Tuesday, May 8, 2012

NHC 2011 First Round Results

This was my first time entering beers in the NHC (and stewarding). This year's competition is a hot button for a lot of brewers because of how quickly the judging centers filled up. In San Diego, all 750 entries were taken in around 2 days. This is even after they added 2 more judging centers and raised the entry fee from $6 to $10 (BOOM, 67% inflation in 1 year).
 I entered 4 beers into this year's NHC. Nothing advanced, but I think it is important for blogs to have full disclosure to their readers. Some of my beers scored badly so see my lessons learned below and help improve your chances in competition.
2010 Flanders Red - NHC Score Sheets added to Tasting Notes
Summary - 29 - Malt bill is 1 dimensional, more malt complexity, subtle and restrained - I got the impression they just thought it was OK. It has all the right flavors (at least from their notes), but didn't stick out in their mind. I think my lack of sourness hurt this beer in competition because 1) the sourness helps brighten the other flavors and 2) the others beers in the flight had much higher sourness making mine seem flat. The beer was made with 7 grains in the grist.

Traditional French Saison - NHC Score Sheets added to Tasting Notes
Summary - 41 (mini BOS) - Lemon and citrus (from Wyeast 3711 yeast), light tartness (acid malt addition), light funk (Brett C added at bottling) - needs better head retention (add more grain with higher protein levels)

Belgian Pale Ale - Achouffe Version - NHC Score Sheets added to Tasting Notes
Summary - 22 - Over the top phenols into the plastic flavors, no malt, no hops, too dry - the beer changed considerably from when I tasted this back in November. The hops are gone and the yeast phenols now dominate everything. And definitely plastic and harsh on the tongue - see lessons learned below.

Oak Aged Scottish 80/-
My Oatmeal Scottish 80/- that has been aged on .25 oz of French Oak cubes.
Summary - 27 - Easy drinking, low malt flavors, acidity, maybe wild yeast - I have never seen such a difference in judges' opinion. I tasted the beer after receiving the score sheets and the oak flavor is very dominant in the aroma and the taste has nicely balanced malt flavors. I think my problem is that most of the beers in this category are high alcohol barleywines or imperial stouts. And once the beer warms up there is some sourness that must have come from some infection during the 6 months in the bottle since I tasted it last.

By attending the judging as a steward and reviewing my score sheets I learned a lot from this year's competition:
  • Try your beer right before you plan to enter it. 2 of my 4 beers changed considerably since I've tried them. They were both from small 1 gal batches, so I didn't want to drink one and risk not having enough bottles for the 2nd round (or my enjoyment). For next year's competition I will taste my beers right before entering them (or registering).
  • Enter beers into a competition before NHC to see if it is worthy of that caliber. For me, Americas Finest Homebrew Competition the month before will be my contest. So for my new plan, I will need to make sure to save (by marking the caps "AFC", "NHC"):
    • AFC: 2 beers + 2 for before and after 
    • NHC 4 beers + 2 for before and after
  • Think about how your beer will match up to other beers that will be judged in the same category. For example, my 4% scottish ale didn't have much of a chance in wood aged beers when the majority of the beers are high alcohol malt bombs.
  • If you are only going to enter a few beers each year (which I am) then concentrate on only a few styles. If you only brew the style once a year it will make it hard or a long time to perfect that style. I am going to start focusing my efforts in Categories 16, 17 and 19. Plus more styles that don't have a category (yet) like 100% Brett beers.


  1. stinks about the saison, a 41 that doesnt advance?! Maybe you could use unmalted wheat in it next time? That should provide you tons and tons of head

    1. Yeah, I was sorta bummed, but I guess it is nice to know I have a recipe that performs well in competition and with a little tweaking I think it could be even better.

      I was thinking of using triticale in my Saison this year. Don't you think that would help with the head retention?

  2. Don't worry too much about it. That's just how it is. Personally I stopped entering competitions altogether because the feedback is generally just retarded and I don't want to waste my beers and money on comments like "this beer is dry... cloyingly sweet" etc. Just brew for your own enjoyment. Sharing with other homebrewers and getting their feedback is far more constructive in my opinion.

    1. For most of my beers I completely agree with you. I do have a little competitive side and would like the feeling of earning a medal. It sounds sad, but it's true. And the more competitions I steward the more I understand how much of a lottery it is. Your beer must be solid (no flaws) and to style, but after that it comes down to the judge's personal opinion.

      There were several judges I helped that had never had a commercial example from several of the sub categories in the category they were judging. And I am San Diego which has a very large pool of great beer judges.

      I felt overall that I got some good feedback and learned some good lessons.

    2. Mmmmm... you almost make me want to enter another one if there are judges and stewards who actually know what they're talking about. Maybe I will :)

    3. Agreed. I'd be a little miffed to have paid $10 for Mr. Krone's review there. He compared to the beer to Coors Light and then went on to make a sexist comment. Not every beer need to be a 12% ABV, 80 IBU imperial stout, and some women actually prefer those beers.

    4. Agreed, but the feedback from the Certified judge is quite helpful. I think those 2 score sheets are a great example of the huge quality difference in judging you. Let's just hope the Apprentice gets some more practice.

  3. I've found this mash schedule to provide an amazing head in Saison's. My 100% pilsner Patersbier had that most amazing rocky head off this infusion mash schedule.

    Traditional Saison Mash Schedule

    115 degrees for 30 minutes
    136 degrees for 25 minutes
    145 degrees for 30 minutes
    156 degrees for 15 minutes
    Sparged at 167

    1. I'm going to take the easy way first with a higher protein grain addition, but if I'm still having trouble I'll use this.

      Thanks, that's a good reference.

  4. http://www.notsoprofessionalbeer.com/2013/09/brewing-with-yogurt.html?showComment=1548081206963#c7818898612448649818


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