Homebrew Competition Time

September 20, 2011

After years of homebrewing, I had always been interested in entering a competition to get some feedback on my brewing and maybe actually compete for an award. On the other hand, given how subjective beer tasting can be and how widely different palates can be, I had always been hesitant.

Last year I entered the Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews at the Albany Pump Station to see how the whole experience would be. I wound up entering six beers in the competition, and though I wound up getting a few awards, it’s the feedback that was most important. Of the judges that reviewed my beers, several were professional brewers from brewpubs in the region, some worked at homebrew shops, and a bunch were homebrewers that were certified judges. The experience levels of these people varied drastically from novice judges up to the very experienced ones.

When I read through all of the comments, there definitely seemed to be a divide between the judges that work in the field professionally and the judges that were homebrewers that were staying involved in their hobby by being judges. The homebrewer judges seemed to be a bit more strict and narrow in interpretation of styles, while the judges that were pro brewers tended to be more accepting of the outer edges of the guidelines. That’s just an observation, and I’m not complaining. The differences in the viewpoints and perspectives in the comments were interesting and lead to some ideas on how to alter the recipes if I wanted certain beers to do better in the competition.

The fact that three different judges review each beer is nice in that you get three different levels of experience, three different viewpoints, and three different sets of preferences from which your beers are judged. Given the different perspectives, you kind of have to give the subjective comments on flavor and aroma a wide berth, the comments on technical flaws all seem to be pretty accurate. As I’m not overly experienced at detecting off-flavors (at Siebel I found there are some off-flavors I can’t detect very well even in significant quantity), that’s the aspect of the judging that I really look for, and where competitions can be really helpful to me as a brewer.

All in all, going to the Pump Station in November last year with a couple homebrewing friends to hang out during the competition was an absolute blast. This competition is coming up again this November, and now I’m living much closer so it’s even easier to get out there for it. I have yeast en route that I ordered so I can finally start brewing in my apartment here in Cooperstown (I would use yeast from the brewery, but I don’t plan on making any Belgian styles anytime soon), and hope to have some beers ready to submit to the Battle of the Brews at the end of October.

My goal as a brewer right now, other than continuing to research opening a brewery myself, is to seriously work on tweaking some recipes and getting them to the point where I’m happy with them and can call them finished products. For the competition I’m hoping to be able to submit the next iteration of my Dark Mild Ale, a combined version of last year’s chocolate porter and coffee porter, and a new version of all the Rye Pale Ales I’ve been making. Hopefully I get my yeast in a couple days and can start brewing again this weekend. I’m working on getting all of these recipes finalized, and will post them as I brew them.

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