It’s my third year entering beers at NHC and I took a similar approach to last year. I should get 4 or 5 entries so I plan on brewing 6 and then picking the best ones to send. My overall goal is to do as well as possible at NHC, not in a specific category, so my strategy for picking the styles to brew is to use the following criteria:
1> fewest number of entries
duh. seems kinda lame to go after the small categories but if i want to do well, then entering american ipa is a tough row to hoe. i have huge respect for someone who want to brew the worlds best american ipa and dedicates all their efforts towards that (kelsey mcnair) but i don’t like any one style that much – i really likely brewing different stuff – and my goal is just general success at NHC so if thats my goal then I should go for categories with fewer entries.
2> technically difficult to brew
i feel like i am an excellent brewer and i have pro brewery level processes so it makes sense to take advantage of that and go for styles that a beginning brewer couldn’t just luck into making well. not to knock mid-range stouts, scottish ales or american ales but we’ve all been to that homebrew meetings where a first time brewer nails those brews on there first go around. but how many truly exceptional Czech Lagers do you have from a rookie brewer. I have had zero.
3> something i feel i brew well
i think if i put my mind to it i can brew any style well (ie hefeweizen experiments) but there are some that due to my process, water etc… that tend to turn out better for me.
4> something i would like to drink a few gallons of
not into dumping beer. i’ve done it, but only when truly bad or it’s just not getting drunk and i need to free up a keg.
5> all 6 beers work together in a reasonable brewing schedule
i think my biggest issue last year was that a lot of my entries were showing age. last year i brewed once a month, packaged when ready and stored cold till the competition. so most of my beers were many months old. my dortmunder did really well but other beers got comments about being stale. so, this year i want to time beers so they are at their peak when they are packaged and then shipped right after that so they are in the best condition possible.
putting together a brewing schedule last year was a bit easier since we were using the old style guidelines and there was lots of data around how many entries there were in each category. since we are using the new 2015 guidelines i have to make an educated guess. the other tricky part is, historically, the lager categories have had the fewest entries and are technically difficult to brew so that was an easy choice. the 2015 guidelines intermingle lagers and ales in a lot of the categories making it more difficult so determine where the entries will be. so, after going through everything i decided on international lager, amber bitter european beer, czech lager, british bitter, pale commonwealth beer and german wheat beer. i’m thinking that intl lager, czech lager and pale commonwealth beer are new and previously less entered types of beers and amber bitter, bitter and german wheat have had low entries in the past. also i want to do some lagers early and quick turn around beers late so everything would fit well together and i would have proper lagering and fermentation space through the whole process. so i started off with brewing intl amber lager and vienna on the same day and fermenting in the same chamber together.
Beer Name: intl amber lager ebiab 1
Style: International Amber Lager
Original Gravity: 1.049
Final Gravity: 1.010
Alcohol: 5.1 %
Bitterness: 18.7 IBUs
Mash Fermentable Weight: 11.25 Pounds
Mash Thickness: 2.0 Quarts per Pound
Grain Temp: 72 F
Strike Water Qty: 7.63 Gallons
Mash Volume: 8.53 Gallons
Strike Water Temp: 160.7 F
Mash Temp: 152 F
Kettle Gravity (start of boil): 1.040
Predicted Mash Run-off Volume: 6.6125
Target Starting Boil Volume: 7.25
Boil Duration: 60 Minutes
Evaporation Rate: 1.25 Gallons per Hour
Final Boil Volume: 6
||Rahr Pale Malt; American (Rahr)
||Weyermann Munich Type II
||Simpsons Medium Crystal
Yeast and Friends
||Wyeast Labs 2124 Bohemian Lager
||Yeast Nutrient (Wyeast)
Liquid Yeast Pitch – Stirplate StarterFirst Starter
Quantity of Yeast: 1 vials / pouches (100B cells per)
Quantity of DME: 134 grams
Starter Size: 1.3 litersSalt and Acid adjustments:Mash Salts:
Gypsum: 4.0 gram
Calcium Chloride: 4.0 gramMash Acid:Sparge/Boil Salts:
Predicted Mash pH of: 5.43
Mash Ions (ppm):
Ca: 77.0 Mg: 3.0 Na: 21.0 Cl: 77.8 So: 101.2
Boil Ions (ppm):
Ca: 77.0 Mg: 3.0 Na: 21.0 Cl: 77.8 So: 101.2
152F 60 mins
168F 10 mins
1-2-16 i ended up using wlp830 since it was the freshest i could get. made a 1.5L starter.
1-4-16 normal brewday. double with this beer first and vienna second. cooled to 48F. pitched at 50F and set brewpi to 50F.
1-5-16 AM ~60 sec bubbling
noon – kreusen starting to form and ~20 sec bubbling
1-6-16 1″ kreusen and steady bubbling
1-8-16 ditto. maybe slowing a hair
1-9-16 ~2 sec between bubbling
1-10-16 ~4 sec and kreusen starting to drop
1-11-16 ~6 sec
1-12-16 ~15 sec
1-13-16 ~20 sec
1-14-16 ” starting to drop clear
1-16-16 ~40 sec
1-18-16 basically done bubbling
1-19-16 up to 55F for diacetyl rest
1-20-16 up to 60F for diacetyl rest
1-21-16 no bubbling
1-23-16 racked to keg for lagering. nice and clean. low sulfur. very promising. FG 1.014. pH 4.38.
2-15-16 gelatin added (1/2 tsp + 1/4 cup filtered water heated to 180F in microwave)
2-18-16 raced to serving keg and set to 30 psi for 24 hours @ ~40 F
2-19-16 put on draft. crystal clear. carb already pretty good. set to 13psi @ 40F to target 2.5 volumes.
2-28-16 having some carb issues. looks like fridge set to 38F is around 3-40F so really should set beer to 12psi. seems a hair higher carb than i would want. bottled off 7.
tasting mine (IA) vs boston lager:
aroma: BL – a whisper of sulfur, pilsner malt and low bready notes
IA low caramel, toasty notes, lightly sweet
appearance: very similar. BL more bubbles and IA a bit more copper and BL more amber. both crystal clear.
flavor: both very clean. BL more cracker, toast & bready. IA more caramel. both very clean and fairly similar.
mouthfeel: BL is more carbonated. IA is medium. BL is med-high. both med body.
wife preferred mine 🙂 the style is new so not sure how judges will react but it seems pretty spot on to me.
NHC results and other competition results:
I entered this beer in first round of NHC and it scored a 29.5. both judges said it was a very good beer but that it was minty and woody hops that were too strong for the style. also one judge said had too much caramel and the other said it didn’t have enough. not really sure what to make of the feedback. i think for this style judges are look for an amber colored, very bland beer which doesn’t line up with the bjcp style description. strangely one judge said this should have been entered as a 19B cal common. in looking at the notes it almost seems like they had two different beers? how can one judge say it is low hop aroma and flavor and the other say medium aroma and medium high flavor? it wasn’t till i had brewed all my beers that I realized NHC ended up using their own modified BJCP 2015 set of categories which lumped international amber in with dusseldorf alt and cal common. not ideal. sheets here:
I also entered it in the colonial cup in south carolina where it scored a 34. these judges noted low hops as a appropriate but that it was too “flavorful” and needed more corn adjuncts. sheets here:
The scores weren’t terrible and mostly seemed to be aimed at the recipe. Honestly, I’m not really sure what to take from this feedback except maybe make the beer more boring and that judges aren’t up to speed on international amber yet since they comments seem to go directly against the style guide or maybe i’m not paying enough attention to the commercial examples. Less or no late hops (even though there wasn’t much to begin with) and dumb down the grain bill with more colorful from flavorless malts (ie midnight wheat). Not sure I will enter this style again since that doesn’t sound like something I would want to drink although i really enjoyed drinking this beer 🙂