Follow the journey
As I mentioned in my post about the National Homebrew Competition, I'm brewing as often as I can and entering as many competitions as possible to get feedback. Feedback from people that don't know you brewed the beer and from professional brewers/BJCP judges are invaluable. I want to improve my brewing techniques and the quality of my home brews and while friends and family can be encouraging it's not always the most honest. So, when I saw that Tampa Bay Brewing Co was hosting the inaugural Summer Home Brew Classic I contacted the competition organizer immediately about entering. I had 5 weeks to design, brew, and keg my two beers I decided to enter.
This competition was narrow in categories as it was only open to IPAs, Sours, and Experimentals (had to be brewed with something indigenous to Florida). Though there was only three categories they were all very broad! IPAs encompassed traditional, American, NEIPA, West Coast IPA, etc. While experimental beers could be either an IPA or Sour as long as it had an ingredient native to Florida. Of course a majority of the beers entered where IPAs which is the category I decided to enter both of my beers into. I haven't tried brewing sours or experimental beers (though I never tried an NEIPA before this competition either).
I had just over 5 weeks to brew, ferment, condition, keg and carbonate two 10-gallon batches of beer so the pressure was on! I decided to try brewing my first NEIPA as well as an "American" IPA. I put American in quotes because it was a hazy AF IPA but with more hop bite than a typical NEIPA.
In order to save time I would brew both of these beers on the same day! Took me 12 hours to brew 20 gallons (two 10-gallon batches) including sanitizing and clean up. It was a long ass day! I made up one large (4 liter) yeast starter to split between both batches. While this seemed like a good idea to save time, it caused me to slightly under-pitch both batches by about 25%. This was also a reason why my American IPA was very hazy as the yeast I selected was chosen for the NEIPA.
It was quite an experience brewing two beers in one day as it was the first time I had worked out the logistics to do so. I had imagined being able to mash the second brew at the same time as I was boiling the first but soon came to realize this would be impossible. During a typical brew session I use my hot liquor tank to heat my sparge water before the boil and then fill it with ice water to chill my wort after the boil (I live in Florida, our "cold" tap water is room temp). Since I would need cold water in the "hot" liquor tank after the boil I wasn't able to brew both beers at the same time which is what lead me to a 12-hour brew day.
Here are my recipes:
I used a single hop through each beer which is risky but I didn't feel like trying to experiment with hop combinations at the time. I'm trying to keep recipes simple for the time being. Plus I had just bought a pound of each of these varieties and each recipe used the entire pound of each hop. Please feel free to critique my recipes!
Both beers were fermented in a fridge that was converted to a fermentation chamber and kept at a steady 67F through fermentation. After 4 weeks in the fermenters and with 6 days until the event I kegged both beers. They chilled to 37F while they carbonated at 25 psi.
Tampa Bay Brewing Co. hosted an amazing inaugural event and I'm already looking forward to next year's event. All of the contestants setup stations throughout the TBBC brewery. This competition was open to the public so they could try the beers as well (though there was no "People's Choice Award"). Everyone that entered needed to supply at least a 5-gallon keg or a few cases of bottles for sampling. A few people from my homebrew club (Suncoast Barley Mashers) were also entering and we have a club tap for events. The tap system holds eight beers and we used them all! This was also the day I became "official" in the group as I received my SBM club shirt. The day was off to a great start!
It was a very surreal experience because I had never poured my beers for strangers before. People were coming up to our spot and asking for my beers. I couldn't help but smile all day! The majority of people coming to get samples did not know which beers on the tap were brewed by me. Every time I poured a sample I would keep an eye on their face while they were taking a sip. Not once did I see anyone make any disagreeable face. I was feeling pretty confident! But I knew the competition was stiff (I went around and tried the competition). My NEIPA seemed to be my more popular beer (and it was the preferred too). Out of our eight club taps I had the only NEIPA so it could have just been selection bias since that is such a popular style at the moment.
The majority of people/groups that attended were either other homebrew clubs or breweries in the making. These "breweries" had names, logos, and a line-up of beers already. They were just in need of a commercial space and their licenses (which they were actively pursuing). This also gave me a chance to setup interviews with them for the blog! These breweries-in-the-making had some amazing beers. I can't wait for them to open their doors!
It was about two hours after the public entered that the actual pro-judging started. Some of us were actually nervous that we wouldn't have enough beer for the judges! We had plenty, who were we kidding. I poured my samples and away they went. About an hour later they came back with the results.
I'm not sure how many total entries there were or how many entries were in each of the the three categories (IPA, Sour, and Experimental) but there was only four awards (best of each category and best of show). Each entry received two score sheets back with notes. Each beer was judged on seven criteria: Aroma, Color/Appearance, Flavor, Balance, Mouthfeel, Technical Quality, and Overall Impression. Each category was judged out of five total points equaling a maximum score of 35 points.
Along with these mediocre scores I got notes on each regarding slight DMS and astringency, and too much alcohol aroma/flavor. These three areas are where both of my beers suffered the most. But luckily, they are mostly process adjustments and should be easily remedied! I figured my NEIPA would score better than the American IPA and I was happy to see the judges agreed with me. I do not plan to brew this American IPA again as I only really brewed so I could have two beers on tap in my garage. My main focus was the NEIPA and this recipe I will work on and tweak some more to perfection.
I want to give a HUGE shout-out to a fellow Suncoast Barley Masher, Vinnie Giordano, for winning the Experimental category for his Loquat Berliner!
The biggest thing I took away from this competition was that I should have only brewed/entered one beer instead of two and I need to focus on my process. Instead of focusing on and perfecting one beer I spread myself thin and produced two mediocre beers.
Here is how I plan to fix the major "defects" in my NEIPA going forward:
DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide)
As you can see, I've got a lot to work on going forward! But being conscience of these issue is a good start. There is another competition coming up that is actually hosted by my local homebrew shop, Oktoberfest in October. This competition focuses on German-style ales and lagers. I'm already working on an ale recipe (most-likely a Hefeweizen) and will be sure to keep in mind all of the above process improvements to hopefully present a single, to-style, and defect-free homebrew!
With each beer brewed my processes get better, I learn from mistakes, and always look forward to my next brew day.
Let me know if you have other process-solutions to the above issues I faced!