Entered Oktoberfest in competition: judge says oxidation. No idea how I oxidized it!

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk:

GlowingApple

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2011
Messages
64
Reaction score
5
Location
Lincoln
A little bit ago I brewed my first lager, an Oktoberfest. It tasted amazing! Was the perfect amount of sweetness, mouthfeel, color. The malty aroma was a little low, but otherwise I wouldn't change a thing.

So I decided to enter it in my first competition. Unfortunately the competition was only for American beer styles. I talked to the guy in charge of the competition (we're in the same local homebrew club) and he suggested entering it in a reasonably close category (I decided to go with American Amber Ale); I might not win anything since it won't fit the category properly, but I would get some critique from a certified BJCP judge.

One of the judges (a provisional BJCP judge; just passed the written exam a few days before) gave it a pretty decent review, other than not matching the category. But the certified BJCP judge said the aroma was "musty" and a "wet cardboard" off-flavor dominated the taste. He said the beer might be good if it weren't so oxidized.

I have had an oxidized beer before, so I'm familiar with that wet cardboard taste, but I can't taste any oxidation in this beer, and I can't figure out where I could have oxidized the beer.

Is it possible that the judge is misinterpreting the Oktoberfest-style aroma as musty and flavor as oxidation? Or is he particularly sensitive to tasting oxidation, and if so, where can I improve my process?

Here's my process:

After chilling the wort (with an immersion chiller and stirring) I transferred it to a sanitized plastic carboy. Yeast was pitched and the wort was aerated with pure oxygen for 30 seconds. A blow-off tube was attached and the carboy was placed in a temperature-controlled refrigerator. Following a quick-lager fermentation profile, after >50% attenuation, the temperature was gradually raised to 68 ˚F for a diacetyl rest. After no diacetyl could be tasted (by heating a sample in a hot water bath), the blow-off tube was removed and replaced with a two-piece (S-style) airlock. The beer was cold crashed and fined using gelatin for 3 days. The beer was then racked to a CO2-flushed keg using CO2 pressure to push the beer. I managed to over-carbonate the beer, and had to bleed off the keg for several days, but eventually got the carbonation just right. About a week before the competition the beer was bottled using a counter-pressure filler, flushing the sanitized bottle with CO2 and filling under CO2 pressure. The bottles were capped with oxygen-absorbing caps.​

I have no idea where I could have oxidized the beer... I have strong doubts that hot-side aeration is a problem, but the wort was stirred while chilling, and I use a HERMS-setup to recirculate the mash. It was racked to the keg using CO2. When cold-crashing it could have sucked in some air, but it should be minimal, and it seems that many brewers cold-crash without oxidation problems. When bleeding off pressure from over-carbonating it was always under light CO2 pressure so I doubt any oxygen could get in (I never opened the keg cover, just released pressure). It was bottled with a counter-pressure filler and capped with oxygen-absorbing caps.

Any ideas on what I did wrong???

TL;DR: I entered an Oktoberfest in an American-beer competition (as an Amber Ale) and had a certified BJCP judge say the beer smelled musty and tasted like wet cardboard (oxidation). Based on my process I have no idea where I could have gotten oxidation. Wondering if the judge misinterpreted the Oktoberfest-style aroma as musty and flavor as oxidation, or looking for suggestions on how to fix my process!
 

dmtaylor

Lord Idiot the Lazy
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 8, 2009
Messages
4,924
Reaction score
3,452
Location
Two Rivers, WI
I find that judges are flat-out wrong more than 50% of the time these days. Take any one judge's notes with many grains of salt. If you enter 3 or 4 different competitions and get the same results over and over, then you know you have a problem. But until then, my guess is that this guy is wrong.

I say this, and I myself am BJCP Certified, #A0511. Just because a guy is certified, doesn't mean he knows jack squat. That's what I've found. Except for me, of course. ;)

Cheers.
 

mredge73

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 21, 2011
Messages
1,331
Reaction score
231
Location
La Porte
I don't really see an issue in your process, looks solid.
It may be attributed to your ingredients, could the grain have been old or stale? This may have carried over to your finished product.

How did you add gelatin? This is an opportunity to add O2. Typical advice is to boil water first to remove oxygen, cool to 150F or so, dissolve, pour.
This way you reduce the dissolved oxygen level of your mix water from about 8 ppm to 0.1 ppm.
 
OP
GlowingApple

GlowingApple

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2011
Messages
64
Reaction score
5
Location
Lincoln
I don't really see an issue in your process, looks solid.
It may be attributed to your ingredients, could the grain have been old or stale? This may have carried over to your finished product.
The grain bill was pilsner, munich, and aromatic malt. I got everything just a couple months ago from morebeer.com. Everything was heat-sealed until the day I brewed with it. I assume morebeer would have good turnover?

How did you add gelatin? This is an opportunity to add O2. Typical advice is to boil water first to remove oxygen, cool to 150F or so, dissolve, pour.
This way you reduce the dissolved oxygen level of your mix water from about 8 ppm to 0.1 ppm.
I added gelatin the way that brulosopher does: add gelatin to cold tap water, microwave in short bursts and stir until up to temp, pour hot solution into carboy. It's only 1/4 cup of water, so I can't imagine there's much oxygen introduced, but the water wasn't boiled so some oxygen could have been added there. Would I add the gelatin after the water comes down to 150 ˚F then? Would be easy enough to do in the future!
 

mredge73

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 21, 2011
Messages
1,331
Reaction score
231
Location
La Porte
1/4 cup of water will not spoil an entire batch; I wasn't sure how much you added.
I doubt seriously this is a problem, but if you are picking nits then boil first then let cool to 150F before dissolving gelatin.
 

flars

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 21, 2011
Messages
8,625
Reaction score
2,055
Location
Medford, Wisconsin
The judges opinions may have been based on judging an American amber ale. An Oktoberfest entered as an American amber ale would have tasted off.
 

jekeane

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2014
Messages
2,172
Reaction score
547
Location
Jacksonville
was it an American Amber category? If so I could see an Oktoberfest being dinged on pretty hard. Most judges and even the 2015 guidelines to a degree really push towards the west coast happier style for ambers.

More than likely however it was just the judge, if you and others don't perceive it. The only way to get a fair critique of a beer is to have it judged repeatedly. I have had the same beer from the same batch judged in separate competitions within a close timeframe judged a 20 at one and a 40 at the next. I've seen scoresheets where a national judge had the beer scored a 39 and his non bjcp partner had it a 26 and then the erased scores and arbitrarily met at a 31 (same beer won a gold next month).

Comps are a crap shoot to a very large degree.
 

dmtaylor

Lord Idiot the Lazy
HBT Supporter
Joined
Nov 8, 2009
Messages
4,924
Reaction score
3,452
Location
Two Rivers, WI
More than likely however it was just the judge, if you and others don't perceive it. The only way to get a fair critique of a beer is to have it judged repeatedly. I have had the same beer from the same batch judged in separate competitions within a close timeframe judged a 20 at one and a 40 at the next. I've seen scoresheets where a national judge had the beer scored a 39 and his non bjcp partner had it a 26 and then the erased scores and arbitrarily met at a 31 (same beer won a gold next month).

Comps are a crap shoot to a very large degree.
Exactamundo. :mug:
 
Joined
Jun 2, 2008
Messages
64,951
Reaction score
16,505
After chilling the wort (with an immersion chiller and stirring) I transferred it to a sanitized plastic carboy. Yeast was pitched and the wort was aerated with pure oxygen for 30 seconds. A blow-off tube was attached and the carboy was placed in a temperature-controlled refrigerator. Following a quick-lager fermentation profile, after >50% attenuation, the temperature was gradually raised to 68 ˚F for a diacetyl rest. After no diacetyl could be tasted (by heating a sample in a hot water bath), the blow-off tube was removed and replaced with a two-piece (S-style) airlock. The beer was cold crashed and fined using gelatin for 3 days. The beer was then racked to a CO2-flushed keg using CO2 pressure to push the beer. I managed to over-carbonate the beer, and had to bleed off the keg for several days, but eventually got the carbonation just right. About a week before the competition the beer was bottled using a counter-pressure filler, flushing the sanitized bottle with CO2 and filling under CO2 pressure. The bottles were capped with oxygen-absorbing caps.​
In bold are all sources of oxygen that you have post-fermentation.

Some judges are really good at detecting oxidation (I'm not!), and some judges use the term to describe something that's off that they can't describe otherwise.

It's my opinion that most homebrew is going to show signs of oxidation, but that many/most of us drinkers don't really detect it.

Another potential factor is you don't know how those beers were stored after they arrived at the competition. Improper storage can really increase staling times.

There was an interesting presentation at NHC a few years back trying to quantify HSA, and they were finding staling over time in their controls over time that they attributed to oxidation via Blichmann beer gun counter-pressure bottle filling.
 

day_trippr

"This Space For Rent"
Joined
May 31, 2011
Messages
37,645
Reaction score
20,539
Location
Stow, MA
Reading through the process, if there's oxidation exposure it's the cold-crash.

And, to be honest, that would not surprise me...

Cheers!
 
OP
GlowingApple

GlowingApple

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2011
Messages
64
Reaction score
5
Location
Lincoln
In bold are all sources of oxygen that you have post-fermentation.
  • no diacetyl could be tasted (by heating a sample...
    -- this could be avoided; in future brews I probably won't do a test and just wait about 10 days, but since this was my first lager I was a little paranoid about making a butter bomb.
  • blow-off tube was removed and replaced; the beer was cold crashed; fined
    -- Is there a better way to do this? I have a idea but not sure; see below
  • CO2-flushed keg
    -- I'm not sure how this could introduce oxygen? Does flushing the keg not remove all O2? I flush from the bottom (through the beer line dip tube) and bleed out at the top (out through the CO2 dip tube), but I suppose if there is some gas mixing some oxygen would remain?
  • beer was bottled using a counter-pressure filler
    -- Not much I can do about this one I assume. I saw a recommendation in another thread to cap on foam, so I'll try that to minimize the risk.

Reading through the process, if there's oxidation exposure it's the cold-crash.

And, to be honest, that would not surprise me...

Cheers!
Is there a better way to do this? I don't want to leave the blow-off tube on and let it suck back into the carboy. From what I've read most people just cover the carboy with sanitized foil, but that seems like even more of a chance to introduce O2. I've tried cold-crashing in a keg once, but my fridge is small, so every time I'd move the keg I'd have sediment for quite a few pints. I have an orange carboy cap that I could attach a CO2 line up to at a very low pressure and cold crash with that attached. Would that be feasible?
 
OP
GlowingApple

GlowingApple

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 23, 2011
Messages
64
Reaction score
5
Location
Lincoln
The judges opinions may have been based on judging an American amber ale. An Oktoberfest entered as an American amber ale would have tasted off.
was it an American Amber category? If so I could see an Oktoberfest being dinged on pretty hard. Most judges and even the 2015 guidelines to a degree really push towards the west coast happier style for ambers.
I figured the closest category would be American Amber, but I was probably biased by the fact that the last amber I brewed was more on the malty side. The judge did make a comment about barely tasting any hop bitterness at all, so I assume he was expecting a more hoppy amber ale to begin with. I listed the beer name as Oktoberfest, but I'm not sure if the judges view the beer name or comments at all when tasting.
 

day_trippr

"This Space For Rent"
Joined
May 31, 2011
Messages
37,645
Reaction score
20,539
Location
Stow, MA
[...]Is there a better way to do this?[...]
I have an orange carboy cap that I could attach a CO2 line up to at a very low pressure and cold crash with that attached. Would that be feasible?
Totally feasible....

CO2_crash_01.jpg
CO2_crash_02.jpg
CO2_crash_03.jpg

...highly recommended.

Cheers!
 

beernutz

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2007
Messages
1,692
Reaction score
724
Despite the best efforts of the BJCP, judging is not an exact science because humans are involved. I have sent the same beer to two different BJCP competitions, two weeks apart from each other, where they were entered in the same category but received vastly different scores and comments. Being human myself, I was inclined to completely agree with the judges who scored the beer in the 40s. I wouldn't stress over the comments from one judge.
 

Oginme

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Supporter
Joined
Apr 13, 2013
Messages
1,971
Reaction score
944
I agree with beernutz. When you have people's taste buds involved, there is a lot of room for interpretation.

This past summer I had an English Brown win gold and runner up to BIS at one competition and another a few weeks later came back with comments about fusel alcohols and the description barely fit the beer I submitted. In fact, for that competition, all 3 of the ales I sent in came back with comments about fusel alcohols, which may indicate a lack of control on the storage of the samples or some other issue was involved that affected the beers across the board. I almost always keep a couple of bottles so that I can pop one open when reading the judge's feedback. This was the first time that I tossed the judging sheets, as nothing written matched what I could taste.
 

Queequeg

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 30, 2013
Messages
1,757
Reaction score
301
Location
UK
Cold crash draws air in. Happened to me a few times. I now use a Co2 cyclinder with a secondary regulator. I have a ball valve for the blow off, which I close and gas to 6ombar via a post.
 
Top