If you read the Editor’s Note in the Winter Issue of California Beer & Pizza you may recall that I wrote about a first experience with entering a homebrew contest. After five or six years of immersion into the homebrewing hobby, I decided it would be a good idea to get some objective feedback from BJCP judges.
Encouraged by the initial results, and appreciative of the judge’s comments, I decided to look for another contest, this time to enter my chocolate stout. Since there was nothing coming up locally I opted for the Kona Homebrewers Contest Thus began a first experience with the shipping procedure. The cost for shipping two beers from California to Hawaii produced sticker shock but since I went through the effort of careful packaging the beers I decided to bite the bullet and pay it. From that point forward I worried about exploding beer bottles and rough handling during transport. Apparently, the shipping process went well as my beers did arrive and were judged.
I had gotten a lot of good feedback on my chocolate stout from friends so I was feeling fairly confident that I would get a decent score. However, you never really know if friends are being completely honest with you. They may not want to insult your beer or they may be more interested in keeping the free beer flowing than in offering constructive criticism. Fortunately, I do have a couple of friends who understand that honest feedback will help me improve my beers.
One concern I had with the judging involved the chocolate I used in the chocolate stout. In the past I have used chocolate extract but I had purchased a Dutch cocoa powder for a dessert that I never made and decided I would use that in the beer rather than let it go to waste. Just prior to brewing I was reading Brewing Classic Styles, which is the book I consult most often for inspiration in forming recipes. In the book it recommended that if using cocoa powder one should use a low-fat cocoa. I looked at my package of Dutch cocoa powder and saw that it was a high-fat powder so I decided to use 70% of the original planned amount and hope for the best. When I opened the first bottle I was worried there would be an excessive and overbearing chocolate flavor but that was not the case. In fact, when I brew this beer again I will follow the same plan in regards to the chocolate because for me, it was just right. But I still wondered if the BJCP judges, with their expert palates, would be able to tell I’d used a high fat cocoa powder and lower my score for it. In retrospect I think using the Dutch processed cocoa was a good idea. Here is a description of the effects of Dutch processing: *“It has a mild flavour, dissolves easily in liquids, and is a reddish-brown colour. Dutch processed cocoa is best used in cakes and pastries and products where its delicate flavour can compliment other ingredients.” Sounds like a good addition to the kettle to me.
My initial interest in entering a contest was so that I could receive comments and suggestions that could help with my brewing, but after receiving my first scores my hyper-competitive nature kicked in and what I really care about now is earning higher scores. Better beer and higher scores will naturally go hand in hand but the scoring system seems to have emerged as the dominant factor in my mind.
If you’re unfamiliar with the scoring system here is a brief overview. The beers are scored by two judges on 0-50 scale. The two judges’ scores are averaged for the final score. The value of the scores are as follows: 45-50 (Outstanding), 38-44 (Excellent) 30-37 (Very Good), 21-29 (Good), 14 – 20 (Fair), and 0-13 (Problematic). These categories are described further on the score sheet. In the first contest I entered with a Belgian Blonde I had a final score of 32.5.
In the Kona contest I was hoping to improve on the 32.5 but with different styles of beers being scored by different judges it’s not accurate to compare from one contest to the next but as I’ve mentioned, I’m becoming score obsessed.
When an envelope from Hawaii arrived in the mail I quickly opened it to find my score sheet and a refrigerator magnet and sticker from Ninkasi Brewing (If you want to check out some of Ninkasi’s beers on tap, check out my favorite pizza place in Bend, Oregon – Pacific Pizza & Brew – they have an awesome selection of micro-brews on tap.) I saw that I had received a final score of 34, a slight improvement. One judge awarded me 36 points (getting closer to the Excellent category) and the other a 32. A lot of the comments were difficult to read but both judges seemed to think the chocolate component was well balanced.
My best category was appearance as both judges gave me the maximum score, so at least it was a good-looking stout! The Mouthfeel category was a bit problematic as both judges criticized the carbonation. One said there was too much and one said not enough. Inconsistent carbonation from bottle to bottle has been one of my problems as a homebrewer. I also received a check mark in the Metallic box in the dreaded off-flavors section from one of the judges. She also mentioned in the Flavor section that the beer had a slight metallic taste. I’m not sure what causes that so I’ll have to do some research. One comment I found particularly beneficial, which I will ad to my brewing notes was, “Leaves bitterness on palate, not maltiness.” I will try to make adjustments to correct that next time.
I think it was worthwhile to enter the contest and hopefully the feedback will help in brewing better chocolate stouts in the future. I have a Belgian Dubbel ready to go and since I had registration problems with the AHA Homebrewing Competition I think I will package up the required three bottles for the Great Arizona Homebrew Competition.