- Dec 1, 2018
- Reaction score
Good stuff there! I often see posts asking "what is the ONE thing that elevated your beer??" like they are looking for that silver bullet that will transform their bitter vinegar beers to 48 point best-of-show winners. The reality is that there are a ton of minor things that all add up to made a good beer. I agree with Bobby's list, but you can also do everything on his list and still make crap beer.I wrote this for another purpose, but here is my list of game changing things that made my beer consistently start scoring in the upper 30s, low 40s in competitions.
Well... that Kellerbier could also have been the best beer on the table. I feel for you though. I had a nice little collection of BOS 2nd and 3rds for a BoPils before it finally won a BOS 1st. And it was always getting beat by some humongous RIS or BDSA or the like. And to keep this on topic, those BoPils batches were fermented in glass carboys, before I got a conical.Never won a best of show, came very close once. My beer was one of the last 2 standing in the best of show round but the judges were enamoured with the other beer. It was a “Kellerbier” which was the brand new shiny object back then.
Cool story broWell i haven't won any awards but i brew my beer prohibition style, in a bath tub with a plywood board on top right after my wife's sweet ass came out of it, it turns out fine and everybody loves dipping out of the tub, working on carbonation, haven't got that far but after the first pint, if you can get past the hair in your beer it's fine and gets you drunk, so no 0ne really cares after that...
I have entered a total of one competition in as long as I remember...And to keep this on topic....
Great write-up, Bobby. Should be offered as required reading for anyone new to brewing to read before starting out on this journey. Likewise, should be mandatory study for anyone offering advice to a new brewer just starting out on this journey.I wrote this for another purpose, but here is my list of game changing things that made my beer consistently start scoring in the upper 30s, low 40s in competitions.
- Water. It matters. Chlorine sucks. Salts affect flavor. The combination of water and your malt recipe affects mash pH. High mash pH causes astringency. I build my water from 100% RO water and take a minimalist approach using only CaSO4, CaCL, and MgSO4 to get to 50ppm calcium and tweak the sulfate to chloride ratio. I use tools like EZwatercalculator (many people like Bru’nwater) to get it close. If the predicted mash pH is too high (over 5.4), I use the tool to figure out how much lactic or phosphoric acid I’ll need to add to the mash. I do have a pH meter and I check the mash pH but predictive tools are almost always close enough that I’d feel confident in them even without the meter now.
- Fermentability, Dextrines, Attenuation, Balance. These typical brewing buzzwords are all interactive when it comes to recipe design. The problem is that understanding really only comes from experience. Fermentability, or the ratio of simple sugars to dextrines, is determined by specialty malt choice, quantity and mash temps. The attenuation you ultimately achieve is further affected by yeast strain and viability. A good rule of thumb is that the higher the original gravity target, the less dextrines you want to force. Lower your mash temps and back off on crystal malt percentages. If this doesn’t make sense, just follow known good recipes carefully.
- Fresh ingredients. It’s no mystery that running a homebrew shop with good grain turnover gives me access to very fresh ingredients. If you don’t brew frequently, skip buying grain in bulk. It may cost you 10% more to buy grain by the batch, but it doesn’t get any fresher than that.
- Clean your equipment. Think like bacteria. Dirt protects bacteria from chemical sanitizers. If you can’t clean it, or if you can’t see it (like inside a drain valve), use the heat of your wort to heat sanitize before chilling. This works on plate chillers too. I won’t spend much time on this because you should know better.
- Yeast pitch rates. You are not using enough yeast. There I said it. This is another popular topic of debate. Take it seriously and don’t be so proud of yourself for saving five bucks. Beersmith and other software has pitch rate calculators that take OG and yeast viability into account and tell you how much yeast you need or how big of a starter you need to grow. If you like using liquid yeast (you’ll have to for certain styles), you’ll either have to dig into your wallet for several packs of yeast or get yourself a stirplate and flask. If you want to make lagers, go right for the 5000mL flask. The good news is that a lot of the newer yeast labs are putting more cells into each pack and charge less than multiple packs of the same total cell count. For example, it would take 3 Wyeast packs to match two Omega packs. Just use the calculator and don’t cry about the cost.
- Fermentation temperature control. This is another major one. It’s not just about keeping the ferment cool enough, which is already important. Temperature stability is just as important. My process specifically is to ferment ales at the middle of their recommended range for 80% of the primary ferment and then raise the temp 3-4F until fermentation is complete, plus another week. This pushes the yeast to the finish line, preventing premature flocculation, and ensuring they deal with any diacetyl before crashing out. Lagers are handled the same way but the temp ramp up is 10F. All of this can be accomplished with a used refrigerator, Inkbird temp controller, and a plug in heat wrap. While we’re on fermentation, I do NOT rack beer to a secondary fermenter unless I plan to reuse the yeast out of the primary (hardly ever).
- Avoiding oxygen damage. There are two phases to consider, hot side and cold side. Man do people love to flippantly dismiss “hot side aeration” or HSA as a phenomena that does not play into homebrewing quality control whatsoever. The fair assessment would be more like, “in limited testing, it doesn’t appear that hot side oxidation damage is all that important because several people couldn’t tell the difference in blind tests”. There are just as many brewers that swear by an extremely low oxygen ingress process. For now, let’s just say it’s not a good idea to splash the hell out of your hot wort when you can avoid it. Moving on to the cold side, I’m convinced that avoiding oxygen exposure is extremely important once fermentation is about half way done. One reason I do not rack to secondary is that oxidation is almost guaranteed if you don’t use closed transfers and CO2 purging. Speaking of which, my kegs are filled with starsan, then it is pushed out with CO2. CO2 is then pushed into the primary fermentor to begin the transfer of beer into the keg. There is zero exposure to oxygen at this stage and I feel very strongly that this is the only way to package sensitive beers such as NEIPA and have it last more than a few days.
- Avoid the "that's a myth, X doesn't matter" crowd. Maybe that's a bit too harsh. Take what you read online with a grain of salt. First I'll say that I really like Brulosophy as a blog and podcast. Marshall and crew do a great job and I read every article and listen to every podcast. Their work is valuable but a lot of people take their results out of context no matter how hard they work to avoid it with caveats. Consumers of their content want simple yes/no, do this, don't do that kind of output and that's not what it is and it can't be. The reason why people will tell you a certain aspect of brewing technology is a waste of time, money, effort is twofold. First, the expectation of beer quality, as well as the brewer's ability to perceive beer attributes is highly variable. Many brewers pay no mind to any of the things I listed above and think their beer is amazing. They are right, because it's subjective. I think the lesser reason, yet still valid, is that many people want brewing to be easy. It may take 100% more effort and care to make the beer 25% better and that's the very definition of diminishing returns. In the realm of intentionally objective beer judging (I said intentional, not actual), 25% better is pretty significant. Yes, I'd much rather a 37 than a 30.
How you arrive at some or all of those doesn't have to be expensive. I brew on a single vessel system with no sparging. I ferment in Fermonster plastic fermenters with modified lids. The fermentation is done in mini-fridges. The most expensive necessity is a kegging system.
Shsssh. My wife might be listening! I TOLD her that is was an absolute LIFE or DEATH necessity that I get that Braumeister. And the Unitank. Oh, and the glycol chiller as well. At least the expense got spread out over about 35 years.So if your question is whether you need a Speidel Braumeister or some other fancy piece of equipment....
No, NO, I tell you!Well... that Kellerbier could also have been the best beer on the table. I feel for you though. I had a nice little collection of BOS 2nd and 3rds for a BoPils before it finally won a BOS 1st. And it was always getting beat by some humongous RIS or BDSA or the like. And to keep this on topic, those BoPils batches were fermented in glass carboys, before I got a conical.
homebrewLectures.com doesn't appear to be in use (and may be available for sale)Should be offered as required reading for anyone new to brewing to read before starting out on this journey. Likewise, should be mandatory study for anyone offering advice to a new brewer just starting out on this journey.
Most real competitions are BJCP sanctioned, and are open only to homebrew.Some comments made me think in regards to awarded beer ... the award is against the competition at that time. I don't know much about the competitions, is it all home brewers or are they also competing against established breweries?
I agree with this, but with one caveat. When I was competing, I didn't give much credence to the comments from any one set of judges. But if I saw the same/similar comments from 2 different sets of judges, I paid more attention.The best part about beer competitions is that you'll (usually) get very good critiques as well as constructive criticism and suggestions from the judges. From there you can reassess, adjust and eventually succeed in brewing better beer.
The comps are all home brew but commercial beer wouldnt be scored any differently if you were to slip them in. In other words, a 45 out of 50 is a world class beer whoever brewed it.Some comments made me think in regards to awarded beer ... the award is against the competition at that time. I don't know much about the competitions, is it all home brewers or are they also competing against established breweries?
I would agree in so far as judges will sometimes subject themselves to judging styles they don't particularly like. If that's the case, the intent would be to compare it against the guidelines and leave your taste out of it. I am sometimes guilty of being extra complimentary when it's a great example of the style, in a style I really enjoy.One note about competitions...they are less about "is this a good beer that I would enjoy drinking" and more about "is this beer a good example of the category that it was entered in?"
Definitely true and there is a sweet spot for every brewing style and attitude. I've run quite a few system configurations from single pot and cooler with bucket pouring all the way up to 3 vessel electric HERMS but my long term system is a pretty "overbuilt" eBIAB rig. It's worth about $1200 but given my experience with several systems, this is the price point to convenience mix that I needed to get back to brewing regularly.Expensive equipment can make your hobby more convenient and enjoyable but isn't necessarily superior to basic stuff when used correctly.
I don't disagree, but if it weren't a hobby you wouldn't WANT to spend $2500 instead of $250 for something you can buy at any convenience store for $20.50. Just sayin'.I haven't entered a competition since switching from a home depot cooler and single propane burner to an electric all-in-one system, but my impression is that the beers that I made with the old, cheap system were as good as and possibly better than what I brew with the ebiab system. I won several ribbons, including 1st place in IPA (out of 80+ entries) at the BAM World Cup of beer with my cobbled-together system. I did have fermentation temperature control and made yeast starters at the time. My fermentation vessel was a vittles vault with no airlock.
IMO the homebrew industry and instagram have done a great job convincing hobbyists that they need $2500 worth of equipment to do a $250 job. edit: Expensive equipment can make your hobby more convenient and enjoyable but isn't necessarily superior to basic stuff when used correctly.
Totally agree. I would say brewing is about 20% recipe, 20% hot side process, and 60% cold side give or take. You can screw up the recipe and the balance is a bit off. You can mash too hot or cold and the balance is off. The mash pH may be high and you're a little tannic. Screw up on the cold side and you can end up with something truly undrinkable.I am learning that AFTER you make your wort, the process is just as important.
I also concur but would further say that the cold side 60% can be further divided into 25% fermentation, 25% transfer/handling and 10% packaging.Totally agree. I would say brewing is about 20% recipe, 20% hot side process, and 60% cold side give or take. You can screw up the recipe and the balance is a bit off. You can mash too hot or cold and the balance is off. The mash pH may be high and you're a little tannic. Screw up on the cold side and you can end up with something truly undrinkable.
Don't misunderstand me. "Award Winning" beer requires attention to details across the board but I think many people who struggle often put a disproportionate effort into aspects that matter a lot less.
Since I own a homebrew store, I have many examples of people that just started brewing extract 3 batches ago and they come in specifically to drop $500 on a stainless conical with no plans for temperature control.
Good point. I will counter, however, by stating what I have said before; I am LAZY. Sounds like a bit too much work to me. I like my 4.5 hour or less brewdays too much to change it up now. Hell I still won't use my old IC as a heat exchanger because setting it up is a PITA. Just gonna get me a new mash tun to replace the ghetto one I currently have (but which has also produced some award/medal winning beers; like many others I just want something new and shiny.)MIAB is not completely incompatible with decoction if your bag is open on the top. You can still scoop out 1/3 of your grist with a pitcher and decoct into another pot. 20 min saccrification rest at 155 (unless you already reached that step in you mash tun) and then boil while stirring until you hit your desired color/aroma. I got this advice from someone I trust who uses this method to make award winning lagers.