Monday, October 1, 2012

Results of Eat Real Festival Homebrew Contest

So, last month I made my first foray into homebrew competition, at Oakland's amazing Eat Real Festival.  I entered four beers, not my four best, just the four of which I happened to have two 12-oz bottles on hand.  I didn't win, and they didn't award second or third place, but a couple received high marks from some of the judges.  Quite a few of the judges were BJCP-certified, and my beers were the only gluten-free contenders, competing against regular beers, with no specialty category.  The judges did know they were gluten-free, though at least one didn't know what that meant, and thought it had something to do with brewing without yeast.

Here are the beers I entered, their average scores (out of 20), and the recipes for them, as well as some choice quotes from the judges and my own thoughts on the beers.  They are listed in order of lowest-scoring to highest.

Beer #1: Transatlantic Honey Bitter
Score: 10.7 out of 20 (Grade: F)

3-Gallon Recipe:

Malt bill:
2 lb 10 oz Lundberg Rice Syrup, at 60 min
1 lb D-45 Amber Candi Syrup, at 60 min
8 oz local Oakland wildflower honey, at flameout
4 oz dark brown sugar (organic), at 60 min
2 oz maltodextrin, at 60 min

Hop schedule (all pellets):
0.75 oz Liberty hops, 60 min
0.5 oz Nugget hops, 15 min
0.5 oz Amarillo hops, 5 min
1 oz Palisades hops, 1 min

1 oz Yunnan black tea, steeped at 150°F for 30 seconds prior to boil

Safbrew S-33 dry yeast

Choice quote: "Enjoyed honey aroma, but then that aroma and flavor took over and was more like a mead than a beer".

My thoughts: this was a "clean out the fridge" beer I brewed when a shipment of hops failed to show up in time for brew day.  It was also quite young (as were most of the beers I entered), hence the overpowering honey flavor.  It's since mellowed quite a bit, and has a nice bready character that I attribute either to the S-33 or the Lundberg rice syrup.  It would undoubtedly score higher if it was entered as it tastes now.

Beer #2: Verano Perpetuo Agave-Vanilla Cream Ale
Score: 13 out of 20 (Grade: D+)

3-Gallon Recipe:

Malt bill:
1 lb Sorghum liquid extract, flameout
1 lb Rice syrup solids, 60 min
1 lb Organic amber blue agave nectar, 60 min
12 oz Clover honey, flameout

Hop schedule (all pellets):
0.5 oz Ahtanum, 60 min
0.5 oz Ahtanum, 5 min
1 oz Crystal, 5 min

0.5 oz Organic Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract, at bottling

Safale US-05 dry yeast

Choice quote: "Effervescent, sparkly, who cares if it is GF? Citrus, balanced, delicious vanilla notes."

My thoughts: this beer scored quite high with two judges, and judging by their handwriting, I suspect they were female.  This beer was my first experiment with agave nectar, and when it was quite young, it had a definite tequila tang.  The vanilla was waaaaay overpowering a few weeks after bottling, but mellowed substantially a few weeks later.  Not very "beery" but a fantastic light summer quencher.

Beer #3: Hop-Bursted Pale Ale
Score: 13.8 out of 20 (Grade: C-)

3-Gallon Recipe:

Malt bill:
4 lb Briess 45DE Brown Rice Syrup
8 oz Buckwheat honey
2 oz Maltodextrin

Hop schedule (all pellets):
0.2 oz Millenium hops, 60 min
0.5 oz Amarillo, 20 min
0.5 oz Centennial, 20 min
0.5 oz Amarillo, 10 min
0.5 oz Centennial, 10 min
0.5 oz Amarillo, 1 min

0.5 tsp Yeast nutrient

Safale S-04 dry yeast

Choice quote: "nice, mild, drinkable...what you'd 'expect' w/o yeast" [sic]

My thoughts: I can't take credit for this recipe, I got it from a friend on the forums who said it was the best beer he'd ever made.  It was my first beer using Briess rice syrup, and I should say that while it's a nice alternative to sorghum extract, the malt flavor is very flat and one-dimensional. Not up to my standards.  I wouldn't brew this one again, although the hop flavor was fantastic (especially when it was young--Amarillo hops have a wonderful apricot/passionfruit thing happening that I really enjoy).  It just needs a better malt backbone, even though this was the only one of my beers a judge described as "malty".

Beer #4: Omega Red Russian Imperial Stout
Score: 15.3 out of 20 (B-)

3-Gallon Recipe:

Steeping grains:
2 lbs roasted black "Forbidden" rice (aka purple sweet sticky rice)
2 lbs chocolate-roasted buckwheat (buckwheat roasted to the color of cacao nibs)
1.5 lbs roasted beets
Steep at 150°F for 30 minutes to an hour; add amylase enzyme if desired, to reduce starch haze and add fermentables.

3 lbs Rice syrup solids
2 lbs D-90 dark candi syrup
8 oz Molasses

Hop schedule:
0.5 oz Columbus pellets, 90 min
0.75 oz Willamette whole-leaf, 60 min
0.75 oz Willamette whole-leaf, 20 min
0.5 oz Willamette whole-leaf, 5 min

Safbrew S-33 dry yeast

Choice quote: "Very impressive.  Little to no flavor or body distinction despite lack of gluten-based malts.  Nice balance of hops.  Quite good."  "One of the most nicely-balanced beers of the day!"

My thoughts: I pulled out a lot of stops for this one, and thankfully it had been aging for a good while before I entered it.  It was the only one I entered that used steeping grains, and it illustrates the importance of using real grains (and not just extracts) in gluten-free brewing.  I am more proud of this beer than anything I've ever brewed to date.  But I should note: it NEEDS aging; at three weeks in the bottle, it was BITTER as all get-out, a real tongue-splitter.  But two months in, it's got the depth and complexity of a varietal organic dark chocolate bar, and is very drinkable despite its high alcohol and bitterness.  One of the judges said that if this had been competing only against other gluten-free beers, it would have scored MUCH higher; rather, it was competing with Oakland's best homebrewers, who are doubtless some of the best in the nation, and the fact that it did so well is very encouraging!

Concluding thoughts:
Most of the beers I entered were extract-only, and their poor performance was a huge kick in the pants for me to get the hell away from syrups and sugars and figure out how to make it happen with grains.  The most common critique was either a lack of body or a syrupy "medicinal" taste, and I concur with that criticism.  My extract-based beers are almost always either too thin and dry, or too syrupy and cidery.  The area that needs the most improvement is the malt backbone.  Hence, I'm toning down the hop experimentation, and getting myself excited about mostly-grain brewing.  More thoughts and experiences to follow!