Jan 17 2012

Barlow Brewing 2011 Homebrew Year in Review

At the end of each year (2009 and 2010), I go through the stats of my homebrewing adventures and try to identify some trends and larger takeaways. I brew a modest amount of beer each year, and usually set a goal of making 60 gallons, which only equates to brewing a 5 gallon batch each month. That goal, many years ago, was bold and reaching. Nowadays, it is a pretty low bar, but it keeps me on track.

Looking back at 2011, four trends define that brewing year: hiatuses, organic beers, the lack of sours, and some competition success.

 

The Hiatus(es)

I go in waves with homebrewing. If it was my job, I’d be happy to brew, cellar, or package every day. But as a hobby that needs to be squeezed into the cracks and spaces between family, work and daily life, there have to be breaks. I took three hiatuses this year and did not brew at all during the months of March, August, October and November.

I do not know if that model is more beneficial to my overall zeal for the hobby, or if I’m better off keeping to a steady schedule. I know that feel a bit more excited about a brewday after some time off, but I also feel sloppy and out of practice when I do brew, as well.

 

Organic Beers

Organic beers just kinda happened this year. After planning to experiment with Rakau hops, which were organic, I decided to go ahead and make that entire beer organic. Then, I was in the Bison/New Brew Thursday competition, which required that I brew an organic beer, too. And then, in retrospect, my cider, perry, and mead were organic creations, as well.

I’m repeating myself here, but I couldn’t detect the difference between a normal and an organic beer. The bottom line with organic, from a creative perspective, is that you reduce the number of ingredients you can work with to make a beer. I like the idea of organic brews but, for the foreseeable future, that will always be secondary to my desire to use the exact hops, malts and other ingredients I want to use to make the beer that I want to drink.

But my awareness has changed and I no longer think, if I ever did, that organic beers are inferior. And that is something in and of itself.

 

Sours

This one actually surprised me and freaked me out a little. Although I bottled, added dregs to, and won medals for sours, I only brewed 5 gallons of sour beer last year. Since it can literally take years for a sour ale to fully develop and become drinkable, this was huge hit to my pipeline.

Although I still have plenty of bottles of my fruit lambics and a few of my Flanders Reds, I quickly realized that the weekly work of maintaining brett and sour beers was important, and they can make you forget that you having nothing in the pipeline.

After that epiphany, I immediately brewed a Berliner weisse that I hope might be turning the corner by the time the weather gets warm.  But I’m screwed for sours for most of 2012. Perhaps that is a mark against the hiatus model, which would have had me, at least, making filler beers in the in-between months.

Crap.

 

Competitions

This was a good year for me for BJCP and other competitions.

My goal for 2010 was to try to get a beer into the final round of the National Homebrew, and I squeaked in a beer and a cider. For 2011, I was hoping that I could get a beer or two into the final round again, and perhaps get one of those to medal.

Fortunately, I had three beers make it to the final round of the NHC: my “Tobias Fünke” Flanders red, my “Fargin Eishole” eisbock, and “Slow Motion Walter, Fire Engine Guy”, which was an oak-agerd, smoked Baltic porter.

I thought my flanders red, which had gotten a 1st place ribbon in the first round of the NHC, had a good chance, but it was my eisbock that won a bronze medal in the final round of the National Homebrew Competition. That was amazingly cool, and it proves that anything can happen in the final round.

In other BJCP competitions, I won a Gold, a Silver and a Bronze in the Dominion Cup, and two Gold and two Bronze medals in the CASK competition. Both were poor outings for me, but I’ve got no one to blame for them except the brewer of those beers. Yes, me.

Outside of BCJP competitions, my brett saison won first place in The Bruery’s Batch 300 Contest for French/Belgian ales, but it did not win a the overall competition. And I made it to the final round of the Bison/New Brew Thursday Organic Homebrew Competition, but I did not win that final round.

I also won a qualifying and the final round of the Iron Brewer competition. That was a bunch of fun, and it is always nice to have an excuse to talk shit with HopfenTreader and Simply Beer, as well as drink great and experimental beers.

 

2012

What will be my big trend for 2012? I’m getting a late start on planning that one out. Obviously brewing a bunch of sours, and I’d like to make a few full-flavored session ales, as well. Short term, I need to look into brewing beers for this year’s National Competition, but I might be dead in the water there, too.

 

If you are into stats:

Weights and Measures
Gallons of Beer: 82
Gallons of Non-Beer: 14
Pounds of Grain: 172
Pounds of Hops: 3.06

Averages
Average Batch Size: 5.1
Average ABV: 6.5%
Average OG: 1.061
Average FG: 1.012
Average Pounds of Grain per Batch: 12.3
Average Ounces of Hops per Batch: 3.3

By Category
Ales: 14
Lagers: 2
Ciders: 1
Perrys: 1
Meads: 1
Sours: 1
Organic: 4 (2 beers, 1 cider, and 1 perry)

Medals and Ribbons
BJCP Competitions Entered: 3
Medals Earned: 10
National Homebrew Competition Ribbons: 3
National Homebrew Competition Medals: 1

Superlatives
Favorite BrewTriple Lindy / Churchill Downs (bourbon barreled Triple Lindy)
Favorite Brew (Runner Up) – Aardbei (Strawberry lambic)
Worst Brew – Piper Down 1 & 2
Favorite NameYou’ll Shoot Your Rye Out
Favorite Name (Runner Up) – Up on Cripple Kriek
Biggest Trend – Organic Beer

 

AHA NHC Ribbons

AHA NHC Medal

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May 23 2011

Score Sheets from the First Round of the 2011 National Homebrew Competition

 

The score sheets from the 1st round of the 2011 AHA National Homebrew Competition (NHC) came out last week. It is cool win ribbons and medals, but the feedback is the most part of entering these contests. And, with a competition like the national one, it is really, really hard to place without making a spectacular beer, so it is a good idea to keep your expectations low.

My sheets came back from the Nashville region and quality of the feedback and the scores I received were good. My average score was 31.87, which I am pleased with. The highest scores were 43s and the lowest score was smack down of a 15 (for a Scottish ale that aged badly).

The two scores of 43 that I received were for my “Tobias Fünke” flanders red and for my “Fargin Eishole” eisbock. The flanders red won 1st place for the Sour Ale category, and the eisbock won 3rd place for the Bock category. The feedback for these was very good but, honestly, how unhappy can you be with a beer that scores in the 40s?

The other beer that placed was my “Slow Motion Walter, Fire Engine Guy” oak-aged, smoked Baltic porter. It scored a 30.5 and it must have squeaked in to 3rd place in the Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beer category. The feedback for that was good, but both judges wanted a bit more smoke flavor in the beer. I can completely see that. I enjoy all styles of beer, but smoked beers are at the very bottom of that list. So, in making a smoked beer of my own, I went a little light on the Bamberg malt. I can live with that feedback because I’m not sure I’ll ever make a beer that I can’t enjoy just to do well in a competition. That’s BS to me.

My bourbon-oak tripel did really well and scored a 39.5, but it did not ribbon. This was simply a gallon of my tripel that I siphoned onto French oak cubes and Blanton’s bourbon. My feedback for that beer said it was nicely balanced and creamy. I agree, and it will be hard not to bourbon-oak the entire batch next time I make a tripel.

The only head scratchers were scores for the original tripel and the brett saison. The tripel received a 30, and it was downgraded for not having enough of a phenolic character. I think most American tripels are over-the-top with phenols so I specifically fermented that one cold to keep them subdued. But I can’t blame the judges for not “getting” what I was trying to do.

The other strange one was my brett saison which received a 31.5. (And it did pretty well in The Bruery’s Batch 300 competition.) Both judges only sensed a “slight sourness”…..which is mystifying. If it was supposed to be a sour saison, I would have marked it as such. This was a brett saison and brettanomyces does not make things sour. That is disappointing.

But, all and all, I’m happy with what I heard back from the Nashville region of the AHA NHC 2011 First Round. Hopefully one of my three beers advancing to the final round lucks into a medal. If not, there’s always 2012.

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