Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Competition Brewing

Since joining the BJCP last year, I've become increasingly more active in terms of judging, and as of late, entering. As I posted a month or so ago, my cream ale did alright in the Spirit of Free Beer event, sponsored by BURP. This passed weekend I judged at the Montgomery State Fair Homebrew Competition, the smallest event I've attended so far, only about 150 entries. Since the dropoff was so close and the entry fee was low, I ended up entering 3 beers: Brett L stout, Mango Chipotle ale, and my Berliner Weisse. The two former in Specialty ale and the latter in the Berliner Weisse category. My brewing mate Mike has had really inconsistent results with entering his sours into the Specialty category. Unfortunately, a lot of current BJCP judges just aren't as in tune with wild ales and sours as we geeks are. I really don't aim to brew too many beers that are to BJCP standards so most of the beers I make would have to be entered in Specialty. For example, this is the entries for the MSF comp:
13 (11) 23-1
Porter, Bourbon Added

131 23-2 23. SPECIALTY BEER Clover Honey
132 23-3 23. SPECIALTY BEER Maple Syrup Nut Brown
133 23-4 23. SPECIALTY BEER Coffee Lactose Oatmeal Porter
134 23-5 23. SPECIALTY BEER Double Brown Ale (11B)
135 23-6 23. SPECIALTY BEER Oatmeal Stout w/ Sumatra Coffee
136 23-7 23. SPECIALTY BEER Brettanomyces Lambicus Stout
137 23-8 23. SPECIALTY BEER Mango, Chipotle, Brettanomyces Clanssorii
138 23-9 23. SPECIALTY BEER Molasses
139 23-10 23. SPECIALTY BEER Honey Brown Ale
140 23-11 23. SPECIALTY BEER Chocolate Maraschino Cherries
As you can see, most folks use common specialty ingredients like chocolate, coffee and fruit. I just went overboard with what I use. Because the judges had a longer flight than I did (I judged IPAs), I was able to join the table for my beer reviews as they chose to judge them last. Well, the judges really didn't know what to say as they just claimed the Brett stout was "interesting", with little else to offer. At that point, I decided to leave. Earlier, after I was done, I stopped by the Belgian table since sours were lumped in with them, to see how my Berliner did. Completely flabbergasted, my beer received an 11.5/50. The BJCP recommends to judges not to score lower than 13, but the judges of my Berliner felt differently. They said that it was "horribly infected" and just plain undrinkable. I really didn't know what to say. I tore through a whole keg of it and have had several of the bottle conditioned ones which I had entered.
Eventually, I decided to contact the coordinator to get a little feedback on my scoresheets before I get them, and to hear his thoughts. To simplify, these were his remarks regarding the sheets:

"The main issue appeared to be what the judges interpreted as infection by some organism(s) other than lacto. One judge described it as "phenolic - burnt, popcorn" with a "musky odor" and "medicinal" flavor. The other judge described it as "strongly chlorophenol" with "burnt bandaid" in the aroma.
It appears (at least from the judges perspective) that the beer lacked the "clean lactic sourness" called for in the style guidelines. Also, diacetyl or DMS shouldn't be in the aroma or flavor (the first judge apparently picked up diacetyl with his "popcorn" comment)."

My response was that perhaps they got an infected bottle. Otherwise all the bottles myself and others have had, had really enjoyed them. We've noticed perhaps something "off" or "strange" about it, but certainly no strong phenols (which I'm particularly sensitive to) or DMS/diacetyl. He and some other judges are going to taste the other bottle in the near future and let me know if it's any different.
I guess what I'm getting at is the frustration of competitions. For someone who understands the basic styles and how to appreciate/judge them, to enter something a little out of the normal and see it slammed is a little disconcerting. I will certainly enter some of the comps in the future with some other beers of mine, but I will always look at "giving away" my beer seriously and whether it's actually worth it.

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