer? Not too much. Judges 3 and 4 both noted hop character, but in different aspects. This beer has been lagering since January so of course hop flavors would have dropped out. Judge 4 was the only one to note hop bitterness was harsh. Was it hop bitterness, or did I extract too much roasted bitterness? To conclude, they all four thought it was a well brewed beer, but it wasn’t a great beer. What can I do to make it great? Other than the detected diacetyl, which I do not typically detect in my beers until someone tells me. Mirror? Hello? Then the more hop character. This style has a low to moderate hop character, so I do not believe I will change my hop schedule. My major issue that I get out of these four comments is the diacetyl I need to work on my lagering practice. Patience is not my friend, so that means lagers aren’t my friends either, but I do enjoy drinking a well brewed lager.

Category 13C – Oatmeal Stout – Quaken Oaten Stout

2013 Bluff City Extravaganza

Judge 1 – Non-BJCP – a very drinkable beer. I would have liked some more sweetness and or oatmeal character. As the beer warmed I noticed a slightly tinny/metallic notes though were not overwhelming.

Judge 2 – Non-BJCP – Beer suffers from off flavored and over carbonation. Not sensing oatmeal character. Could be a good beer with tweaking.

2013 War of the Wort

Judge 3 – Provisional – Good beer very drinkable. Maybe try changing mash temps to try to get more unfermentable sugars to balance the bitterness. I would like more oatmeal character too.

Judge 4 – Certified – the beer was not too far off style, but balance was problematic. Tweaking of recipe or procedure is recommended. Needs more oatmeal sweetness/slickness.

These are two different batches, so technically these are different beers, but I want to show you that the judges’ comments are not too different. But it is the same recipe with similar ingredients I could not get Maris Otter for the War of the Wort batch, so I did substitute the base malt for what the home brew shop had in stock. I did have a slight issue with the beers sent to the Extravaganza being over-carbed. Was my fermentation not complete? Apparently not. That was a ding there. That beer sat in the carboy for 3 weeks, guess I needed to raise my fermentation temps up towards the end of fermentation. I am baffled by the way  WLP002 flocculates and it appeared to finish pretty quickly.

I have had trouble getting that oatmeal sweetness/slickness that judge 4 mentioned. Body has been a problem for me with this beer. I need more dextrines. Is the way I handle my oats wrong? I use Quaker oats from the grocery store. Should I use quick oats? Should I cook the oats like I would for breakfast before I mash? I do bake the oats to try to bring out more nutty characters. I will need to ramp up my saccrification rest to 156, I normally mash at 154. This will also help get those long chained sugars I need for more dextrinous wort. This is a beer I want to to nail down as I really enjoy drinking this style.

I know this beer is not a 30 point beer in the oatmeal stout category. It fared better in the War of the Wort. My goal is to perfect this recipe. I will.

How many beers have you let your friends drink and they tell you it’s awesome? It’s great? Well this oatmeal stout, no one has told me to my face it is not quite right, as an oatmeal stout that is. Do they know better? Some of them do. I’ll still drink this keg, sorry rose bush, you’re not getting this beer. I know this, but I wanted some feedback on it outside my circle of friends.

I hope this kind of put a bug into your ear about entering competitions and how they can help you brew better beer. If you only enter one a year, enter the War of the Wort next year, if you enter two, enter HBAMM’s Monster Mash, which will be held in the Oct/Nov time frame.

Cheers!


Albino Squirrel

If you have ever been to Starkville, MS then I’m sure you have heard of Strange Brew Coffeehouse. He has created this coffee house as a staple for StarkVegas. I decided that an attempt to take the flavors in his signature drink and put them into a beer. Yeah, what can be wrong about this, right? The Albino Squirrel has my wife by her reigns. If the thought of Strange Brew pops into her head she instantly think do I want it iced, frozen, or hot. Well, since I’ve been doing some more off the wall things lately with my brewing, I’ve decided I am going to try to recreate this.

For those of you who have no idea what an Albino Squirrel is. I apologize, you’re missing out. You’ll want to get to Starky ASAP, or when he opens his new location in Tupelo next year. It is a coffee drink with white chocolate and hazelnut. Now how in the world am I a going to get white chocolate in my beer? Well white chocolate is essentially cocoa butter, sugar and some milk solids. Well I’m not. My plan is to use cacao nibs in the secondary and then some awesome vanilla at kegging. This will not be exactly white chocolate flavor, but I think it will be pretty close.

Here are some notes at my attempt thus far.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 60 min 14.4 IBUs 4.2 SRM 1.053 1.015 4.9 %
Actuals 1.053 1.01 5.6 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer 21 A 1.03 - 1.11 1.005 - 1.025 0 - 70 5 - 50 2 - 3 2.5 - 12 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale Malt (2 Row) US 6 lbs 54.55
Barley, Flaked 2 lbs 18.18
Oats, Flaked 1 lbs 9.09
Cara-Pils/Dextrine 8 oz 4.55
Caramel/Crystal Malt - 20L 8 oz 4.55
Milk Sugar (Lactose) 1 lbs 9.09

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Northern Brewer 0.5 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 8.5

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
English Ale (WLP002) White Labs 67% 65°F - 68°F

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Mash In 156°F 45 min

Notes

Starkville Water Profile - Water machine in Wal-Mart
Batched sparged at 170 degrees.

Brewed on 9/20/2015

Cacao Nibs soaked in vodka, added after primary fermentation has finished.
Approx 24 oz of weak cold brewed coffee added at kegging
1 ounce of Bourbon Vanilla Paste added at kegging
2 ounces of Hazelnut Extract added at kegging.

Dry Hopped Golden Sour

2015-08-13 21.32.35My first attempt at a kettled-soured Berliner Weisse went awry. I tried to use the yogurt souring method that is posted on the Milk the Funk wiki. Living in the south where we are accustomed to 90+ degree days for two months I pick the one weekend to kettle sour a beer where the lows for the night are in the 60s, go figure right. I whipped up some starter wort and chilled it and then threw my flask into a water bath and turned on my sous vide heater. After about 24 hours I tasted the wort I inoculated, it was a clean yogurt like sour. I then proceeded to brew the Berliner. Brewed, pitched the soured starter, bubbled 30 seconds of CO2 into the wort, covered with plastic wrap, then the lid and forgot about it. The next day, I went outside to check on it, my wort was sitting at 70 degrees. Yes, it felt glorious outside, and a cold front coming through in August. *head slap* I let it sit one more day and it still tasted like sweet wort with just a twinge of sour in the background. *head slap* Well the expierement was watering my grass. Ahh, well. Yes it took me all this to tell you why I was brewing this “Golden Sour”. My all knowing self really believed that I had enough grains to brew another Berliner and use the Omega Yeast Labs Lactobacillus blend. I thought wrong. *head slap* Kitchen sink time, I already knew I wanted to brew this evening so here we go.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 60 min 0.0 IBUs 4.9 SRM 1.047 1.008 5.2 %
Actuals 1.046 1.01 4.7 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Style 1.035 - 1.055 1.008 - 1.015 10 - 30 2 - 10 2.2 - 2.8 2 - 5 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale Malt (2 Row) US 7.75 lbs 75.61
Barley, Flaked 1 lbs 9.76
Rye Malt 12 oz 7.32
Aromatic Malt 8 oz 4.88
Acidulated (Weyermann) 4 oz 2.44

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Meridian 2 oz 7 days Dry Hop Pellet 5.5

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
American West Coast Ale (BRY-97) Lallemand/Danstar 77% 59°F - 71.6°F
Lactobacillus Blend (OYL-605) Omega 72% 68°F - 95°F
Brevis/WLP011 European Ale Home 72% 64°F - 69°F

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Mash In 148°F 75 min

Notes

Brewed after work on a Friday evening.

Process:
----------
Chilled to approx 95 degrees. Called it good enough, pitched Lacto blend. Let it sit in my carport for approx 48 hours. Put the carboy in my fermentation chamber at 66 degrees. Let it cool down to ambient temp in the chamber then pitched the slurry.

2015-09-04 23.46.56After 3 or 4 days I noticed that I did not see any sign of fermentation. Hmmmm. This is not good. I checked my gravity and I was hovering around 1.038. Something needs to happen, because I’m ready to drink this beer.

I dug around in my fridge and found lots of dry yeast. I have way too much yeast on hand, but I decided to give it a go and pitch a pack of the Lallemand BRY-97. The next day I walk outside to check on the fermentation and I see signs! Whew! I let go for about 4 days, I check my gravity once again I’m sitting at 1.010. I go ahead and dry hop it and now it is almost ready to package.

2015-09-13 09.06.22Getting a dry-hopped sour ale has really challenged me. I guess this one of many reasons I brew. The sample I pulled tasted pretty good and I am really looking forward to this beer. These experiments have really kept me going lately.


“Bourbon Barrel” Aged Let’s Stout It Out (2015)

If you ask people about the style of beer that I’m most known for the answer will be an imperial stout. I have brewed one at least once a year for the past four years. Well this year has been no different. I brewed one in January and now this is my second iteration of Let’s Stout It Out this year. But I am putting a twist to this batch. I have some oak chips soaking in bourbon right now. I normally let my RIS go about 6 weeks in the fermenter. I’ll strain the bourbon off the oak chips and throw them right in, then will sample it every so often to make sure I don’t get too much bourbon character. I’m looking forward to enjoying this beer come Thanksgiving this year.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
6 gal 60 min 58.4 IBUs 51.6 SRM 1.092 1.027 8.6 %
Actuals 1.092 1.01 10.9 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Imperial Stout 13 F 1.075 - 1.115 1.018 - 1.03 50 - 90 30 - 40 1.8 - 2.6 8 - 12 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pale Malt, Maris Otter 19 lbs 80.85
Roasted Barley 1.5 lbs 6.38
Special B Malt 1 lbs 4.26
Caramel/Crystal Malt -120L 8 oz 2.13
Caramunich Malt 8 oz 2.13
Chocolate Malt 8 oz 2.13
Pale Chocolate 8 oz 2.13

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Warrior 1.5 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 15.6

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Edinburgh Ale (WLP028) White Labs 73% 65°F - 70°F
Scottish Ale (1728) Wyeast Labs 71% 55°F - 75°F

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Mash In 155°F 60 min

Notes

Longview Water Profile - Straight from the faucet through a carbon filter

Batched sparged at 170 degrees.

Brew day at my house with Ron. He brought his equipment and brewed a Lemon Lime Wit that day. This was my second brew for the Labor Day weekend.

2015-09-10 06.20.16I missed my numbers pretty badly with this beer. My SG should have been in the 1.085 range and I believe I was hovering around 1.075. My volumes were more like 7.75 gallons than 7.25. I boiled it hard for an extra 30 minutes or so to get my SG. That is when I put the hops in. I may have been a bit under my 5.5 gallons into the fermenter, but that is just fine.

Yes, I used two different yeast companies. I knew I wanted to brew this beer and I went to a LHBS and he did not have another vial of WLP028 so I bought the Wyeast smack pack off of him. 2000 mL starter for 3 days, cold crashed and then another 2000 mL wort on top of it. I had a nice healthy pitch for this beer. As you can see from the looks of my messy fermentation chamber. It blew the little white cap off of the carboy cap and I have beer in the bottom of the fermentation chamber. I just cleaned up the chamber from an exploding hefe. Yes, blow off tubes need to be use, but this is less than 5.5 gallons in a 6.5 gallon carboy, surely I had enough head space. No sir! I have brewed this beer 6 or 7 times and I have never had a blow up like this. First time for everything I suppose.
2015-09-22 07.37.419/27/2015 – Soaked 4 ounces of medium toast oak chips in bourbon for 3 weeks. Added everything that was in the mason jar to the fermenter.


Cucumber Saison

I have always been intrigued by adding cucumbers to a beer. Either a Kolsch or Saison would work very well. After listening to the Basic Brewing podcast (link to podcast) with Prairie Artisan Ales inspired the grain bill. Also I actually got to use the grains of paradise I bought a few years ago, even though it was just a few grams. Everywhere I researched, just a couple grams in a 5 gallon batch gets enough flavor to come through. I thought the grains of paradise would be a nice touch to the cucumbers and give it a touch of spice that was missing from a pervious batch. I threw in the ounce of citra at the end of the boil to complement the melon aspect of the hop variety. I believe the cucumbers and citra hops will pair well together.

I purchased the yeast from a small yeast company, Boutique Yeast. I found out about him through the Milk the Funk Facebook Group. It is a saison/brett blend yeast. This blend threw a lot of fruit and a little bit of brett funk. I made a saison earlier this summer using this and have throughly enjoyed the yeast character in. Which is why wanted to brew it another batch, but this time spike it with cucumbers. I did not save my yeast cake (like a dummy) from the previous batch so this batch will give me one more shot at saving it this time.The carboy on the right is the brett saison. Brett cider on the left.

I could not find much information any brett saisons with cucumbers. I’m sure a homebrewer has done this before, but a simple google search came up with a few posts asking for information. I have found a couple different ways of handing the cucumber with other people’s experiments. Talking with the owner of Crooked Letter Brewing Company he did a tincture with cucumbers and white rum to spike a keg of their Crooked Heffy which he says turned out quite well and the rum complemented the Heffey. I’m leaning towards making my tincture with vodka. That way I have all of the control of how much flavor actually goes into the keg of beer. The other way is to secondary the beer on top of peeled and seeded cucumbers. But that would mean I would have to try the beer daily to make sure the cucumber flavor did not overwhelm the beer which seems to have been a problem with a lot of other brewer’s attempt at such a beer.

I brewed this beer for the Starkville Arts Council yearly fundraiser, Forks & Corks & Taps. Previously this has just been an exclusive wine pairing with the local restaurants. This year they decided to add a beer element to the event since there are so many breweries popping up in the state of Mississippi. They asked the Golden Triangle Brewers to have a table at the event to represent the homebrew element which I thought is a really good touch and I wanted to bring them something that a local brewery may nor may not bring to the table.

All in all, to do an “experimental” beer for a prestigious event like this in my small little town I guess took a bit of gumption on my part. I’m surprised I just didn’t pull out something that was comfortable. Not this guy.

Following is my recipe and some of the notes I took so far.

Recipe Details

Batch Size Boil Time IBU SRM Est. OG Est. FG ABV
5.5 gal 90 min 24.1 IBUs 4.1 SRM 1.049 1.010 5.1 %
Actuals 1.046 1.01 4.7 %

Style Details

Name Cat. OG Range FG Range IBU SRM Carb ABV
Saison 16 C 1.048 - 1.065 1.002 - 1.012 20 - 35 5 - 14 2.3 - 2.9 5 - 7 %

Fermentables

Name Amount %
Pilsner (2 Row) Bel 8 lbs 80
White Wheat Malt 1 lbs 10
CBCC Candi- Blonde 1 lbs 10

Hops

Name Amount Time Use Form Alpha %
Hallertau 2.5 oz 60 min Boil Pellet 2.7
Citra 1 oz 0 min Boil Pellet 13.9

Miscs

Name Amount Time Use Type
Grains of Paradise 2.00 g 0 min Boil Spice

Yeast

Name Lab Attenuation Temperature
Brett Saison (BY-A) Boutique Yeast 72% 64°F - 69°F

Mash

Step Temperature Time
Mash In 148°F 75 min

Notes

Batched sparged at 170 degrees.

Yeast was prepared with a 2000 mL starter for a 5 days prior to brew day. The starter took a few days to take off, but once it did, it went off with a vengeance. I pitched the yeast about 12 hours after high krausen of the yeast starter.The picture in the post shows the beer at high krausen, or what I believe to high krausen. That is when I added the Blond Cascade Beer Candi Syrup. I didn’t do it during the boil because I tend to not stir the sugar good enough to get it off the bottom of the pot and it scorches.I did not use any whirlfloc with this beer also, why it is so murky looking. And my chiller decided to spring a leak. That means this bad boy got racked to the carboy as soon as possible and pitched my yeast the next morning.

August 6, 2015

Kegged the saison today. It was pretty tasty without the cucumbers. I started off with .5mL of cucumber vodka per ounce of beer to sample. The wife and I agreed that it was way too much cucumber. Next sample was .5mL of cucumber vodka to 2 ounces of beer. Was still a strong aroma and flavor. I liked it a lot. So that is what I went with. I spiked the keg with 175mL of the cucumber vodka and am carbing it up to serve at the event August 15th.