Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Second Place at Schooner

The Schooner Homebrew Championship is an AHA sanctioned competition held in conjunction with the Great Lakes Brew Fest. Last year I entered one English Style IPA called Swamp Rat Super IPA that was...well, to put it shortly...strange. It didn't come close to placing, received average scores and the judges critiques were totally fair and accurate.

This year I submitted 4 beers...

Boldface Bohemian Pilsner (2A)
Belgian Summer Pale Ale (16B)
Matrimony Ale (10A)
Hop Blend IPA (14B)

Within the parenthesis is the official Beer Judge Certification Program "BJCP" style category. Click on this BJCP link to look up and read more about the specifics of each style.

Unfortunately...

I was really hoping that the Boldface Bohemian Pilsner (previously named...Czech Pilsner) would grab the attention of the judges. There were elements that I thought were spot on. Like its perfect golden appearance with a thick frothy white head and superb lacing. The carbonation was full yet very soft and easy to put down. It's malt flavor was very clean and neither fruity, nor dry. The bittering was clearly evident, perhaps a little undefined, but also not overbearing nor sharp. It was given the name "Boldface" for a reason, and that's because of its bold hop flavor and aroma. Perhaps a bit much for the Bohemian category, but I really liked how clean and smooth it turned out. Also, if the ABV was a few points higher, this would definitely make a fantastic Imperial Pilsner

I noticed in this competition that 2 styles were combined (1 & 2). So that means that my Continental lager was being judged among American light lagers. In my opinion, and in an obvious geographical observation, these styles are a world apart. But I suppose there needs to be a minimum number of entrants to make a good competition. I'm curious how many entrants there were in the #2 category? Also, I am very interested in what the judges had to say about it. (The score sheets came back, and one judge said that if it wasn't as carbonated, then it likely could have taken best of flight)

To my surprise...

The Hop Blend IPA received a 2nd place! While I feel it is a very good beer, I am also quite surprised! I was explaining to my brewing comrades that this beer was going to have a tough time because it is within such a popular style. It's often brewed during the warmer months, so I new there would be a lot of entries. This year there were 19 entries in the IPA category. So, for mine to receive 2nd place...well...I'm very happy and honored. You can read all about this beer by clicking the link.

The best part about competing is getting the score sheets back from all the judges. Its fun to read what they have to say about the beer we brewed. Even though there's a natural tendency for bias, they do give a fairly objective critique. I'm really looking forward to reading what they had to say about all of our beers in the competition, and sharing them with David and Brian. Lastly, I have to say thank you once again to David and Brian for helping out on most brew days, and to Sarah and Cadence for their support.

Monday, September 17, 2007

All We Could Drink

It was a beautiful, cool afternoon on the lake shore in Racine, WI. I took David to the annual Great Lakes Brew Fest for his birthday. Neither of us had ever been to one before, so we didn't know what to expect. On one hand I knew we would get the chance to try some really great beer. There was a nice long list of very small breweries from Wisconsin and the Midwest. I'd probably never get the chance to try beers from most of them. On the other hand, I was also expecting to have to wait very long for a tiny sample. The line getting into the place was a bit intimidating. With only 3 hours to peruse, I didn't think it was enough time to get even the least bit tipsy. So, I'm happy to say that this fest totally surpassed my expectations. There weren't really any lines, and with 4 cups between the both of us, we could sample everything a brewery had to offer. Among 100 breweries, about 5 hundred different beer offerings, and a few thousand beer lovers, we easily drank all we could drink with a nice deep buzz on top of it all.

In no particular order, and of the beers we sampled, here's a list of the ones we found to be quite good...

Barley Island Brewing Co.: Black Majic Java Stout, Dirty Helen Brown Ale

Rogue Ales: Chocolate Stout

Mickey Finn's Brewery: Imperial Stout, Brown Ale and Belgian Blonde

Furthermore: Peat Smoked Stout & APA

Upland Brewing Co.: Saison & Bad Elmer's Porter

Dogfish Head: Festina Peche & Punkin Ale

Babble Homebrew Club: Raisin Mead, and a split batch IPA...one with American & one with English yeast

Society of Oshkosh Brewers (SOB): Blackberry Stout, Amarillo Hopinator IPA

After looking over the long list of brewers today, I realize how many good ones we missed. I guess we'll have to go again next year!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Northern Brewer Hops

The Official NBA was an attempt to get to know the Northern Brewer hop. I used it aggressively in this one gallon batch/yeast starter. Two bottles were even jammed with hop cones. There are some pros and cons.

Pros...

1. Northern Brewer hops are much more delicate in flavor than I assumed.
2. The bittering qualities are solid and quite acceptable.
3. The flavoring qualities are fruity and grassy/straw-like with hints of "orange" citrus and spice.
4. Aromas lean towards a mild or very soft citrus and fruity quality.
5. Bottle hopping rounded out the flavor and aroma with more orange citrus & apricot fruity notes.
6. Definitely a candidate for hop blending to attain subtleties in flavor and aroma.

Cons...

1. Severe oxidized aroma and flavor caused by whole cone dry hops.
2. Bottle hopping (I did use a LOT!) cause gushing, but a better overall beer and less oxidized flavor...kind-of strange but true. The oxidized flavor seemed to diminish greatly as the glass was swirled and warmed...20+ minutes.
3. High bittering rate caused a slightly harsh lingering bitterness in the aftertaste.
4. Lacks complexity/interest as a stand alone aroma hop.

I would be very interested in hearing about anyone's experiences using Northern Brewer hops. I've only really seen them being used as bittering hops. I think they have a lot of unseen flavor and aroma potential. Just gotta unlock some secrets. Perhaps a unique malt profile, hop blending, yeast choice and very mild dried fruit additions.