To Reiterate: My Beer Sucks

I got some more scoresheets back from another competition I entered, and – like last time – they were not good. But honestly, I actually feel much better about this than after the previous competition, and I have couple reasons why.

The scores – a 23 and a 24 – are roughly the same as I received last time (23 and 24.5), but the feedback related to the IPA (The Howler) matched up pretty closely with my hypotheses about why these beers were tasting and scoring so poorly.

Oxidation – mainly from poor packaging – is something that came up in every judge’s review of every one of the four beers, if not by name than by description. I am a pretty big noob when it comes to packaging for competitions, so this seems like an obvious area for improvement. It’s also worth noting that I’ve been drinking The Howler from the keg for a couple weeks now and haven’t noted any of the off-flavors the judges picked out. What I have noticed are their other critiques:

  • Low/subdued aroma – I had an abbreviated dry-hop on this beer in order to package it for the competition
  • Low carbonation – the beer was rushed and wasn’t fully carbonated when packaged
  • Low hop flavor – something I’d noted myself for a next pass at this beer.

I entered these competitions with the hope of getting this kind of constructive feedback. I think proper packaging alone would be enough to add 6-8 points to the overall score and move it up into the “Very Good” range. It’s a beer I enjoy and plan to brew again, especially with some guidance on modifications to improve it.

Frankly, I should have been entering competitions much earlier in my homebrewing “career.” This sort of feedback is invaluable even if it hurts to read. So I’ve bookmarked some upcoming comps; let’s up we start seeing some higher scores.

Cheers.

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My Beer Sucks. Now What?

I mentioned in previous posts that I entered a few beers into some competitions. Well, I got the scoresheets back on the first one of those comps and the results are… not good.

Woof.

Well, in the parlance and scoring of the BJCP they’re technically “good,” but here in reality where we live: they’re straight up bad. In fact, both beers got called “lifeless.” Ouchie.

To be honest, I knew one of these beers had significant flaws. The maibock definitely suffered from some fermentation issues, and had a noticeable green apple flavor that is a tell-tale sign of acetaldehyde. I also got dinged for no carbonation on both beers, which probably drove down the scores both because of the lack of carbonation (and it’s contributions to aroma and mouthfeel) but also from oxidation in the bottle. The stout also got dinged for diacetyl which I didn’t pick up but could be result bottling conditions.

So what now?

Obviously this was a pretty big shot to the ego, but a much-needed one. I get to enjoy my beers both as the output of my hardwork, but also under near ideal serving conditions. That’s not the case for other people, and it’s definitely something I need to take a long, hard look at improving.

For one, I need to do some more research on my Blichmann Beer Gun, because it clearly isn’t operating the way it’s supposed to in terms of bottling from the keg. I also think it may be time to ditch all of my fermenting buckets. I wouldn’t have thought fermentation was an issue with my process – outside of the lagers – but apparently I’m getting significant off-flavors.

I also probably won’t to look at how I store and care for my beer after it’s been kegged. Right now I’m sort of “between solutions” for my post-carbed beers. They tend to sit in a big chest freezer, but not constantly on CO2.

A big purge is on the way as the weather starts to get nicer around here. I have plans to dump a bunch of old brews and some unused equipment. I also plan to build a full-fledged kegerator over the Spring with some help from the guys in my homebrew club.

I’d been underwhelmed with my progress as a brewer over the past year, so this was a well-timed wake-up call. I’m going to revisit the basics and try to hone in every detail of my process. I expect 2018 to be an expensive year with a lot of trial and error, and hopefully some vast improvement.

Competition Update

Hey gang,

Figured I’d give a brief update about what’s been going on in my brewing world. Last Sunday morning we had the Launch Pad competition for Barrel House Z. I had entered my rebrew of Uncommon Wrath, my North German Altbier/Amber ale, and was also serving as a judge (for a different category).

I had some hiccups with getting this beer ready. I went to carbonate this beer and the CO2 tank kicked, so I went to get the two tanks I had refilled. I hooked up one of the tanks, set it to 40 or so PSI and left it for a while. So that tank leaked and didn’t carb the beer. I’m not quite panicking because I still have some of the previous brew of this beer around, so I go to bottle that off the keg… and the keg kicks. Now I’m at the 11th hour, so I hook up the second tank and try to force carb the beer, then bottle it and bring it to drop off. Long story short, after a fuckton of issues, I got the entry in there.

And it did surprisingly well. I got placed in the competition’s “Group of Death” and finished second out of the six beers entered in that group. Unfortunately, only one beer from each group made it through to the Best in Show round. The beer that beat mine finished second, with the number one spot going to another guy from my homebrew club. While I’m bummed that I didn’t win, I am happy one of my club brothers did. And I got some free swag from doing the judging.

My latest IPA is currently dry-hopping and should be kegged up this weekend, so look for an update on that soon.

Until then…

Competition Beers Update – Amber and Imperial Stout

I’m getting really good with these catchy headlines, huh?

I wanted to write a quick blog about the two beers that I’ve worked on so far in 2016. I transferred both* out of primary fermentation this afternoon; the Amber Ale (Uncommon Wrath) is now being carbonated in the basement, while the Imperial Stout (Carcosa) is in secondary, conditioning on some additives. I don’t want to tip my cap just yet on what I’ve added to the beer just in case any of the members of my club are reading and trying to get some ideas.

Transferring Carcosa to secondary.

Transferring Carcosa to secondary.

My gravity reads were actually pretty damn close. The targets were 1.013 and 1.023, and I hit 1.014 and 1.026, respectively for the amber and stout. For someone who has had consistent trouble getting consistent numbers, this was a nice win. I attribute part of the discrepancy to the volumes of each beer. I had way over 6 gallons of the amber and only about 4.5 gallons on the stout*. My hydrometer is also a few points with its calibration so that’s going to have to be a new purchase sooner rather than later.

Both of the beers are quite pretty looking:

Uncommon Wrath and Carcosa

Uncommon Wrath and Carcosa

It doesn’t come across in the photo, but the amber is actually pretty damn clear. I was very happy with how well it settled out. Meanwhile the stout is black and opaque, though it shows nice clarity when held at the right angle.

So how do they taste? Well, obviously this is 1. biased and 2. pre-carbonation but both turned out good so far.

  • The amber has a nice fruitiness that I was looking for and meshes well with the toffee and caramel notes from the malt. It is a solid amber (at least I hope it will be after carbonation), but a little unremarkable. I may have to do some adjustments to the recipe to turn it into a competition winning beer. That said, no noticeable flaws yet.
  • The imperial stout is fucking tight. At almost 9% it has absolutely no noticeable heat, and just a nice mouthfeel even without the carbonation. Roasted malt, hints of coffee and chocolate, just dynamite. Possibly my best pre-carb beer ever. We’ll see what the conditioning does to it. I’m actually a little worried about the conditioning now because of how good this tastes as a base. Hopefully I don’t muck and muddle it up to much with the additives. I have high hopes this could be my best brew to date.

That’s it for today as far as updates go. I’ll post another once the amber is carbed in a few days and give my thoughts on it.

Cheers!

 

* The imperial stout is a 10 gallon batch, so only half made it out of primary fermentation today.

The Great Thaw and Peak Brewing Season

Well the Great Thaw is upon us here in the Boston area. Over the past few weeks, the majority of the record snowfall has melted leaving behind a king’s ransom in trash and dog crap. Some cleaning is in my new future, but also so is more brewing.

Spring is peak brewing season for “us” here at Anti-Hero Brewing; it’s warm enough to brew comfortably outside and the ground-water is at its coldest without being frozen. And now that I have a fairly excellent (if I do say so myself) saison recipe to brew again for this Spring/Summer, I’m looking forward to a couple of brew sessions in the near future. Right now I’ve got 4 kegs in the freezer; though two of them – barrel-aged Belgian dubbel and the aforementioned saison – are nearing completion.

The our club – which just got a Twitter account – is having an internal competition this Wednesday for brown ales. I brewed a variant on Arctos, a brown ale I made that was well-received (BJCP score of 38-40). I think this variat, Bad Jackson, is much better than the original. A little bit of roast, some chocolate, good mouthfeel, etc. It’s one of a small handful of beers I’ve brewed that I would purchase commercially (the saison is another).

I’m going to try and kick the saison keg in the next couple days and get another brew day on the calendar for a variant on the recipe; I was unsatisfied with the yield and think I can get more beer if I alter the bittering hop addition. I also want to brew a couple of IPAs this summer and get one that I’m happy with which is pretty much a never-ending pursuit for me. We’ll see how it goes.