A bar in downtown Troy called The Ruck is holding their first annual Extreme Homebrewing Competition in June. It’s focused on six different brews:

  • Rye: grist has to contain 30% rye at least
  • “Funky”: a significant amount of non-grain adjuncts
  • A beer with both fruit and spice
  • Platiunum: a Bud Light Platinum kind of beer with high alcohol and low body (ironically, everyone will likely have the most difficult time with this beer)
  • Black IPA
  • Ahtanum: a single-hop beer using only Ahtanum hops

The competition allows teams of up to three brewers to make the six different beers, so I’ll be working with a couple homebrewing friends in the Capital Region, Bill and Angelos. Those guys have a lot of experience experimenting with all sorts of adjuncts, fruits, and spices, so they’re taking care of the two beers requiring them (the Imperial Honey Amber from a few years ago was absolutely top notch). I’ll be doing the rye beer, given my recent heavy experimentation with those kinds of beers. The other three beers we’ll be collaborating on and brewing together.

As I like to brew four batches successively to fill my four kegs, I’m in the process of putting together the brewing schedule for these next bunch of batches. I have two yeast strains in house that I’m going to use: a Belgian saison yeast, and my standard American yeast.

The first batch with the yeast I have will be a saison with honey and rose hips, and will be my one hundredth batch of homebrew. After that, I’m thinking of doing the other three beers as different rye-based experiments as potential entries for the competition. For the second batch using the saison yeast, I’m highly tempted to my witbier recipe, replace a bunch of the wheat with rye, add peppercorn (not sure which just yet), ferment a bit warmer, and switch to some spicier hops.

With the American yeast my first thought is to go with a rye pale ale and a rye IPA, as per normal. I haven’t had anything hoppy on tap in a while, and I’ve been pretty damn happy with most of the rye pale ales I’ve made. Part of me wants to try an American rye ale, which would be a very light, dry, spicy session beer.

Those are preliminary thoughts. I’m hoping to get the saison brewed sometime this week, then I can start trying to finalize all my other recipes.

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Last Saturday was the annual Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews at the Albany Pump Station. This is a homebrew competition put on every year by the Saratoga Thoroughbrews, a homebrew club in the Capital District of New York.

I haven’t taken the opportunity in the past to enter any homebrewing competitions, so I threw every beer I had in late October into this one. This competition has drawn over 200 entries the past couple years, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot other than some good impartial feedback from the judges. Turns out there were 313 entries this year! Stiff competition, indeed.

Given that this was my entry into a competition, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of awards. The feedback from the judges was what I was really looking forward to. Looking at the sheets now, most of the comments the judges made were insightful and helpful, though a couple of judges were obviously several beers in when they got to mine.

The beers I entered:

The barleywine and IPA both got pretty solid scores (36 and 35, respectively) and had a lot of very positive comments from the judges. They also took third place in their respective categories, which was awesome. I had expected the IPA to be the best received beer I submitted, but had no clue what to expect from the others.

The stout won third in its category with a score of 31 (scores are out of 50, with it usually being very difficult to break 40), so the competition was probably pretty thin. I brewed that beer quickly, rushed its fermentation, and didn’t let it condition (I just wanted a stout on tap quickly), so there were definitely some serious flaws in it. I’m thinking my next stout will be a more carefully produced version of this one, taking the judges’ feedback into consideration.

The Rye IPA got a score of 32, as it was being judged as an American IPA brewed with some rye in it, it was a bit outside the IPA style guidelines. The judges’ comments indicated that (as I expected), but they also said they enjoyed it thoroughly despite this. In the end, that all works for me. I loved that beer, and it was a favorite with a lot of my local friends.

In the end, the only feedback I would take exception to would be the comments for the dark mild ale. It got a very respectable score of 33, but the judges all seemed to be looking for hop aromas that weren’t there and, from what I’ve read about the style, shouldn’t be there. Granted, I have no experience drinking mild ales because I don’t live in England, but the official style guidelines seem to contradict a few of the comments I got from the judges. All in all, they all said it was a great session beer, so I can’t complain. I’ll be tweaking it a little bit next time I brew it, and can hopefully decide on a final recipe to use as my house session ale.

Overall, the competition was a fun experience and I got some interesting feedback on my beers. It was a great learning experience all around, and I’ll definitely be entering other competitions whenever I get the chance. It felt good to walk away with a few awards, too. 🙂

And lest I forget, congrats go out to my brewing friends Bill and Angelos for their black IPA which won first in its category and third Best of Show. It’s an amazing beer.