Monday, May 7, 2012

NHC 2012 First Round Results

Early last week I got my score sheets in the mail from the the Pittsburgh regional of the 2012 National Homebrew Contest. I'm generally not much of a homebrew contest guy because I don't like brewing to the BJCP style guidelines. However, as a blogger who likes to talk a big game, I think it's worth entering a few beers at the NHC every year to see how my beers compare. Two years ago I won sours in the East Region, but last year I didn't place anything even though I had a couple great scores.

This year I entered six beers, all of which were in the sour-funky vein. Out of those entries three are going onto the second round! Considering at most 11.2% (84 of the 750) of the entries in each region advance, my 50% isn't too shabby. Here are the results from Pittsburgh if anyone wants to see who I was up against. Below I summarized how each beer did, and quote the score sheets to give an impression of what the judges thought.

My three good NHC 2012 score sheets.39.5 - Brett Finished Belgian Single (16E Belgian Specialty Ale) - 2nd of 55

The judges were very enthusiastic about this one, although both were underwhelmed by the amount of Brett funk in the nose. I'm actually surprised how little the Brett brux has done, considering that when I bottled it I was concerned that the gravity might still be too high (1.010).

"Grainy and light slightly citrusy fruitiness. Low Brett character. Finishes light, crisp, with a slight sweet note. Very pleasant."

I'm planning on rebrewing this one over the summer. I'll be splitting this batch between the May-June Platinum White Labs Brett Trois strain (aka "Brett Drie") and the standard Brett brux.

38 - Berliner, Little Brother (17A Berliner Weisse) - Mini Best of Show

This basic recipe always does well in competition, it delivers a beer that fits well within the guidelines, and it seems to be a style a lot of other brewers have trouble getting sour enough. The problem is that at close to 3% ABV it is hard to get a Berliner weisse to compete against complex sour beers in the Belgian tradition.

"A little one dimensional but that's OK for style. To give it that extra oomph I'd like to see more wheat or malt character or maybe a touch of Brett."

I actually find it to have a pretty significant Brett character, if anything people usually say it has too much funk for the style. I think the judge may have confused the Brett for what he thought was an "earthy and spicy hop" in the aroma (there were only 1.5 oz of hops in 10 gallons, and it was brewed two years ago). Next month I'll be rebrewing this one with more wheat malt than my usual 30-40%.

34 - Cabernet Wine Barrel Solera (17F Fruit Lambic) - 1st of 28

Happy to win sours in my region for the second year in the last three! However, it was surprising to win with such a mediocre score. I'm sure wine grape character made the beer really stand out in the mini-best of show round. Bold flavors tend to do well in competition.

"It isn't very complex - really just sour - I enjoyed it though and it reminded me some of the great Cantillon grape lambics."

After going through the five gallon bucket of frozen wine grapes I bought two years ago with the help of a few friends, I think its time to get another. Although I might need a new source as the only frozen grapes Midwest Supplies has at the moment are pushing $200 a bucket including shipping (I paid around $100 for the first bucket).

32 Sour Cherry Bourbon Sour Porter (20 Fruit Beer) - 3rd of 16

Despite putting this one onto the second round, I thought the judges were way off base on a few of their comments. Not trying to blame them, this would be a hard beer to judge next to a variety of clean/sweet fruit beers. The base beer actually finished at 1.014, pretty sweet for a sour beer (although nothing like the 1.035+ that New Glarus has in their sour fruit beers).

"The sourness is very high. The porter character is light. Should be more porter-like. The finish is very long and a bit tannic. Very highly attenuated with no residual sweetness left in this beer. Base style 'Sour Porter' had to judge."

29.5 Buckwheat Sour Amber (17C Oud Bruin) - DNP

I didn't have high hopes for this beer as far as being to style, but I really like it. Both judges seemed to enjoy the flavors as well, but both pointed out that it is too thin/sour/bright for the style. I should learn my lesson and not enter beers that fall too far outside the style guidelines.

"The ester character could be muted slightly and the citrus eliminated while the fruit aspects could be played up."

26.5 Custom Blend Gueuze (17E Gueuze) - DNP

This batch was a custom blend I made and carbonated with a Carbonator Cap specifically for the NHC. After opening several bottles of beer and pulling samples from fermentors, I ended up with a blend of 37% DCambic, 30% Lambic 3, 26% Wine Barrel Solera, and 7% Berliner Lambic. I would have liked to taste this one after a couple weeks in the bottle because the comments were very different from what I tasted at bottling.

"This was a well crafted blend but the entire body of flavors and aroma was muted."

"The harsh finish just lingers in this beer, not good for style. Needs to be more complex and needs more carbonation."

So, three onto the second round! Hopefully one of them will earn me my first final round medal. Sadly I planned poorly and only have four bottles each of the Brett Finished Pale and the Sour Cherry Bourbon Porter, and the final round needs three of each. Just another reason for me not to like entering beers in competition.

It is amazing that in just the last few years the NHC has gone from never having a region max out, to this year when all 10 regions hit their entry cap within a few days of registration opening. I suspect a big part of the issue is those brewers gunning for the Ninkasi Award. This is the given to the brewer who accumulates the most wins in the final round. I'd like to see the AHA restrict each brewer to no more than five or ten entries, make brewers pick their best beers, not win by entering 50 beers.


Duffbowl said...


Categories 20-23 seem to cause the most angst when I've judged them. With fruit beers, I've had quite frank discussions with other judges about how much impact fruit has on a base beer style. My guess, and it's only a guess, is the judges saw "porter" (Cat 12) rather than "sour porter" (Cat 23).

danger said...

I don't want to come off as being mean, but those are some low scores for placing. Maybe it's the judges or the judging/category system. Do you think once they get to a mini-best of show, all formal judging goes out the window and people just pick what they liked best? Do you think perhaps yours beers lost something while shipping in less than favorable conditions?

Adam said...

It seems the low scores was a trend for the Pittsburgh location. I also received low scores and some weird comments. Also a lack of even mentioning a flaw in a beer that had a serious flaw. Pittsburgh seems to have been a strange location for a lot of people.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Yep, I saw several posts commenting on the low scores overall from the judges in Pittsburgh. In the end I'm less concerned with the actual numbers than with what the comments were (and how my beers did relative to others at the table).

One of the judges who was at the mini-BOS table for sours sent me this on Twitter: "It was unreal and easily the best beer I had the whole round."

I think part of the issue is that judges hold too tightly to the guidelines during the initial judging. Oddly judges at professional brewing competitions are supposed to be much more lenient on style guidelines. I’d like to see more emphasis on picking the best beer, as long as it is reasonably close to the style. Homebrewing should be about creativity, not clone brewing.

I doubt the shipping was a major issue for the five bottle conditioned beers (the gueuze though…), especially since I got them in at the start of the window, so they sat for ~3 weeks to settle before judging. My guess, having judged a few comps, is that the beers were served too cold initially. By the time the mini-BOS rolled around my beers were probably at a better temperature and tasted more complex (while some other beers may have expressed more off-flavors warmer).

SaisonSean said...

They all sound delicious. Good luck!

Oblivious said...

Congrates on the results :)

the devil's purse said... has great frozen must. the two mountain merlot and cab franc from washington state along with the barbera from italy i used were amazing quality and the wine came out great.

BeerLuver said...

Mike, Congrats on placing. Best of luck to you in round 2! Would you mind a quick question? For the beers you've aged months/year to you ever add additional yeast at bottling?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...


Yep, I usually add 1-2 g of dried wine yeast, rehydrated, for five gallons of long aged beer. You can usually get away without it, but a little extra insurance is a good idea.