Follow the journey
I decided that 2018 would be the year I take homebrewing more seriously. I've upgraded my brewing system (review coming soon), increased fermentation temperature control, and am brewing on a more consistent basis. Brewing more doesn't do much if you're not getting feedback and so I'm attempting to enter as many homebrew competitions as I can. This year's first competition was the National Homebrew Competition hosted by the American Homebrewers Association. Go BIG or go HOME!
Don't get too excited though.. while I did hope for the best, I did not get my hopes up and I'm glad I didn't! Of course I wanted to bring home a medal, everyone does! But I went into this knowing that all I wanted was feedback. Knowing what was good and bad about your beers is how you know what to adjust or keep the same going forward to make your beer the best. Up to this point, I've only ever had friends and family how "great" my beers were and also some feedback from local homebrew clubs I've been a part of. While the latter holds a bit more weight it was always done in a casual setting (with the exception of my new homebrew club but more on that in another post). So, you have to take that feedback with a grain of salt. It was finally time to start getting unbiased feedback from those with experience tasting beer!
This year over 8,400 entries were judged at the NHC! That's a lot of competition but I was only using this as a baseline for what needs improvement. I entered two different style categories: German Wheat Beer (BJCP Style 10A) and Irish Red Ale (BJCP Style 15A) to the Tampa, FL judging location. To be exact, in the German Wheat Beer category I submitted a German Hefeweizen. Each beer is judged based out of 50 total points in five criteria; Aroma (12 pts), Appearance (3 pts), Flavor (20 pts), Mouthfeel (5 pts), and Overall (10 pts). Judges are also supposed to provide notes (good or bad) as to why they scored each criteria the way they did. Each entry is given back two of their score sheet for feedback.
You can check my score sheets below:
As you can see I scored just around the middle mark for each entry. I thought my German Hefe would have scored a little higher than it did and was actually surprised that my Irish Red Ale scored as high as it did. The Hefe looks like a traditional hazy Hefe but it got flavor reviews of coming off more as a Belgian style due to some notes of bubble gum as opposed to banana. My Irish Red Ale was very hazy too but it should have been clear so I obviously had an issue somewhere either with mash temp or fermentation temp. The red was also too hoppy for its style which was also noted by the judges. A lot of the defects I had picked up on before I submitted them but it was good to have them reinforced by judges, as weird as that sounds. It lets me know that my palate and judging is getting better as well.
These beers contained a lot of firsts!
I totally expect my brews moving forward will have little to no defects. I currently have a Cashmere SMaSM fermenting right now. I used a 2L yeast starter to get it kicked off and have had fermentation temp held consistently at 67-68F. I also now know how to properly carbonate my kegs. It's been a huge learning curve going from a 4-gallon stove top kettle and bottling to my new 1/2 barrel system and kegging but it can only get better from here!
I look forward to growing from this competition, honing my brewing skills, and getting more positive feedback on my beers!
P.S. I also want to give a huge shout-out to the owner of my local homebrew shop (and member of my homebrew club, the Suncoast Barley Mashers), Mike Vetter on winning a gold medal for his American IPA at the Tampa, FL judging location!