Contest Karate (IV)

This is part four in this series — part one, part two, and part three can be found by following the appropriate links. in it, I examine ways to increase your chances of winning medals at homebrew contests. It all starts with brewing good beer, but for the brewer who really wants to make a splash in his local homebrew circuit, there’s more to it than that. 

There are different levels of contest competitors. Some brewers simply want to brew a few beers and win some hardware at their local competition — and maybe send a beer or two to the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). Other brewers may wish to enter several competitions or compete in a “circuit” of homebrew competitions. In a circuit, brewers score points for every beer that medals at each circuit competition. At the end of competition season, there are awards for the brewers who scored the most cumulative points. No matter how competitive you wish to be, a little planning can go a long way.

If your main concern is your local homebrew contest, you will know (at least roughly) when it is held each year. If you have your sights set on more than one contest, you should likewise determine when they are held. Most contests are held in the spring while the fewest are held in summer. Thus, many of the contests you wish to enter may be relatively close together. How does knowing this help you? It gives you time to plan your brewing. [Read more…]

Contest Karate (III)

In the first installment of this article, I discussed brewing quality beer and entering as many beers as possible as ways to use “contest karate” to win medals at homebrew contests. In the second installment, the metaphor somehow changed to Sun Tzu’s opinions on waging war and I stressed the importance of brewing your beer to stand out in a flight of similar beers. In this installment, I’ll inexplicably switch to talking about — oh, why don’t we make it ninjas? — and give further advice on entering homebrew contests. [Read more…]

Contest Karate

These beers may win a medal at a homebrew contest. How will you know? If you can snatch one before I make them disappear, the answer will come to you. (If you were smart enough not to punch a hole in your computer screen, trying to grab one of the beers in the picture, you are ready to begin your journey.)

This is an article about how to increase your chances at winning medals at homebrew contests. At this point, a very valid question you may have is, “How the hell would Chris know how to win medals?” Well, I used to enter contests fairly frequently. And, towards the end of my contest-entering phase, I did fairly well. Not ludicrously well, but I won a few medals. Much more importantly, I’ve judged and otherwise helped out at numerous contests, and seen how things work behind the scenes. My homebrew club (the Austin ZEALOTS), also has a pile of guys who are big into the competitions, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume you want to enter contests and win medals. If you simply want to continue brewing the beers you like, and occasionally enter a couple, that’s great. The point of homebrewing is to have fun. But this article is meant for someone who is looking to have fun by racking up a huge medal count and is willing to put the time and effort into doing it. So grasshopper — or cricket, or katydid, or whichever insect term you prefer — let’s begin your training. [Read more…]

Should I Dump It?

One of the most-asked questions on homebrewing forums is, “Should I dump it?” And, we’ve all likely been there. Something seems wrong with a batch and you are starting to fear that the worst has happened. With experience, you can learn which warning signs point to real trouble and which do not. For new brewers, however, unusual aromas, sights, or flavors can cause a panic. Here is a quick rundown of situations that lead brewers to ask this question, and what they should do. [Read more…]

A Surefire Way to Improve Your Beers . . . And Why You Will Ignore This Advice

I once met a fellow brewer who had built his own RIMS system. He had two temperature probes in his mash vessel and had fiddled with the engineering of the heating loop and wort return. He had also tweaked his process, varying how the wort was heated, his pump speed, etc., and finally arrived at a point that he was proud of. He could hold his mash temperatures steady, within only 0.5 °F (~0.25 °C) over time or between different places in the mash (except for inside the heating loop, obviously). He could program virtually any step mash into his controller and the rig would carry it out. He was very proud of his accomplishment (as he should have been) and he offered me one of his beers. It was contaminated. [Read more…]

Time to Get Happy

Grapes rotting — er, I mean turning into wine — in a pot.

OK, it’s time for me to get happy. And to do so, I’m going to brew another version of one of my favorite beers — Ancient Sumerian Happy Juice. Several years ago, I read the English translation of the poem Hymn to Ninkasi. This poem praises the goddess Ninkasi, who the ancient Sumerians believed watched over beer production. From the poem, I came up with a “beer” recipe. The beverage contains honey and fruits, as well as grains, so it’s really a hybrid beer, wine, and mead. The basic idea was that dates were crushed and made into wine. Barley was milled and mixed with honey and baked into bread, which the poem called bappir. Malted grains were then mashed along with the bread. The wort from this was boiled and then cooled and the fermenting date wine was added to it. I used some smoked malt in the recipe as I figured that ancient malting techniques may have yielded malt tainted with smoke.  [Read more…]

20 Brewing Questions

So you think you know brewing, huh? Well step up to the plate and try to answer these 20 brewing questions. If you can pick the right answers from the wrong answers, the doubly wrong answers, and the answers that are so wrong that they just might be right, you will have our undying respect. This quiz is meant to be challenging, but also fun. And, given that you’ll score it yourself, you can still score 100% no matter what you answer (you know, like most online quizzes). If you’re brave, post your answers — that you gave without Googling — in the comments section. I’ll post the answer key with explanations of everything — and hopefully better jokes — on Thursday. So, grab your #2 pencil, then set it back down because you shouldn’t draw on your computer screen and . . . begin the quiz! [Read more…]

Grapefruit Juice Pale Ale

Grapefruit juice adds some tasty citrus character

One thing that attracts me to “West Coast” pale ales and IPAs is the citrus character of their hops. I remember brewing my first pale ale with Amarillo back in the day, and I was amazed by the amount of grapefruit flavor and aroma coming out of my pint glass. In order to chase that fruit character, I decided to play with some juice.

As Chris noted in an earlier story on brewing fruit beers, you can use peel, flesh, juice or extract from fruit to achieve a fruity flavor. Back in 2014, I brewed a pineapple saison using a quart of frozen pineapple juice added at the end of the boil. This was inspired by an interview with homebrewers Brook Baber and David Bauter on Basic Brewing Radio about their method of brewing graf, a fictional beverage envisioned by Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series. Brook and David froze fruit juice in plastic bags and added it to the end of the boil to help jump start the chilling process. The technique worked well for my saison, so I decided to adopt it for my grapefruit pale ale. [Read more…]

Sorghum Syrup Belgian-Style Ale

Sweet and slow, pouring sorghum syrup takes patience

Sweet sorghum syrup is tasty on pancakes, and it’s also a tasty addition to a Belgian-style ale. Its flavor is much like molasses. However, how it’s made is more like maple syrup.

Every fall, participants in the Cane Hill Harvest Festival in Cane Hill, Arkansas, take sorghum cane grown on the grounds of historic Cane Hill College and turn it into dark, sticky deliciousness. The locals just call it “sorghum,” but sorghum cane is different from sorghum grain, which is used to brew gluten-free beers. And although some people call the end product “sorghum molasses,” it’s not really molasses. Molasses is a by-product of turning sugar cane and sugar beets into granulated sugar. [Read more…]

Partial Mashing Positives

Like most homebrewers, I started out using the standard “malt extract with steeping grains” method of homebrewing. I can remember making a “pale ale” with two cans of liquid malt extract, a pound of crystal malt, and 2 oz. (60 g) of Cascade hops.

Later, I switched to all-grain brewing and was a bit of a purist for many years, only brewing all-grain batches. After all, my beers got markedly better when I switched to all-grain, why go back to an inferior method? Years later, I realized that it wasn’t the switch to all-grain that made better beers, it was all the other things I started doing at that same time. For example, I started making yeast starters. I started to evaluate my brewing ingredients and not brewing with stale malt or cheesy hops. And I started learning more about the science of brewing. [Read more…]