Good day readers.
2012 – and maybe the world – is coming to an end. We are done with competitions for 2012 so thought it would be good to have a post about what we have gained from competing this year.
I’m going to bring you back to 2011 – this is when we first attempted some all grain beers. The first beer was a Surly Bender clone that I found online (this was before there was a kit for it). This batch, in addition to the next 2 did not attenuate more then 50%. Eventually we figured out that the dial thermometer we were using, although calibrated in ice water, was not at all accurate in the mash temperature range. After several dumped batches a new thermometer was purchased which was a bit more accurate – close enough to be dangerous at least.
A couple more batches were attempted and were drinkable, but had some off flavors. Eventually these were found to be from the water in my city being very poor for brewing (mineral levels are not typical for the area, Mg is especially high and above ideal levels), so we started using water from another city and our beers improved again. By this point we were nearing the end of 2011 and had brewed 16 all grain batches. I’d say 10 of these batches were good enough to drink, the other 6 were bad and were mostly dumped. At the end of 2011 we were pretty dejected and weren’t really sure how much longer we’d keep brewing, there were just too many batches not turning out (due to process issues, recipe flaws, etc). This is basically like in Return of the King when Frodo is ready to give up and Samwise the Brave gives the inspiring talk about there being some good left in the world that is worth fighting for.
I (and my brew-partner Jay) still believed there was some hope, and it was worth fighting for. I immersed myself in brewing literature, podcasts, etc. and figured out a few things to work on. First was to start using Reverse Osmosis water and add back some minerals/salts to desired levels. Second was the use of pure O2 instead of just shaking the carboy to aerate. Third was to stop taking liberties with recipes or to try to create them until we knew more about recipe formulation.
The first batch we attempted in 2012 was Jamil’s Evil Twin. We used RO water and used the water profile that Tasty McDole uses for his hoppy beers (Ca-110ppm, Mg-17ppm, Na-17ppm, SO4-350ppm, Cl-50ppm). We pitched the proper amount of yeast and added 60 seconds of O2. A month later were were drinking a delicious IPA – it really is a great recipe. In addition to the use of RO water and adding O2, an important thing here is that we started to really pay attention to detail with this batch. We took detailed notes, followed the recipe to a T and didn’t really drink much during the brew day – a previous requirement while brewing.
After a very successful batch in Evil Twin we made a special bitter – Jamil’s ordinary Bitter recipe made slightly bigger (by accident). We thought this was a pretty fantastic beer, so we entered it in the 2012 March Mashness competition thinking this would reveal some process flaws we could try to fix next. To our surprise, this scored a 35 and took 2nd in the English Ales category. The only things the judges said was that it was lacking a bit in hop bitterness for the style.
After that competition we really became confident in our process and stopped looking to the next big technique or piece of equipment that could help us make better beer. We kept brewing and started entering more competitions towards the end of summer where we had some decent results. We kept tweaking the special bitter recipe and it eventually took 1st in it’s category at the State Fair (42.5), but since then it has not done well in competition due to oxidation issues.
This is one area of our process that we have now addressed as a result of competition feedback. Instead of racking with an autosiphon and gravity, we have started using a closed transfer system using CO2 to push the beer from a Better Bottle to a keg. We also started capping on foam when filling bottles from a keg – I believe these 2 process changes will eliminate oxidation issues. When we can fit it in, we will redeem ourselves by entering the Special Bitter again – it’s a matter of honor (“Well of course it’s going to be dangerous if it’s a matter of fucking honor” – if you haven’t seen In Bruges stop reading and go buy it – I know you don’t want to watch it because Collin Farrell is in it, but do it anyway – you won’t regret it).
There were 7 styles we competed with. We picked 4 styles to try to rebrew for some competitions coming up in early 2013 based on feedback received throughout the year.
American Pale Ale
I am not positive we’ll get to the IPA, but the Mild and APA have been brewed and the IIPA will be brewed next week. These will be entered in 3-4 competitions in January and February. I went into detail about the recipe evolution for the English Mild (Chrickhollow Mild) in this post. The IPA (Erebor Pale Ale), if brewed will not change much as it’s done very well in competition already, but the dry hopping will be increased as we only used 1 oz last time (would use around 3 oz in the rebrew). The IIPA (Hamfast the Gaffer) will be mashed slightly higher as it finished around 1.009 last time and was missing a hint of malt backbone that the judges are looking for. I think we could get it to finish around 1.011, but I wouldn’t want it any higher and this may not even be noticeable.
I was a bit torn on what to do with the APA (Bagshot Pale). This got 1st in Hoppy Halloween (judged in late October) in the American Ales category with a 37.5. The scoresheet stated that it was missing some malt flavor, which I agreed with. The middle was lacking some flavor, but otherwise this beer was exactly what I was shooting for. I also submitted it in SCH*ABC V and Land of the Muddy Waters, both competitions were judged on 11/10/12. By Mid November, the beer was about 8 weeks old and the hop flavor had started to fade a bit. The malt character was more noticeable. It took 1st at Land of the Muddy Waters and 3rd at SCH*ABC V. The scoresheets now were saying the malt comes through a little more than the hops, which makes sense as it ages. I decided to add about 3.5% Victory Malt and also increase the hot steep (basically whirlpool addition) by about 25% and the dry hop by 50%. I’m hoping this will provide just a little bit of malt flavor when fresh, and the increase in hops will keep the hop aroma/flavor around a bit longer (which probably won’t happen, but we’ll see). This was brewed last Saturday so we’ll see how this ends up coming out in a few weeks.
I can honestly say that competitions have helped improve the quality of the beer that we brew. They are a great source for feedback for your brewing process as well as your recipes. One important point is that you aren’t going to get much out of entering a beer one time, it really pays to send it to as many competitions as you can.
We entered 21 beers in 7 competitions and ended up with 16 top 3 places and 1 best in show. For all the 2012 results, go to the competitions page here.
We’ll definitely be entering competitions throughout 2013, but are likely only going to enter and brew beers we really like as accurate stylistic interpretations (like a Mild, Special Bitter, IIPA, APA, etc) so as not to limit ourselves in whatever else we become inspired to brew (Pacific hopped IPA, smoked/oaked Hobbit Mild, etc.) and also because we want to use the Beer Engine Caskegerator a bit more and typically beers are better when you brew them with cask conditioning/serving in mind as opposed to brewing them for competition.
Hamfast “the Gaffer” Gamgee