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.



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.


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.

Checking In On The Swinging Cowboy

Swinging Cowboy, Day 7

As I wrote last time, my Swinging Cowboy IPA was less than stellar on first taste. I also noted at the time that it wasn’t a fair comparison given the immaturity of the beer so close to its dry-hopping and carbonation. We’re now seven days removed from that last update, so how’s the Cowboy now?

In short: much better.


I had complained about the grassy aroma wafting off this beer, three days from its last dry-hop charge. Today that grassy-ness has faded almost completely and has been replaced by a wallop of strong citrus character.


As you can see from the photo above, I have very greasy fingerprints and a Megaman doll. You can a pretty fair representation of the beer’s color and clarity (or lack thereof). Without the bright light behind it, the beer is a shade or two more orange. Overall, this is what I was shooting for given the light grain bill and the NE IPA style I’d attached to it.


This was the biggest area of improvement, and thank Crom for that. The vegetal, grassy flavor is almost completely gone, rounding into a nice smooth bitterness. It’s still there, but much less pronounced and I think by the time JAMBO rolls around next weekend it should be a distant memory. In its place, the bitterness I mentioned is still prevalent, but there’s a much stronger fruitiness. Mango, papaya, tangerine, all those expensive orange-colored fruits that Yuppie moms buy at Whole Foods. This isn’t near as fruity as your average Trillium brew, but it has a much stronger bitterness. Similar (but not comparable) to Heady Topper.


Still rich and full-for-an-IPA. Not quite as “juicy” as a Treehouse or Trillium; again I’d put it closer to the OG of NE IPA’s (Heady) in mouthfeel. Creamy, but not chewy. Right where I like it (that’s what she said).


Talk about a night-and-day difference. I may have accidentally (but happily) sped up the aging process due to a gas leak in the keg. The gas connecting post wouldn’t seal, so whenever I removed the gas line – say, to gas another keg – all of the CO2 escaped. This happened multiple times, most likely introducing oxygen. While normally this would be bad, it is my theory that this help scrub out the grassy and vegetal notes much faster. I can’t really run a test on it (I’m not the Brulosophy eggheads), because I’ve now fixed that leak and don’t know how much scrubbing is actually left.

Overall, I’m now MUCH happier with this beer and excited to serve it at JAMBO. There’s also an upcoming homebrew competition for IPAs that I might consider entering if there’s any leftovers.


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Uncommonly Frequent Posts

I’m going to keep doing “uncommon” puns until I either run out or get sick of them. Luckily for you, I’m already sick of them.

So I promised an update on Uncommon Wrath when it had achieved it’s final form. It’s still not quite there yet, but a few interesting things happened today that are worth blogging about.

My homebrew club – whose webpage I’m working on, so stay tuned for that – had our monthly meeting tonight; instead of our usual stomping grounds, we posted up at the future home of Barrel House Z. Russ, Pat, and Pat were gracious enough to host the MASH HOLES and talk about their plans for the new brewing venture that’s setting up shop in our backyard. BHZ is hosting a homebrew competition so a good portion of our meeting focused on that on BHZ’s plans for the future and their commitment to the local brewing community.

I decided to bring some of my new German Alt/Amber – Uncommon Wrath – to the meeting to get some feedback from my club-mates, and was lucky enough to have Russ ask to try some. Russ is kind of a big deal; he was the first brewmaster a little place you might have heard of (Harpoon Brewery), and he gave me some really great and really specific feedback. Some of it I had heard before from my dude Marshall, the Brulosopher, about treating my water (he gave really similar advice given the softness of the local water), and some recommendations for the yeast strain I’d used. Other than those helpful tidbits I received a lot of positive feedback for the beer (one of the other BHZ guys, Pat “the Elder,” said he really enjoyed it), so it was all-in-all very encouraging.

For me, I can’t look past any flaws in my beers once they’re pointed out to me, but I’d rather force-feed myself 5 gallons of an imperfect beer I have an idea of how to improve than be blissfully ignorant of my mistakes and foist it onto other people. Which isn’t to say the beer is bad; it’s actually quite easy to drink, pretty smooth, and has some interesting character to it. But I’m already planning the next brew day of it.

Uncommon Wrath 2.16.16

Here’s a glamour shot of the beer in question in the new MASH HOLES tasting glasses.

Appearance: Amber (duh) with a fluffy white head. The clarity doesn’t come through in this shot, a side effect of it still carbonating and not having had any time to settle out, but it is very clear through the tubing.

Aroma: Toffee and caramel with a bit of nuttiness, with faint hints of sulfur and almost a soapiness. Those flaws are fairly subdued but evident to me now every time (sigh). There’s also just a touch of floral notes from the late addition Centennial hops.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium body with a little bit of bite from the carbonation. This could stand to be a little rounder and fuller, but not off for the style.

Flavor: Caramel and toffee with a bit of fruitiness, very light biscuity notes; relatively balanced with the bitterness. For a generally more malt-forward style, I’d like a little more punch from grains. This is smooth but relatively unremarkable.

Overall: The best thing this beer has going for it is that it is really, really easy to drink. At only 4.8% ABV it’s sessionable. At only 44 IBUs it isn’t too bitter or palate wrecking. None of the malts are overbearing or too sweet. It’s by no means “bad,” and actually I like it, but with so little to hide behind the flaws remain evident for me. I’m officially dying to rebrew this.

Uncommon Wrath


  • Mash at 152*F for 60 minutes
  • Boil for 90 minutes
  • 5.5 gallon batch size
  • OG: 1.051
    FG: 1.013
    IBU: 44
    SRM: 14
    ABV: 5.0%


Amount Fermentable Maltster Use PPG Color
11.0 lb

Maris Otter Pale (UK)

Any Mash 38 3 °L
0.75 lb

Caramel/Crystal 60L (US)

Any Mash 34 60 °L
0.75 lb

Special B (BE)

Any Mash 34 115 °L


Amount Hop Time Use Form AA
1.2 oz Chinook (US) 60 min Boil Pellet 12.0%
2.0 oz Centennial (US) 0 min Boil Pellet 10.5%


Name Lab/Product Attenuation
German Ale Wyeast 1007 75.0%

Mash steps

Step Heat Source Target Temp Time
Saccharification Rest Infusion 152.0 °F 60 min


  • Add 100 ppm of Calcium Chloride to the mash and another 100 ppm to the boil kettle
  • Ferment at 65*F for two weeks

Homebrew Review: Bandito

Oh shit, you guys. It’s that beer I never shut up about! Yes, the elusive IPA – a rarity into today’s craft beer market – has been my homebrewing white whale since my first failed attempts at the style (and its variants). It started with Suicide By Hops, an exercise in lupulin-based hubris. Completely foregoing any rational thought, I went straight for the double IPA style before even dabbling in its weaker (and therefore, inferior) namesake. I was reward with an uncarbonated and undrinkable liquid that I wouldn’t serve to my worst enemy (though I probably made my girlfriend taste it). Next I tried a black IPA, a style that is so well-defined and agreed upon that only a buffon could make a bad one… and thus Midnight In the Garden was born and subsequently withered on the vine.

It wasn’t until Cheeky Bastard that I first sniffed the citrusy, piney scent of potential success. And though Cheeky was a fragrant and full-bodied brew, it lacked the bitter oopf required of an IPA. And thus, the recipe and journey towards Bandito was embarked. So here we are…

Bandito 1So how is the mysterious, elusive Western brew? In the words of my friend Jamie “pretty freaking good.” But Jamie works for tips, so let’s take that with a grain of salt… then again, in the words of Matt (eponymous marzen fame) called it “really good. [H]oppy but not like “imma kick your tongue in its ass” kind of way.” Okay, 2 for 2. We can’t rely on Untappd for reliable results, since all the check-ins are mine. So I guess that leaves it up to me to analyze…

This beer was brewed and dry-hopped with a copious amount of Mosaic hops, which is said to have a distinctly “blueberry” quality. I don’t know if I agree with that assessment, but it does impart a unique, fruity quality in both smell and taste. You’d recognize the Bandito when it walked into  the room; the aroma is strong, pungent even, with that distinctly Mosaic stonefruit/tropical fruit/blueberry aroma, backed by an ample dry-hopping of Simcoe and Cascade that supports the fruity, citrusy character without completely dominating the resiny tinge. The malts, however, are fully dominated in aroma.

But not necessarily in taste. The hops are Bandito‘s flash but the malts temper that just the right amount to provide balance. This beer is bitter – 83 IBUs – but it doesn’t scorch your tongue. The flavor profile follows the aroma nicely, that distinct Mosaic mix of fruits leading the way. I kept it consistent with Simcoe and in the flavor/aroma additions, but used Nugget for the bittering phase. I am very happy with Nugget’s ability to give a nice “rounded” bitterness that lingers, but doesn’t overstay its welcome. The malts provide a vehicle for the hops, and that’s it. There’s no sweetness to this beer except in the hops’ fruitiness.

The finish is just dry enough to encourage the next step, but leaves that hint of bitterness of the tongue that let’s you know it was there. The mouthfeel is what you would expect from an IPA, but is a tad too slick and light for my preference. I want something a little chewier without being too sweet. The beer came out hazy, which is to be expected from the extensive double dry-hopping, but still a nice burnt orange color that is probably too dark for your usual IPA. The head is white-to-off-white and make of tiny bubbles. Not too much lacing on this one (it’s pretty quaffable so it doesn’t linger in the glass long).

So what’s the Final Verdict on Bandito?

I am happy with how this beer turned out, and that enthusiasm has been bolstered by the positives from everyone who has tried it. There are a few changes I would make, though. Firstly, I’d cut back on the Mosaic, or maybe sub it out entirely for Citra. Mosaic distinctness is not exactly in my wheelhouse for flavor. I think this beer does a very good job of showcasing Mosaic’s uniqueness without letting it get carried away, I think I would be better suited with a different hop at center stage. I also want to tool around with the yeast a bit. I get the feeling that this beer will  never be brilliantly clear, so I want to try to achieve that elusive Heady-Topper-esque mouthfeel that is simultaneously creamy and dry. I have a few yeasts I want to play around with to get closer to that style. I also think I might but the Crystal 40L just a touch to get a bit more sweetness. Unfortunately that’ll only serve to make Bandito darker, but I’m not worried too much about the color. Overall, though, I think this is one of the better beers I’ve made  to date.

The recipe for Bandito can be found here, along with all my other recipes.


Homebrew Review: Cheeky Bastard

To what do you owe the distinct honor and pleasure of back-to-back homebrew reviews? Honestly just a bit of bad timing and good luck. I’ve had some issues with carbonating my homebrews. I haven’t quite nailed down my fermentation process yet, and through either under-pitching or over-stressing the yeast I’ve ended up with some flat beers.

I thought Symphony of Decay would suffer this fate, but thankfully it just needed a little (a lot) extra time to finish carbonating. Not wanting to take any chances with Cheeky Bastard, I decided to add half a packet of dry champagne yeast in addition to the yeast that was already in solution. This probably ended up being unnecessary, given the level of carbonation that ended up in this beer.

Did you hear that everybody? They said they’re not that drunk! Cheeky bastards!
– Pim Scutney, Beerfest

Cheeky Bastard 1

This beer was largely an excuse to use the vial of Conan yeast I purchased from YeastGeek (which I believe is now defunct). For those who don’t know, Conan is the yeast strain used by the Alchemist to brew the world famous Heady Topper. The strain apparently started at the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT and has also been used by Hill Farmstead in some of their earlier beers. Conan is supposed to give Heady its trademark creaminess and citrus/peach/apricot flavor. So how did it fair in my amateur hands?

The recipe is available here. There is an additional 0.5 oz of Centennial and 0.25 oz of Northern Brewer hops in the dry hop addition due to having it laying around, and well, fuck it let’s toss this in there.

Appearance: Much like its infinitely superior cousin, Heady TopperCheeky is an ugly beer. Okay, that’s being a little harsh, but it is a very hazy brew. The Conan strain does not flocculate well (drop out after fermentation. High flocculation leads to clearer beers), and as such the beer looks murky. It is a very striking red-orange color though, with a just-off-white head. The head is massive on this beer due to the champagne yeast that was added to aid carbonation. The lacing is thick and lingering.

Smell: No one will accuse this beer of having a weak aroma. Wow. I normally have trouble picking up the aroma of a beer unless it is super-potent, and this is one pungent brew. There is a great big tropical fruit and citrus aroma. I get peaches, apricot, mango, lemon, orange and grapefruit. The smell reminds me of Stone’s Gotterdammerung. Very pleasant and fruit.

Taste: Again, subtlety is not the strong suit here. Big orange flavor with some mango, grapefruit and peach as well. Not very bitter, surprisingly, but also not too sweet. There is a bit of a bitter aftertaste that comes in to help the beer finish dry. Very fruity and pretty damn tasty. I wasn’t sure if I liked the first one I tried today, but this is my third one and I gotta say that it is growing on me fast.

Mouthfeel: I’m very pleased with the creaminess of this beer. I gotta think that is the work of the Conan yeast. As I mentioned above, the bitterness comes in toward the end and helps this beer finish dry. It leaves me wanting to take the next sip. It is lacking in overall bitterness though. I think if/when this gets brewed again, I’ll add some more hops earlier in the boil.

Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 5. 

This may be my best brew to date. I’m still partial to The Abyss Stares Back because it was my first, and stouts hide a lot of sins. This ended up being a pretty solid and tasty brew, if a little lacking in bitterness. But hey, it could be a lot worse.

Cheeky Bastard 2

Homebrew Review: Symphony of Decay

It is time once again for me to pretend that I’m capable of being unbiased about something I created. Yes, time for another homebrew review. Today’s beer is Symphony of Decay, a pumpkin ale brewed with 4 pounds – four f*#%in’ pounds – of pumpkin puree.

Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay.
– Robert Browning

Symphony of Decay - Finished Product 1

I’m a huge fan of pumpkin beers, but I’m always slightly disappointed there’s never a ton of real pumpkin flavor. Sure there’s a lot of spices and all that jazz, but for it to be a pumpkin beer the pumpkin should be the focal point. Well, I made sure of that by roasting 2 pounds of pumpkin puree and adding it to the mash and then adding 2 more pounds (unroasted) in the boil.

The recipe is available here. and I also wrote about it here.

Appearance: This game out a LOT darker than I had anticipated. The target SRM was 16 and this is closer to 26-30; that’s in the porter range. It’s slightly murky but that’s hard to tell because of the darkness. There’s a nice red-orange tint when held up to the light, a more orange shade of crimson or garnet. The head is huge and rocky, and a nice tan color. Lots of tiny bubbles, with some larger ones and a lot of lacing left on the glass.

Smell: Not a lot of your traditional pumpkin pie spices coming through, but there is a nice roasty aroma along with a backbone of sweet pumpkin smell. You can pick up some very slight hints of cinnamon as well. There’s no real hop presence which was to plan. I was really hoping for a stronger, spicer aroma. But the smell is actually quite pleasant. The bready, roasty notes mix well with the pumpkin.

Taste: Would you be surprised if I told you this tasted like pumpkin? It definitely does, but that roasty characteristic very strong. It’s a toast-like character that blends in with a bit of bitterness from the hops and bit of zest from the cinnamon. I’m not picking up too much maple syrup flavor, but it could be lost amidst the pumpkin sweetness. There’s a bit of a clove characteristic as well that I’m assuming is from a stressful fermentation. Overall it is a pleasant taste and unlike anything else I’ve ever drank before, which is something.

Mouthfeel: This is the mouthfeel I want in a pumpkin beer. This is super creamy. It’s not as viscous as a stout or porter, but it is strong bodied. Not quite a dry finish, but it doesn’t finish sweet or cloying either. The bitterness and roastiness balances it out and that’s what lingers on the front of the tongue.

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 5. 

It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I am pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out. There’s a lot of refinement I’d make to this beer, but the finished product is rather enjoyable.

Symphony of Decay - Finished Product 2