Sunday, March 30, 2008

Blending for Competitions

Recently I have been trying to make a more concerted effort to enter the monthly style competitions my homebrew club runs. However, since I rarely brew to style it is hard to get a helpful critique of my brewing. So for the last two months I have been blending two off-style beers together to get something that is closer to the classic style. I simply chill the bottles I want to blend for 24 hours in the fridge (cold liquids hold CO2 better), then pout them into chilled wetted bottles (wetting reduces the nucleation sites), this seems to hold the carbonation pretty well, and oxidation isn't an issue since I'm doing it the night before they'll be consumed (like a growler fill, fine for a few days if kept cold).

In January I blended my Funky Old Ale with a Wee Heavy that I did with a couple of my friends as a parti-gyle brew day. The Wee heavy was about a year old and very sweet with an FG around 1.030. I went with a 2:1 ratio of Wee Heavy to Old Ale. I thought this blend mellowed out the funkiness to an acceptable level and added enough sweetness to make it a more friendly beer. It did alright with an average score of 29. The judges comments are very positive, for example one says "This old ale makes a firm impression of the style." However, clearly the hint of Brett confused two of them slightly, although neither of them identified it. One judge thought the beer was over-the-hill and oxidized, while another thought it had some acetaldehyde and would improve with some age. I think both of these were just a misidentification of the flavor/aroma Brettanomyces contributes. Overall I was pleased with the comments and the fact that I was one of the 4 beers that made it to the best in show table out of 16 beers, pretty good considering neither of the beers could have passed as an Old Ale on their own.

For February I blended my Scandinavian Imperial Porter and a second runnings "leftovers" porter I did with a few friends a couple months back. I entered it as a Baltic Porter, with a 2:1 ratio of regular porter to imperial. Again it did pretty well with an average score of 32. Some of the descriptors used include cherry, prune, chocolate, clean, and roasted. I got dinged for having low carbonation, which I expected because the Scandinavian Imperial Porter is pretty close to flat. The only really confusing comment is that it lacked complexity, and that I should "try more variety in the grain bill," each of the beers contained about 10 malts, probably the two most complex grain bills I have every used. I believe that blending two beers can either grow or destroy complexity, as I saw in my blended tasting subtle changes in the ratio can really change the flavor of the blend.

I wouldn't suggest this method for beers that will sit around for awhile before they are judged, the pouring does oxide the beer which will end up giving off flavors over time. You could certainly do taste tests though, blending a couple bottles and trying one every week or so to see how much of a problem oxidation would be.

My time of poking fun at judges will also be coming to an end soon as I'll be taking the BJCP exam in June. I am lucky that my club is running a prep class, it will be interested to see how much harder blind "flight" judging to style is than drinking something on its own and just determining if I like it or not.

Look for more of these blended reviews as time passes, it seems like a fun way to get something in a competition. This summer I will be doing a large pre-bottling blending of several sour beers that should have enough age on them, really looking forward to that.


Josh said...

So why aren't you judging? ;)

Anonymous said...

Regarding oxidation when blending, I have a method that may help. It is not practical for blending many bottles, but may help in your competition situation. The idea is to pour in a CO2-rich environment.

Make sure your blending area is not drafty. Put a paper bag on the counter - this is where you'll be pouring. Fill the paper bag with C02. Easiest way is by letting some dry ice sublime. Or mix some vinegar and baking soda, and pour the vapors from the reaction into the bag.

Since C02 is heavier than air, the bag will stay relatively oxygen-free for a few minutes. Now uncap, blend, and recap in the bag. I've done this to blend some non-sour and sour beers with no noticeable oxidation after a few weeks.

Another option, if you think you still have some yeast viability in the bottle, is to add just a smidgen of sugar. The yeasts will eat it and digest the tiny amount of oxygen that dissolved in the pour. It need not be enough to result in a discernable difference in carbonation.

Thanks for the great blog.


Kevin C said...

You could always just use the Belgian Specialty category for some of your 100% Brett beers :)

I entered a pale beer recently fermented with bruxellensis and lambicus, and it got a 38 and second place.

The judges were very positive about it, and one of them suggested adding some lacto to a future beer like it.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the tip on using CO2, I‘ll definitely give that a try if I stumble upon a blend worth entering in one of the big competitions.

Kevin, glad you got some judges who were down with the funk. I do plan to use the Belgian Specialty category in the Spirit of Free Beer in a few months, but I believe most contests limit you to one entry per category, so I won’t be stick all my beers in there. Not sure what beer I’ll enter yet.