2017 Competition Recap

I sometimes joke about not being a competitive person, at which point my wife looks at me sideways like “Really?” I think I associate competitive in my head with that guy or girl from high school who played seven sports and went to a private college on a tennis scholarship. I didn’t play sports growing up, but was in the marching band and competed both in marching and concert bands. In college, I played video games, did Ham radio competitions, started playing fantasy football and hockey and then eventually got into distance running.  So naturally, I started entering competitions almost immediately after starting homebrewing.  My first entry was my second ever batch and my first medal (a new brewer award) came on my 5th batch.

The 2017 Competition season has come to an end and it was very interesting and successful, although it didn’t start out that way.  I didn’t have any success in the early competitions, including a crushingly low score for my Cascadian Dark Ale in the NHC Regionals. Decent scores at KLCC, Spring Fling and Heart of Cascadia, but no medals.

I’ve won a few medals here and there, but I entered 2017 with a plan.  That plan didn’t totally work out, but what happened in it’s place was still pretty great.  In December of 2016 I brewed a Belgian Dark Strong. The original plan was to bottle condition for nearly an entire year and not break it out until the Fall Classic in November. My curiousity got the best of me and I tasted it after 6 months and it tasted awesome, so I decided to enter it into the State Fair.  It didn’t medal, but I got some good feedback on it.  Around this same time, a couple of my homebrewing friends tasted it and gave me some feedback and at this point I knew I wanted to re-brew it and make some changes, so I was no longer trying to hold on to this until summer of 2018.  I started entering the BDS into competitions to start getting more feedback.

The first competition I entered it into was the Lane County fair, along with my Belgian Wit that I had made because I had most of the ingredients already on hand.  They started out in different categories but due to being a small comp they combined all the Belgians together and I ended up competing against myself. The Dark Strong took third place in the combined Belgian category.

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I found it humorous that they mailed my my $4.00 premium as well.

For the next couple of competitions the BDS and the Wit were all I had ready. It was too hot for me to brew during the main part of the summer (June, July, August).  The next event was the Rocktoberfest Competition in Redmond.  I sent in the BDS and the Wit and this time, they stayed in separate categories and I happened to take 3rd place in both.

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I was getting pretty excited at this point.  To have the same beer medal multiple times was pretty amazing.  Little did I know at the time that that trend was going to continue.  The next competition was the Sasquatch Homebrew Competition in Eugene.  This event had a limited number of categories, but one happened to be Trappist, so I sent in the Belgian Dark Strong.  This time it took Second place.  Even while it was winning medals it still seemed to be improving with time, another testament to the bottle conditioning process.

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Huge ribbon from Sasquatch.

The next event was a new event called the Salem Harvest Classic, run by Capitol Brewers in Salem.  I once again submitted the BDS and the Wit and managed to double dip again.  This time, 2nd place for the BDS and 3rd place for the Wit.  I felt like I was picking up steam coming into our club competition, the Fall Classic.  I was out of bottles of the Wit, and now that it was cool enough again, I brewed up a American Pale Ale and another version of my Cascadian Dark Ale.  The CDA scored well but didn’t medal, and my Pale Ale had a carbonation issue so it didn’t do well either, but lo and behold the Belgian Dark Strong took second place.  After 4 years of entering the competition, and being heavily involved in running it the last 3 years (including two years of labeling the medals) I had finally taken home a Fall Classic medal.  I’d say this one certainly meant the most.  Everyone there was so excited for me to win, and that kind of support is what makes the hobby run.  Also, late that night when we finally made it home, my Salem Harvest Classic medals had come in the mail and were waiting for me.

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I was now out of Belgian Dark Strong bottles to enter, so it’s run was over, but when it was all said and done, two bronze medals and three silver medals.  I’ve already brewed the 2018 batch and it’s currently doing it’s thing in the bottles. The first entry for that batch will be the NHC Regionals in April so we’ll see how it does then.

The last competition of the season was the Joint Novembeerfest and Puget Sound Pro-Am.  I entered the pale ale and the CDA into this competition and the Pale Ale got a decent score and good feedback but no medal. The CDA, on the other hand, took third place in Specialty IPA, which is always a very competitive category.  I was extremely happy with this result.  The two other medals I’ve won with my CDA were in custom categories for CDA only.  Specialty IPA includes all the new styles like Red IPA, Belgian IPA and New England Style IPA.

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Before 2017 I had four medals (1 bronze, 3 silver).  Now I have 12.  That’s very impressive.  I didn’t take first place in a category or win best in show or anything like that, but I tripled the number of ribbons and medals hanging on my wall and I’m pretty stoked about that.

I have two goals for 2018.  Understandably, there’s a good chance this won’t happen, but isn’t that the point of setting goals?

First, I want to get on the scoreboard of the Oregon State Homebrewer of the Year.  Not win the whole thing, or even finish top 10, but just get my name on there.  To score points in OSHBOTY you have to get first place in a category, so by default that means one of my goals is also to score my first gold medal in a category.

Second, I want to advance a beer to the finals of the National Homebrew Competition.  To do that, you have to medal in your category and score 30 plus points.  Again, I’m not looking to win anything in the finals, but just to have the chance. Taking first place in the NHC regionals would accomplish both my goals at once, so fingers crossed!

So there we have it, a look back on the past year and a look ahead to next year.

2017 GABF Winners

Apparently, I missed the 2016 awards, at least as far as the blog is concerned, but looking back at the 2015 Awards post there were 17 medals from Oregon, 8 medals from North Carolina and the distribution was 9 Gold, 8 Silver and 8 Bronze.

This year, I was able to watch/listen to the live feed of the awards ceremony and got to cheer and hear them as they were announced.  This year there was again a large number of Oregon awards and a good amount of North Carolina awards including a couple of multiple award winners.

Starting with Oregon;

Breakside Brewing – Portland, OR
Bronze Medal – American IPA (408 entries!)
Bronze Medal – Rye Beer
Bronze Medal – American Style Strong Pale Ale (182 entries)
Bronze Medal – Fruited American Style Sour Ale (105 entries)

Goodlife Brewing – Bend, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer

Sunriver Brewing – Sunriver, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
Gold Medal – Imperial Red Ale
Small Brewing Company of the Year

Logsden Farmhouse Ales – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – Belgian Style Fruit Beer

Ground Breaker Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Gluten-Free Beer

Flat Tail Brewing Co – Corvallis, OR
Gold Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Alesong Brewing and Blending – Eugene, OR
Bronze Medal – Brett Beer

Full Sail Brewing Co – Hood River, OR
Silver Medal – American or International Style Pilsener

Base Camp Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – Speciality Saison

Three Creeks Brewing – Sisters, OR
Bronze Medal – Session Beer

Zoiglhaus Brewing – Portland, OR
Gold Medal – German Style Pilsener

Coldfire Brewing – Eugene, OR
Silver Medal – Double Red Ale

Now for North Carolina;

Lynnwood Brewing Concern – Raleigh, NC
Gold Medal – American Belgo-style Ale
Silver Medal – American Style Pale Ale (199 entries!)

New Sarum Brewing – Salisbury, NC
Gold Medal – Herb and Spice Beer (145 entries!)

Currahee Brewing – Franklin, NC
Bronze Medal – Coffee Stout or Porter

Bond Brothers Beer Co – Cary, NC
Silver Medal – American Style Sour Ale

Sycamore Brewing and Cannery – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – Light Lager
Bronze Medal – American Style Lager or Malt Liquor

Foothills Brewing – Winston Salem, NC
Bronze Medal – Bohemian-Style Pilsner (93 entries!)

Wedge Brewing Co – Asheville, NC
Gold Medal – German Style Maerzen

Lonerider Brewing – Raleigh, NC
Bronze Medal – German Style Doppelbock or Eisbock

Olde Mecklemburg Brewing – Charlotte, NC
Bronze Medal – South German Style Hefewiezen

Hillman Beers – Asheville, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Dubbel or Quadruple

BearWaters Brewing Co – Canton, NC
Bronze Medal – Belgian Style Strong Speciality Ale

Duck Rabbit Brewing – Farmville, NC
Silver Medal – Scotch Ale

What an impressive showing.  16 individual medals + Small Brewing Company of the year for Oregon and 14 individual medals for North Carolina.

The medal breakdown for Oregon is 7 Golds, 3 Silver and 6 Bronze, while North Carolina took home 3 Gold, 3 Silver and 8 Bronze.

The question of style.

Hang out in homebrew or beer geek circles long enough and eventually you will hear an argument about styles.  Not whether stout is superior to IPA (which also happens) but whether styles should exist at all.  One of the freedoms of homebrewing (and sometimes pro as well) is the ability to make whatever the hell you want.  Want to brew a stout, use a Belgian yeast strain and then add in sour dregs of Rodenbach Grand Cru? You can.  In fact I have a friend who does just that.  However, what happens when you want to enter that beer into a competition? You have to call it something.

The two style guides that I am most familiar with are the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guide and the BA (Brewers Association) style guide.  As I mentioned in the best of craft beer post, BJCP is about 32 styles and used mostly for homebrew competitions while the BA guide is over 160 styles and is used for commerical beer competitions, most notably the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).

A piece of advice that I heard as I became more competitive was “If you want to get feedback on your beer, enter it as the style you intended it.  If you want to win medals, enter the beer as the style is most closely resembles.”  Say for example you make a Cascadian Dark Ale (aka Black IPA) and it doesn’t turn out hoppy enough, you basically just made an American Stout.  For me personally, these two ideals are not as mutually exclusive as they may seem though.  If I’m brewing a CDA (a style that I really enjoy and have had moderate success with, two 2nd place medals) I’m not going to be happy if that beer takes a medal in “American Stout”, even if it was first place.  Because to me, in my mind, it’s not an American Stout.  I’ve only done the category switch one time, and in essence I didn’t even change categories.  I had a batch of my CDA not pull enough color, so I called it a Red IPA instead, but it was still within the “Specialty IPA” category.  It didn’t score well.

Pro brewers I’ve noticed also seem to follow the “Enter what it’s like” advice when it comes to major competitions.  Looking at last years GABF results I see a few odd balls that stick out to me.  Pabst won a silver medal in “American Style Cream Ale” with Old Style Lager.  Well, Cream Ales aren’t lagers.  To me, that’s in the wrong category.  In the past I’ve seen other things like an ESB win a medal in American Amber.  I’ve seen beers with label graphics proudly announcing the fact that their Red IPA won a silver medal in the German Dark Lager category.  To me, that’s not something I would announce and be proud of, but again, that’s just me.  I don’t want to win a medal for the wrong category.

What do you guys think out there? Is it good enough just to win a medal period or is it good to be a stickler for accuracy?

Best of Craft Beer Awards 2017

Last weekend I had the honor of judging the 2017 Best of Craft Beer Awards in Bend, Oregon.  I had been invited last year, but wasn’t able to make it due to a prior commitment (judging another competition actually).  This is the fourth year of the competition, which has steadily grown.  Wanting to recognize craft brewing but use actual blind judging rather than a people’s choice or “best of” list, similar to GABF and World Beer cup, is the goal of the event.  Based on shipping and judging location the contest was heavy with Pacific Northwest and California beers, but there was a good number from the Midwest and East Coast, including a couple from North Carolina.

The judging was held at the Mt Bachelor Resort in Bend.  The weather was cold, but the hospitality was quite warm.  They fed us breakfast and lunch both days during the judging and took care of pretty much anything else we would need.

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This was my first experience in judging commercial beer and it was both similar and different to judging homebrew.  The first way that it was different was instead of one sample at a time, they brought us flights of ten to twelve all at once.  They also had very short, checklist style scoresheets.  No long winding feedback here, just a few words and on to the next sample.  It was rapid fire judging.  The beers with obvious flaws were weeded out right away and then we would debate amongst the good ones which deserved to move on to the next round.

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The second major way it was different was the sheer number of styles.  The BJCP recently updated their style guidelines up to 32 styles, but this competition uses the Brewers Association styles (same ones GABF uses).  The BA has over 160 styles, which if you’re curious you can find HERE. These guidelines are much more narrow than BJCP, and since this is commerical beer a lot of it is based on alcohol percentage and IBU (bitterness), something that is usually not known for homebrew.  For example, two of the styles I judged were American Style IPA and American Style Strong Pale Ale.  What’s a Strong Pale Ale you ask? Well, that’s a beer with slightly more alcohol and bitterness than a Pale Ale, but not as much as an IPA.  Plus some overlap.  Confused? Without being told, these two styles would be indistinguishable, but Strong Pale Ale ranges from 5.6%-7.0% Alcohol and 40-50 IBU, while American IPA ranges from 6.3%-7.5% alcohol and 50-70 IBU.  Stuff like Pliney the Elder at 8.0% and 100IBU? That’s a different category.

Beyond that it was pretty much just like judging homebrew.  Taste the beer, give it a score, write some feedback, move on.  One of the things several people remarked to me as a similarity to homebrew was that there would be just as much bad beer as good.  Shockingly they were right. It startled me how many of the beers were bad, and I don’t just mean low quality or something I didn’t like.  These beers had serious production flaws that indicated they had been rushed, not given enough time, bottled too soon or crashed (chilled) too soon.  Off flavors like diacetyl and acetaldehyde that the yeast will eventually get rid of but it needs time.  On the first day I judged 49 samples, most of them before lunch.  Thankfully the second day I only judged 16.

After the judging, they brought out the half empty bottles (which would get dumped anyway) so that we could taste some of the samples from categories we hadn’t judged and also see the labels and find out what we had just judged blind.  Some people would match up entry numbers and walk around with a bottle letting people try it and saying “This took first place in stout, you gotta try it!” I took a few sips of things, but realized quickly at the end of the first day that I was “beered-out”.  No matter what bottle I picked they all started tasting the same.  Starting the day on IPAs and finishing with sours, my palate was wrecked.

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Just as a demonstration of the widespread nature of the competition, I went back and looked at my Untappd check-ins over the course of the two days and I logged 25 unique beers from 12 different states.  Representing Wisconsin, Alaska, Mass., Colorado, California, Oregon (of course), Minnesota, Texas, Missouri, Washington, Nevada and North Carolina.  Counting the bottles I took home, you can add Ohio and Alabama to that list as well.

There were at least 12 members of my homebrew club, the Oregon Brew Crew in attendance as judges and stewards so there were plenty of people I knew there.  Other none OBC judges I recognized from other competitions as well.  You start to get to know people when you see them 6-7 times a year.  That’s the fun part of being a judge!

At the end of the event was what had enticed a lot of people to make the trip, the bottle grab!  Commercial breweries often send twice the amount of beer needed for a competition, for fear of breakage, spillage, etc, so there was a lot of unopened bottles left at the end.  Since the beer was donated for samples it can’t be resold and is expensive to ship back, so rather than dump it down the drain, they lay out the boxes and let the judges have at it!

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A lot of people took home three and four boxes worth, but I decided that I didn’t need that much at home, and to try to move it, carry it all wasn’t worth it, so I limited myself to one box and tried to be very particular about what I picked.  I’ve tried about half of them and they’ve all been good. So far all winners.

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My small, but impressive, personal haul.  Beers from all over, including California, North Carolina, Alabama, Colorado, Washington and more. The two cork and caged bottles are Sugar Creek from Charlotte.  I visited there on our massive east coast trip a year ago, so I had to grab those when I saw them.  Can’t get those out here normally for sure.  The wax topped bottle is a Bourbon barrel aged Stout, so I managed to snag at least one “fancy” beer as well.

Overall, this was a great event and I had a lot of fun.  The first day felt like “work” based on the sheer number of samples, but otherwise it was OK.  Looking forward to doing it again next year! The 2017 awards results are posted HERE.

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