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Brews & Views Bulletin Board Service * Brews and Views Archive 2011 * Archive through September 14, 2011 * Taking your beer to the highest level < Previous Next >

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Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13111
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 04:29 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'm making this post hypothetically, but it stems from an e-mail conversation I've had about competition scores.

It seems that over the past several years the beers I enter have plateaued with scores in the upper 30s (37-39). That's nothing to be ashamed of, and I almost never get scores in the 20s anymore. I'm a better brewer, and my own tastes would alert me to a subpar effort. Also, occasionally I'll get a 40+ plus score, telling me that I am capable of an outstanding effort (assuming that I agree with and trust the judges' impressions).

So the generic question occurs: what does the collective think is required to produce beer of the highest quality? I don't want to get too far into the longstanding argument about the overall wisdom of competitions and judging, so let's just say that the beer should be outstanding to our own tastes.
 

richard triplett
Junior Member
Username: Richardt

Post Number: 34
Registered: 03-2003
Posted From: 174.28.37.219
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 05:06 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Interesting question!

As homebrewers, we can fall into the trap of drinking what "tastes good to us". We're happy to brew something that makes our taste buds happy, but the general public might not be as keen on it.

So, what I think is required to at least score in 40+ area is feedback and lots of it. If you are around a large brew club, this is the best situation. Brew a style you want to conquer and take it to a group you trust for feedback. When you start to get a large group of peers rating your beer as near-perfect to the style, THEN it's ready for competition. Obviously, keeping meticulous records so that you can duplicate is important for consistent results also.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13112
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 06:13 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

To partially answer my own question, you can't have a great beer without a great recipe. That doesn't always mean a complex recipe, but the results have to be in balance for the style and produce a pleasing beer with a depth of all the correct elements (aroma, flavor, body/mouthfeel and appearance).

Even if you use a proven recipe, you may well need to adjust it for your brewing system and methods. And a recipe of your own formulation will very likely need several iterations to achieve the best beer. Richard is correct that this requires careful recordkeeping and evaluation both by yourself and others whose opinions you trust.
 

Todd Metcalf
New Member
Username: Hopjunky

Post Number: 3
Registered: 05-2011
Posted From: 24.91.175.10
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 06:27 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Get as much quality feedback as possible. This maybe entering in different competitions or cornering people at your next homebrew club meeting. However, you'll have to understand that there will be a lot of conflicting feedback. Someone may say to reduce hops, while someone says not bitter enough for instance. So look for some common denominator.

As you adjust your recipe, whether based on yourself or other's opinions, try changing only one thing.
 

Denny Conn
Senior Member
Username: Denny

Post Number: 7605
Registered: 01-2001
Posted From: 140.211.82.4
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 06:30 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'm tempted to say the key is attention to details, but I'd guess you're a pretty meticulous guy when it comes to brewing, Bill. I admit to too often being more lackadaisical that I should be.
 

Paul Hayslett
Senior Member
Username: Paulhayslett

Post Number: 2904
Registered: 02-2002
Posted From: 174.62.194.35
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 06:57 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Practice, practice, practice. The very best brewers I know brew often, like every 2 weeks more or less year round.

I think this contributes in many ways. You can, as several have already said, brew the same style over and over, incorporating feedback (which is also key, I agree). You get to know your equipment better and better. You make fewer mistakes as you get your procedures down. And you are likely to be brewing with fresher ingredients since you don't keep stuff lying around.

I'm sure there are many other inputs. Feedback, of course. A great palette. Knowledge gleaned from books and forums. Attention to sanitation. Careful record-keeping. Quality ingredients. Stringent temperature control. Etc.

All that being equal, I still see more frequent brewers producing better beer, on average.

And as my own brewing frequency has fallen off over the years, I think the quality has moderated as well. I'm less likely to produce a real blooper since I know the major pitfalls. But those truly wonderful batches are also more rare.
 

ChriSto
Advanced Member
Username: Christo

Post Number: 822
Registered: 02-2006
Posted From: 216.176.226.154
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 07:33 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Fresh ingredients are a key. Then freshness of the beer is another key - entering it at the peak of its flavor. Of course that can be only a few weeks old for a Hefeweizen or Ord Bitter to months/years old for stronger, more complex beers.

As an aside, it's interesting, but looking back from my boil on the stove days to my present all-grain brewing, the biggest jump in consistent quality I noticed is when I went to full-wort boils - even for extract beers. I would say my all-grain beers are slightly better on average(which could just be from more practice) but the big jump was to full-wort boil.

Temp control is the another big key. It's still something I struggle with with my ales (using my swamp cooler). I can keep the temps down but is sometimes difficult to keep within a few degrees.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13113
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 07:46 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Paul, you may have a point about brewing frequently. Currently I brew only 8-10 times a year, for a number of reasons. I once brewed more like every 2-3 weeks. I now have other priorities for my time, I lack a dedicated brewing space, I share a rather small home with five other adults (my wife, her elderly parents and twin 19-year-old daughters), and my wife's attitude is only partially brewing-friendly. In her case I think it reminds her too much of her work (she's a software project manager). She has trouble understanding why someone would enjoy doing as a recreational activity something that involves many steps and careful planning. She believes anyone who works that hard should be paid for it. Her idea of leisure time is to do as little as possible as a way of winding down from her job, plus she is concerned about the family and home responsibilities that her work makes more difficult.

So the upshot is that I'm unlikely to be able to brew any more often than I do.

(Message edited by BillPierce on August 10, 2011)
 

Brad On Bass
Member
Username: August_west

Post Number: 102
Registered: 11-2010
Posted From: 72.88.43.169
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 07:50 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'd have to add that blind tastings always seem to yield the best feedback. I think another important factor in most facets of life, including brewing, is to know what your strengths are and play to them. You can improve your technique/equipment/ingredients to a certain extent, but there are always going to be factors beyond your control that make specific styles work better for your unique system. Knowing what you and your system do best and doing just that is usually going to end up making the best beer. You can practice putting with a $500 big bertha driver all day every day but you're never going to putt as well as you would with even a mediocre putter.
 

Jeff Rankert
Intermediate Member
Username: Hopfenundmalz

Post Number: 332
Registered: 06-2008
Posted From: 76.122.179.76
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2011 - 09:40 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

The biggest improvement I have made recently is the temperature conical fermenter and temperature controlled chest freezer for lagering.

Number 2 is paying more attention to the yeast pitching rates and aeration.
 

Dave Huber
New Member
Username: Hubie

Post Number: 15
Registered: 12-2010
Posted From: 173.79.20.62
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 01:18 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

and my wife's attitude is only partially brewing-friendly. In her case I think it reminds her too much of her work (she's a software project manager).

Holy cow! We're married to the same woman! I always wondered where she went to at night. :-)

Don't forget the subjective aspect to this. Gordon Strong has a chapter in his book on competition brewing which deals more with the psychology of brewing for judging. Namely that in a given category, "bigger" beers, whether it is in alcohol, hops, or whatever defines the style, typically score higher. Or, that some judges hold back higher scores early in judging just in case something better comes along (this is also the knock I've always heard about figure skating judging too).I've also seen similar comments from Jamil Zainasheff in his writings that go something to the effect "if you're brewing for competition, brew it this way, otherwise do it this other way if you want to brew a classic example of the style." In other words, moving to the next level may not necessarily involve any real change in how you brew or what you brew with, but rather changing for whom you are brewing. I suppose this could be covered in the part of having a good recipe, but I really think it is different in some way.

Edit: After re-reading your original post, I see you didn't want to get into the wisdom of judging, so I withdraw my comments, but I still think it is not something to ignore.

(Message edited by hubie on August 10, 2011)
 

Alec
Member
Username: Pdxal

Post Number: 114
Registered: 03-2009
Posted From: 71.214.78.177
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 05:18 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'll second Dave's point. Brewing for yourself vs. brewing for competitions and scores may be different things.
Another point Gordon Strong makes is to achieve high scores, brew to the middle of the style, and if you brew a bigger beer it may do better earlier, or more likely later in the judging process.
To brew better beers for yourself, everyone above has made good points. Feedback, repetition/frequency, ingredients, timing, all of the usual things like being meticulous about the details...
Bill, congratulations on doing so consistently well. You should be proud of 37-39 point beers.
 

mikel
Intermediate Member
Username: Mikel

Post Number: 369
Registered: 02-2001
Posted From: 166.231.173.13
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 05:34 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

The biggest improvements for my beers resulted from, and not in any order of importance:

1.) Ro filter and adding back minerals to suit the style.

2.) stir plate and using a pitch rate calculator like mr.malty.com or the one at wyeast.

3.) fermentation temp control and pitching temperature control. My beers improved greatly by pitching properly, and this means not over pitching as well as not underpitching, and pitching a few degrees colder than my final fermentation temp. Basically, "driving" the fermentation, that is, to pitch at say 62 and slowly increase temp a to 68 by then end of fermentation.

Cheers!
 

Dan Listermann
Senior Member
Username: Listermann

Post Number: 7797
Registered: 03-2004
Posted From: 208.102.247.68
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 03:05 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Consider splitting a batch using different yeasts with the same wort. If you pretty much base your yeast selection on some written description, I doubt that will optimize its performance. I would avoid strains that are similar - there are a lot - and poke around the edges where things could be interesting.

Two different temperatures with split yeast batches sounds interesting too.

This falls in with the "do as I say, not as I do" paradigm.
 

richard triplett
Junior Member
Username: Richardt

Post Number: 36
Registered: 03-2003
Posted From: 174.28.37.219
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 03:26 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

There is some truth to the "brew big" statement above. Depending on where you beer is in the competition, the judge's palate could be a little tired. Brewing to style, but giving it just a bit more alcohol, flavor, or hops could certainly give an edge.
 

Jack Horzempa
Member
Username: Jack_horzempa

Post Number: 105
Registered: 02-2007
Posted From: 68.82.57.55
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 04:33 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I agree 100% with the primary comment that Jeff Rankert stated: fermentation temperature control.

Assuming that as a homebrewer you have ‘mastered’ the aspects of:

- Formulating good recipes including selection of ‘good’ yeasts
- Practice good brewing: proper sanitation, proper brewing process, etc.

Then I think that exercising proper fermentation temperature is the next step to getting to that next level. This also presumes that you know what specific temperature you want to ferment for a given yeast.

Unlike Jeff, I do not have the precise technical means to achieve exact fermentation temperature control (i.e., I do not have a temperature conical fermenter and temperature controlled chest freezer). My ‘methods’ of fermentation temperature control are:

- Judicious selection of making beers when my half basement is at the proper ambient temperature; a few degrees cooler than the desired fermenttion temperature. I do most of my brewing during the spring and fall
- Use blankets around the fermenter to slightly warm up the fermenter (when needed)
- Use a water bath and ice (and evaporative cooling) to cool the fermenter when needed
- Ferment and lager my lager beers in unheated portions of my house (I only brew lagers during the winter)

The above methods are somewhat crude but over the years I have gotten fairly good at it.

Cheers!
 

Paul Sarkisian
Junior Member
Username: Arkham

Post Number: 48
Registered: 10-2008
Posted From: 208.125.158.18
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 04:46 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

For me also...

1. Temp Control
2. Fresh Ingredients
3. Good Water

Healthy yeast is a given.

And finally, the patience to not drink it all up before it drops bright in my kegs.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13115
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 05:48 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I'm aware of the tendency of some judges to unduly favor beers at the higher end of the guidelines for their style (something I fight rather stridently myself). And I grudgingly accept the failings of inexperienced judges or the times when a single judge intimidates others at the table.

So I'm talking about situations when I am in general agreement with those who judge my beer. I can distill a few recommendations from the suggestions above that I think bear repeating:

* Brew from good recipes that are optimized for your equipment and procedures

* Use fresh, high quality ingredients

* Pay attention to proper pitching rates, wort aeration/oxygenation and yeast management in general

* Ferment at the correct temperature for the strain and style you are brewing, and have a reliable means of controlling it

* Minimize oxygen pickup wherever and whenever possible
 

Jeff Rankert
Intermediate Member
Username: Hopfenundmalz

Post Number: 333
Registered: 06-2008
Posted From: 76.122.179.76
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - 07:16 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Examine the packaging and shipping techniques you use.

In 2010 my second round Pilsner did poorly due to bad bottling technique. A Blichmann beergun has helped scores this year (minimize the O2 pickup).

When shipping to the Second Round NHC on the West Coast, I have been using 2 day air. A friend uses 1 day air. This year the bottles were packed in an insulated box to keep them cold. Gordon Strong has a section covering this in his book. This can cost some money, but do you want your beer going cross country in a hot truck for a week in June?
 

Paul Hayslett
Senior Member
Username: Paulhayslett

Post Number: 2905
Registered: 02-2002
Posted From: 174.62.194.35
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 01:37 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I keep thinking about this. It's like a song stuck in my head. I'm trying to tease out a common thread among the best brewers I know.

The three best brewers in my club are Tom Miklinevich (once New England Homebrewer of the Year), Von Bair (once BOS winner at MCAB), and John Watson (the only NHC medalist east of the Delaware this year). They each produce the kind of beers that transport you; after a night of judging quite decent homebrews, you taste one and just go, "Ohhh.... I wish to God I could brew like that." What is the common thread among them?

The three couldn't be more different. Tom is an engineer through and through, with a top-end system and a tendency to plan for, measure, and control every variable to the nth degree. Von has been using the same double-bucket mash tun for 30 years and controls his fermentation temps by moving the fermentation bucket up and down the cellar steps in winter. John is completely seat-of-the-pants, planning little and changing those few plans he has on the fly as he goes.

Tom crafts recipes out of a dozen or more ingredients. Von likes to step out of the box with sour beers and strange grains. John will make somehow a ridiculously complex beer out of nothing but pilsner malt and Hallertauer hops.

These are the common threads I can think of:

- Sensitive palate: I've judged competitions with each of them and know that they can tease out extremely subtle flavors and aromas.

- Experience: They've each brewed at least 300 batches. They know their systems' every quirk and detail.

- Passion: For each of them, brewing is their primary hobby and form of artistic expression, not just one hobby among many. They love brewing and they love beer.

Everything else mentioned in the posts above is important. You certainly can't make the best beer without the best ingredients or proper temperature control. But I think that palate, experience, and passion are what bring beer into the "transportive" category.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13116
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 02:28 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I've met some outstanding brewers over the years; among them are several contributors to this board. But I think I've met only two "überbrewers". One is Randy Mosher. Randy is, well, uniquely Randy Mosher. He has a confidence about him but doesn't overplay his hand; he also possesses a natural warmth. But what really distinguishes him is that he exhibits the soul of both a true artist and craftsman who couldn't be anything other than who he is and do anything other than what he does.

The other is Gordon Strong. Gordon is a little more low-key; he tends to shun the limelight. As a judge, he is surprisingly generous, sensing what is required and providing that without overly calling attention to himself. He takes a focused, systematic approach, seeing brewing as a process and expanding on the issue at hand while compressing what is not relevant at that moment.

Both of these brewers have authored books, in Randy's case several. I would call Radical Brewing inspirational, a word I don't use often. You read it when you want to dream a beer, not merely brew it. Brewing Better Beer is more pedestrian, its feet planted on the ground rather than its soul in the air. But like its author it exudes a quiet authority and confidence that instill respect, and its philosophical underpinnings run deep without being pretentious. It bears reading more than once.

I couldn't begin to try to emulate Randy; I would have to be born with different genes. On the other hand, I find Gordon a worthy mentor for my own style.

(Message edited by BillPierce on August 11, 2011)
 

Todd Metcalf
New Member
Username: Hopjunky

Post Number: 4
Registered: 05-2011
Posted From: 24.91.175.10
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 01:38 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

Bill

I was just going to say reading Brewing Better Beer

After 18 years of brewing, I've been in sort of a laissez faire approach for several years. I've been more focused with producing good beer with little attention to the details. It let me be more relaxed during my brewing sessions, but I knew that sometimes the beer would be lesser quality - mostly it turned out great.

A couple months ago I started visiting this forum again and read a post about Brewing Better Beer. After reading Gordon's book, I've become inspired to tighten up my brew sessions.

Also I found listening to Brew Networks podcasts has also inspired me as well. The cool things about podcasts are you can look at their past shows and listen about beers you are planning to brew.
 

Bill Pierce
Moderator
Username: Billpierce

Post Number: 13119
Registered: 01-2002
Posted From: 24.150.49.181
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 01:44 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I wish the Brewing Network's podcasts were less entertainment oriented and more focused on brewing. They include some good information, but I find the adolescent humor and "morning zoo" radio format annoying. If I were going to emulate a format, it would be more like NPR's extended news programs.
 

Todd Metcalf
New Member
Username: Hopjunky

Post Number: 5
Registered: 05-2011
Posted From: 24.91.175.10
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2011 - 05:06 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I share the same opinion about the BN podcasts, there is a time in place for adolescent humor. It's not needed to talk about beer. That is my only complaint.
 

Dave Huber
New Member
Username: Hubie

Post Number: 16
Registered: 12-2010
Posted From: 173.79.20.62
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2011 - 12:56 am:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

I've been going through the Basic Brewing Radio podcasts while I trudge on the treadmill. They are very good. James Spencer manages to line up some very good interviews.
 

Greg Rosace
Junior Member
Username: Rosace

Post Number: 30
Registered: 08-2006
Posted From: 71.180.175.14
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2011 - 02:36 pm:   Edit Post Delete Post View Post/Check IP    Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

*Water- creating the perfect foundation.
*Healthy- Yeast and Environment control-
*Fresh Ingredients-