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Old 03-13-2011, 04:56 PM   #1
BmillaTheBrewzilla
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Default Results from first comp... feeling frustrated, confused

Hi everyone-

I just attended my first real BJCP homebrew contest last night and got the scoresheets back. It was a big competition, they claimed the biggest in Illinois. They had about 800 entries. I had no delusions of grandeur about winning any medals or anything, as I found out about the competition pretty late and didn't brew anything specifically FOR the comp. However, I had five different batches that I thought were drinking pretty nice... so I figured what the heck, I'll enter them and get some good feedback. Also- I should mention that I've been brewing for about ten months. So honestly, I wasn't expecting to do great... but I think my beers are pretty decent and I thought the judges' feedback would give me a few real concrete ideas for how I can make improvements to my process.

And this is where my frustration comes in. It's not that all my beers scored pretty weak, but it is that by looking at the scoresheets, there doesn't seem to be anything consistent that I can learn from. So I'm really hoping that some of you more experienced homebrewers can take a moment to look at some of the comments I received and help me piece together where my process might be improved. I figure the best way to do this is to give some key points from each brew I entered. I'd make this more concise... but like I said, my inexperienced butt can't see any common theme.

American Amber Ale- scored a 23.5. This was the oldest beer I entered and had been bottled about four months ago. One judge said "fruity" and "light musty note." He would have expected more malt and hop character. Other judge also said fruity aroma, "esters dominate." He said body is a little too full and try to low fermentation temps. This confuses me, because I fermented this in the mid 60s, as I do all my beers. I used Wyeast 1272- American Ale II. So I'm not sure where the fruity esters are coming from, although I agree that they are there. This was brewed with a ton of Chinook, Cascade, and Centennial hops.

American Cream Ale- scored a 25. This beer was inspired by New Glarus Spotted Cow, so I used almost two pounds of corn. I thought this beer turned out really well... many of my anti-IPA friends have consumed much of this batch. One judge said oxidation and apple notes (yikes!). He said no hops, DMS, or diacetyl. He said the fruitiness and lack of attenuation detract. This beer finished up at 1.012, which isn't bad attenuation since it started at 1.050. The fruitiness I'm not sure about, but I do get a lot of sweetness from the corn when I drink it. The other judge commented that it was too sweet for the style... fruity esters... some pear as the beer warms.

Belgian Blond - scored a 25. I love this beer but didn't expect it to do well in the comp. I fermented very low for using a Belgian yeast (and used Wyeast 1762, which is fairly clean for a Belgian yeast), so the fruity Belgian complexity is very low. It is too clean (IMO) to be a true example of a Belgian. One judge said the Belgian character was subdued, and it was malty sweet, dry aftertaste, fruity. The other judge said no obvious flaws- but lacking in pronounced Belgian yeast ester profile. He also mentioned a somewhat astringent finish.

California Common - scored a 36. I was surprised this one did the best of my entries. I entered as a California Common only because that was the yeast I used. I used German noble hops very heavily in the finish because I was going for that spicy hop character (like with a Boston Lager). Anyway, one judge said clean and big hop aroma... grassy... musty. He said good beer, but doesn't fit the style... very drinkable and complex. The other judge said he picked out DMS and vegetal qualities in the aroma. But he said it was a good beer, light color for the style, some off aromas and good flavor.

Special Bitter - scored a 25. This is the one where the feedback confuses me the most. This was bottled just about two and a half weeks ago.. but I figured since bitters are supposed to be low on the carbonation, why not enter it just to get some more feedback. One judge said malt flavors are low and slight cardboard flavor... may be a bit oxidized with some flat flavor. The other judge said skunky, light-struck aroma and oxidative notes... flowery, herbal hop character with mild bitterness... flowery, slightly fruity esters... some oxidation present and light-struck flavor persists... could use more malt complexity. I'm concerned about the oxidation comments... especially since the beer is still so young. I really think I am very clean and careful during bottling. I'm also very confused by the one judge's comments about "light-struck" qualities. This beer was fermented in an opaque plastic bucket... never saw any light and was bottled in brown bottles... always kept out of light.

Okay- if you've made it this far through my post, I REALLY, REALLY appreciate it. I truly love this hobby (I'm ten months in and have brewed 20 batches). I'm just not sure what to make of the feedback I received and I want to do something productive with it. I am espeically concerned about fruity esters in the beers where I didn't want them (all except the belgian blond) and the oxidation comments on the bitter.

One theory I have is that some of my flaws could be related to my mashing / sparging technique. Again, I'm pretty new. I am technically doing all grain, but I am doing BIAB mashing. I'm essentially using DeathBrewer's stovetop all-grain method. I'm wondering if taking my grains after I mash them and letting them sit in another pot full of "sparge" water for ten minutes is extracting too many tannins or other undesirables from the grains? Am I correct that when you sparge in the traditional sense, you can over-sparge and extract too much from the grains after you get all the sugars you do want? I also want to point out that I made a yeast starter with all the batches I submitted. They are usually about 1.5 liters. None of the beers were exceptionally high OG. The blond was the highest, at 1.060. Oh- one other thing... definitely worth mentioning. I use a "swamp cooler" during fermentation. I sit my bucket or carboy in a big tub of cool water and watch it like a baby during the first few days of fermentation. I kept all these beers in the mid 60s while fermenting... I keep them in primary for three to four weeks then bottle. The blond I did start in the mid 60s and then raised it up to 72 over the first three days.

Okay- again, I truly appreciate any feedback that will help me make sense of my first competition experience. I know you fine people on HBT are awesome and are constantly helping me enjoy this amazing hobby even more.

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Old 03-13-2011, 05:27 PM   #2
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One competition, even several entries, isn't beginning to get down to it. Enter each beer in 10 competitions, then compare the score sheets from those. Your sample pool is too small. When you have 10 different competitions of the same beer entered, you will see a trend in the comments. That's what is important.

Don't be discouraged. Just get out and enter if that's what you want to do.

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Old 03-13-2011, 05:33 PM   #3
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Well,first of all,these judges sip a lot of beers while judging. I tend to think their taste buds turn into Freddy Flame-out pretty quick. Not to mention,how knowledgeable are they,really? Don't they know that ale yeast by nature produces fruity esters? That's part of what ales are,to one degree or other. Depends on the exact style you're trying to achieve.
American ale is a pale ale,so watch it with the malt profile. Should be a little hoppy,but not overly so. I'm working on that kind of style,but more toward the malt-forward English style.
The cream ales i've seen people brewing are darker than,say,Little Kings or Genesee cream ale. In other words,clean,creamy smooth,but not sweet. Just a little bittering,the way the taste strikes me.
The Belgian blond was maybe a bit too young? Bringing out more of the Belgian classic flavor seems to be in order.
The Cali common Seems like you need to be sure you sanitize well. Not to mention good temps toward the low end of the yeast's range. The off flavors seem temp related to me. Maybe back off the Haulertau a bit?
As for the special bitter,IMO was too young,judging from what they said about it. And skunky light struck? I think we have a Freddy Flame-out here. Even ESB's aren't really all that bitter. Just not as malt-forward. I think they need more schooling on this point.
I hope what knowledge I've had to give up to this point helps a little. There are others far more knowledgeable than me about AG/partial mash than I. But I learn quick & study a lot. Being retired,I have plenty of time for that.
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Old 03-13-2011, 05:40 PM   #4
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I wouldn't worry about it. Do you like your beer? Does your family? Do your friends? If so, then that's all that really matters.

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Old 03-13-2011, 05:45 PM   #5
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Another thing to keep in mind is that the judges are scoring it based on style - in other words, the comments have to do with how well the beer fits in the style. So a good beer can get a low score. Chin up!

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Old 03-13-2011, 05:51 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MeatyPortion View Post
I wouldn't worry about it. Do you like your beer? Does your family? Do your friends? If so, then that's all that really matters.
Amen!

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Originally Posted by Pappers_ View Post
Another thing to keep in mind is that the judges are scoring it based on style - in other words, the comments have to do with how well the beer fits in the style. So a good beer can get a low score. Chin up!
Agreed.
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Old 03-13-2011, 06:06 PM   #7
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Thanks guys. Yes, I very much enjoy drinking my beer... as does my fiancee, family, friends. And definitely- I didn't brew these beers with the intention of entering them into this competition, so I wasn't really trying to brew classic examples of the styles. So I wasn't expecting great scores or anything.

I guess what concerned me was that I thought my beers were a little cleaner than the comments from the judges would indicate. I mean, I didn't think they were flawless... I guess I was just hoping that scoresheets would provide me with the guidance for a couple ideas for how to attack the most major flaws in my process.

All that said, I'm sure that as I brew more and more, the beers will get better. I don't expect to be the same brewer after three years of experience that I am with one year.

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Old 03-13-2011, 06:23 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pappers_ View Post
Another thing to keep in mind is that the judges are scoring it based on style - in other words, the comments have to do with how well the beer fits in the style. So a good beer can get a low score. Chin up!
This is key here, your beers may have been fantastic, just did not fit into the tiny little style box. I have a truly fantastic blueberry ale, it is designed to be a great summer drinker, it doesnt have a solid style base to be a 20a fruit beer, but it is not over the top style-wise to fit into 23. I score in the mid to upper 20s every time I enter it, comments are always the same though, fantastic complex beer, just not quite to base style, or would have scored better in xx base catagory due to xx. I get a lot of comments relating to it being a fantastic beer, it just isnt a good scoring comp beer.

As stated by others, brew the beer for YOU, not for others, and if it wins a comp, thats just icing.
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Old 03-13-2011, 06:39 PM   #9
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None of these scores is poor. I believe the range for "good" starts at 21. It does sound like the judges hit upon some key points: your Steam beer being out of style, your Belgian not having enough yeast flavor.

As far as fruity esters are concerned, it's not just fermentation temps that matter, it is the consistency of those temps and the amount of year you use. Do you think those may be issues?

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Old 03-13-2011, 07:22 PM   #10
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As far as fruity esters are concerned, it's not just fermentation temps that matter, it is the consistency of those temps and the amount of year you use. Do you think those may be issues?
I don't THINK the amount of yeast is an issue, but it could be. I used about a 1.5 liter starter when I brew. So I think I'm getting plenty of good, healthy yeast. I usually notice airlock activity anywhere from 6 to 12 hours after pitching.

My temps are not entirely consistent, which I know is not good. They may fluctuate a degree or two. If I notice them creeping up, I'll toss in a frozen water bottle or two into my swamp cooler. I keep a floating thermometer in the cooler and watch the temps closely. Not a perfect system, but it is the best I have right now, and I have read about other people having pretty good success with swamp coolers like mine. I also know that my first couple batches I did without the swamp cooler, and using the swamp cooler has made a drastic improvement starting with the first batch I used it on.
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