National Homebrew Competition, Round 1 Results

I recently sent in three beers to the NHC 1st round in Atlanta, GA (there were 11-12 sites nationwide – winners proceed on to the NHC final round in Philadelphia, PA). All three did very well, better than I expected.

Ol’ Limey (8B – Special / Best / Premium Bitter)

Score: 38, mini-BoS
Judge #1 – Recognized, Final Score 38
Judge #2 – Grand Master II, Final Score 38

Nice light maltiness and slight aroma of toasted grain, no noticeable hops. 8/12
Some biscuit with a little spice and earth initially. As it warms it starts to open up with citrus and a little pine. No DMS or Diacetyl. Very low esters. 8/12

Clear light amber color, little head retention. 3/3
Dark gold with good clarity, new white head has good retention and laces cup. Very pretty. 3/3

Nice light malt and toasted grain start with a clean dry bitter finish, some citrus/berry flavor from the hops is noticeable. 15/20
Flavor is very similar to aroma. Lots of biscuit initially with earth & resin hops. No ester flavor. The bitterness is firm and has a touch of roughness. Aftertaste is biscuit, pine, and even a hint of grapefruit. 15/20

Light, smooth, dry, & crisp. 4/5
Medium – low body and carbonation. There is no warmth. Just a touch of creaminess. A touch of hop astringency hurts it. 4/5

Overall Impression:
A very good example of the style. Well balanced, however a different type of hop with less citrus / berry character may improve this beer. 8/10
This is an excellent beer. Very sessionable and interesting. There is a slight roughness to the bitterness, a common trait for the lighter colored bitters. There is a citrus character that is more common in the UK as the brewers are drifting to US hops. Reduce the bitterness slightly and it will be even better. 8/10

Russian Imperial Stout (13F – Russian Imperial Stout)

Score 34, mini-BoS
Judge #1 - National, Final Score 34
Judge #2 - Apprentice (Non-BJCP), Final Score 34

Light notes of bready malt, [enclas?], mixed with fruit esters – dark fruit plums, apples. Low to no hops. No off aromas. 8/12
Dark fruit, dark roast, slight alcohol. Not much hop aroma. 7/12

Dark, black, opaque. Tan frothy head with ok retention for style. 3/3
Pitch black. Thin head. 2/3

Dark [sugars?], alcohol. Fruit esters, apples. Low to no hop flavor. Some dark grain complexity, bready malt. Balanced finish. Low to no roast. 13/20
Liquorice, dark roast malt. Slight caramel. Slight sweetness. Not much hop flavor. 14/20

Moderately full body, warming. Low carbonation. Slightly creamy with no astringency. 4/5
Medium body. Very little carbonation. Warming, but not hot. 4/5

Overall Impression:
A very good start on a RIS. Has some nice initial malt flavors of dark fruits and esters, but needs more complexity – more diverse grain bill or some age may help. Warmer fermentation can also produce more complexity. A higher mash temp will produce more body.
Not a bad RIS. Lacks complexity. Could use more roasted flavor and more hops. No off flavors, so fermentation is good. Could use more body. Is a little sweet, which would work well if there was more roast. Use more dark malts & dark crystal.

Weisse & Wild (17A – Berliner Weisse)

Score 34
Judge #1 - Master, Final Score 37
Judge #2 - Rank Pending, Final Score 31

Soft sourness, lactic, a little Brett funk. Soft malt, wheaty, a little grainy. No hops. No diacetyl. DMS. Some other fruitiness, yellow apple, plantain. 9/12
Putrid burnt rubber smell, some very slight sourness. Perhaps the Brett is the burnt rubber smell. 8/12

Straw, bright clarity. Large white head of creamy bubbles with good retention. 3/3
Clear; effervescent; pale straw color, thin head that persists well; off white head (very close to white) 3/3

Sharply sour, more so than aroma suggests. Low wheaty, bready malt. No hop flavor. Very low bitterness. Lemon-lime. Finishes dry with sharp acidity lingering into the long, tart finish. 13/20
Initially tart sourness that persists into the finish; drying. The aroma pulls through into the flavor; not much aftertaste. No real flavor. 11/20

Light body, medium high carbonation. Stinging acidity & carbonic acid. Bracing. 5/5
Very light & thin body; high carbonation. Not warming (good). 5/5

Overall Impression:
Nice overall example! A little leathery, Bretty character (ok) but bright sourness and nice malt base are appealing. Refreshing. Almost too sour as is, would do well mit schuss. Prost! 7/10
This beer has some issues that hinder its drinkability. The aroma is not inviting, which could be due to over sanitation and/or yeast selection. The flavor issues are likely yeast and fermentation issues. 4/10

No comment, but the Judges of my Berliner Weisse were not at all in synch. I don’t want to sound like I’m favoring the better score, but it sounds like the Master judge knows a lot more about the style than the Rank-Pending judge. Oh well… sours are a tough nut to crack. The other beers mostly fall in line: my hop choice for this season’s Ol’ Limey were non-traditional (though German Noble vs. British Noble Hops); the RIS is an older beer that has aged – I may know more to brew something like this now.

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Whitewood 12° Abt and Oud Reynaert Rood

Whitewood 12° Abt

I started with the recipe at Candi Syrup, Inc. [pdf].


  • 10 lb Pilsner (Rahr)
  • 7.25 lb Maris Otter

This isn’t exactly what’s called out, but I try to use what I have in 50 lb bags. Call this my brewhouse flavor. I think I added a quarter pound extra of MO because the total grain bill was too much weight for my scale! (Some guesstimation was involved because of that). I added some gypsum and K-metabisulfite (for chlorine removal). This is also the first time I used an RV hose (drinking water hose) instead of an inside sink. That’s much, much quicker and well worth the $15.

Mashing in went perfectly – hitting 129°F on the dot. This is a protein rest, which isn’t really necessary with modern malts, but when doing a decoction mash it’s useful to extract (but not activate) the enzymes.

Reaching 150°F was a new experience. To decoct, you remove just the grain and the tiny bit of liquid that comes with it after straining. I just used my small 4 qt pot (used for liquid transfer) and strained it against the side of the tun. You can use the grain to filter out liquid by holding the top of the pot close against the wall and letting the bottom come an inch away or so.

Once you’ve transferred as much of the grain as possible into the boil kettle, you turn on the heat and start stirring. A flat ended paddle or spoon is best because you must scrape the bottom of the BK, otherwise scortching may result. My first one resulted in some minor scortching. I hit almost exactly 148°F, aiming for 150°F.

The second decoction was to bring the tun up to 170. This didn’t work because the grain bed didn’t settle as well. I drained some of the wort to get to the grain, and returned it to the mash tun, but this dropped temps too much, so I was right back around 149°F. Instead, I just started getting the sparge ready. The 1st runnings were right at 18°P (SG 1.074) and I had 6 gallons of wort. (Aiming for 8 gallons).

I sparged out at around 170-175°F.  2nd runnings were 10°P. Being smart, I used a calculator. 18°P * 6 gallons + 10°P * 2 gallons = 16°P * 8 gallons. This is exactly what I was aiming for. Being stupid, I added all 3 gallons of 10°P wort, one gallon at a time. Somewhere the math I did and the number in my head didn’t match up… so I had exactly 9 gallons of wort in a 9 gallon boil kettle sitting right at 15°P. If this is the worst mistake, I’ll be ok — it was a mess, but with 30 extra minutes of boiling I got back to 16°P.

I need a small ounce scale that has 100ths precision. The recipe called for 1 oz 8.6%AA Northern Brewer hops. I had 10.3%AA Northern Brewer. That means I should use 0.83 oz… I was somewhere between 0.8 and 0.9, but it may end up a bit more bitter than expected. I’m really not sure how much difference it makes (BeerSmith2 could tell me).


  • 0.8-0.9 oz Northern Brewer [10.3%]
  • 1 oz Hallertaur [4.3%AA]
  • 1 oz East Kent Goldings [5.8%AA]

Again, these are my values used — the recipe is slightly different. The final gravity was approx 21.5°P.

Finally, I threw two packages of yeast into a 1.5L starter 24 hours before pitching. One was Wyeast 3787 (pkg 11/2013), the other WLP530 (exp. 5/9/2013). They were a bit old, but I had a very hard time finding the time to brew this one. I must have realized the brew day would end up being extra long (started at 8 am, finished w/ everything except the pitch at 4:30 pm . . . about an 8 hour brew day).

The pitch I did a bit later. I wanted a few chances to send air through the beer. I haven’t been able to find an oxygen regulator (on the cheap) even though the cylinders are sold in every home improvement box store. Unfortunately my air stone is totally blocked up, so I cut it off and sent the air through the bottom of a racking cane. I have no idea how much O2 got into my wort, but I’m guessing far lower than the 9-10 ppm suggested and probably somewhat lower than the 8 ppm theoretical maximum of air solution in wort in the 60°F range. Hopefully my fermentation chamber and the yeast starter (with old, but probably fine yeast) will be enough to take this beer to the end.

I will be increasing fermentation temps from ~68°F to ~80°F by 2°F increments (using a °C temp controller, ha). Tonight: 68, Sat 70, Sun 72, Mon 74, Tues 76, Wed 78, Thurs 80. I’ll leave it at 80°F for a day or two to finish out, then drop it to current cellar temps (61°F) for a week or three to clear up. After that, it sits in the keg until Winter 2013-4. I would like to bottle condition at least a dozen of these. . . but I’ll wait to see how it turns out.

Oud Reynaert Rood

I drew a sample of this beer; it’s been around 6 months. My initial impression was a huge oak nose and flavor. Letting the glass air lets this fade significantly, though it’s still present and perhaps too strong… time may help change this flavor. The beer is flat, of course, but mouthfeel is good as a still beer. The slight sourness is sharp, but fades very quickly – hopefully more sourness can develop over the next 6-12 months. The flavor is full of cherries, which is expected due to the Roeselare blend, but still surprising and pleasant. I still hope this develops well as a Flanders Red, but it may be a great beer that’s somewhat off-style.

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Weisse & Wild (Part III)

Follow to read Part 1 and Part 2.

The bottles shipped off to the 1st round of NHC. If they were kept cold, I’m clearly going to get poor scores. I’ve kept mine around 70°F since bottling and they’re as perfect as the kegged version (possibly better, actually).

The beer came out very tart, which I like. The tartness fades as you drink it, which is also normal. I’m not sure how tart a Berliner Weisse should be, though. Commercial varieties are uncommon (at best) and the BJCP just says “not so acidic as a lambic.” At this point, I’m praying the bottles carbed up well… but I cut this beer just a little too close. Overall, I expect all my NHC (prelim) beers to have carbonation issues more than anything else. If, by any miracle, this particular beer makes it to round 2, the bottles are almost guaranteed to be perfect.

I have 2-3 extra bottles, and the beer is on tap (picnic tap, though – the lines are long), so here’s the label I came up with today:

Weisse & Wild label. Original source (CC: share, remix, commercial w/ attribution)

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Weisse and Wild (Part II)

Friday evening I mashed out at 7°P (SG of 1.028). As you can read in Part I, I tossed in a hop bag with a handful of uncrushed malt (of various origins – to be sure I got a good culture).

I sampled the sour mash every night (and most mornings) and determined that Tuesday night was the optimal time to boil. Unfortunately Tuesday was the rainiest night we’ve had in a long time (in favor of snow, that is). Fortunately the garage was empty as my wife was out.

After setting up the boil, I scooped out the bigger floating junk and the bag. I tossed in a bag of poorly aged Saaz leaf hops (I received them about a month ago). This is the perfect use for these, though, as some bitterness and flavor should get through, but not a whole lot. The boil also only lasted 15 minutes.

I brought the wort down to ~75°F in ~15 minutes. This was a wet proposition, but setting the garage door to the perfect height (it was touching the out-spout from my chiller) kept me and my wort as dry as possible. (The wort was safe – I ended up soaked by the end of the very short brew session). I pitched US-05, rehydrated in warm water (one heck of a bloom, too).

The beer is currently set at 20°C (That’s 68°F . . . I have an STC-1000 controller – it only does Celsius). I just checked it about 15 minutes ago and the refractometer shows 3.75°P. Adjusted, that’s an SG of 1.007 and an ABV of about 3%. There may be a bit more to go…

The beer tastes sour for sure, it’s a mellow sour but very present. There’s still some creamed corn smell and flavor – this is hopefully related to the same smell I got from the lacto ferment. DMS is not supposed to be much of an issue in extremely short boils (even with Pilsner malt), but I’m not sure how much I trust that to be true. It sounds better (and more likely) when you’re talking about no boil.

Time will tell. I ordered Belgian Cappable bottles from More Beer (on sale!) so I can get to 3.5 Vol with safety. The rest I will keg, so expect Part III next week some time (probably after all these beers ship out).

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Weisse and Wild (Part I)

Berliner Weisse

This is just about the oddest beer you can brew. A Berliner Weisse can be brewed in many different ways. It can be in your glass in a little as two weeks or it can take a couple months to sour. Which way is best? I have no idea… I’ve only tasted one and have never brewed it.

Let’s go over some of the options…

  1. Boil? None, 15 minutes, and 60 minutes are all valid.
  2. Hops? Low to none. It technically has some low IBUs, but I don’t think they’d be missed. Hops should be noble, German.
  3. Culture (“infection”)? Lactobacillus is a must. Natural (wild) pitches using uncrushed grain, or a commercial culture. Brettanomyces is ok, or a neutral yeast.
  4. Pitching? Lacto can go before or after the boil. Yeast is usually after the Lacto, and always after the boil (if there is one).

…and most of these options can be combined in any combination. So what did I do? My choices are italicized. This is Part I, so I’m halfway done.

The Mash

  • 8.0 oz Rice Hulls
  • 3 lb Pilsner Malt (44.9%)
  • 3 lb Wheat Malt (44.9%)

And separate since it’s in a different step:

  • 10.7 oz Acidulated Malt (10%)

The first three ingredients were mashed at 149°. @10 min. it was at 160°F, so I added cold water to reach 149.4°F, verified @20 min. Amazingly, it was still 149.4°F at mash out. I solved my mash tun problems by drilling holes into the lid to let water out. Apparently the lid is hollow and lets water in through a small hole when rinsing. Next step may be to Good Stuff the lid, but that might not be necessary. Additionally, I put a wool blanket over the top, since it’s freezing out right now.

The Acid Malt was added to the mash just before mash out. Batch sparging pulls as much as I need out of the malt. A post at Anarchy Lane Brewing suggested this as a way to prevent other infections when sour mashing.

I pitched the grain at around 120°F and brought it down to 100°F with my Fermentation Chamber (a new build I tried out on my recent Ol’ Limey). Currently it’s at 91°F because the heater in my chamber can’t keep it higher than 80-90 or so (good for most beers). I’ll be sampling it every 8-12 hours or so after the first 24. I just tried it – there’s a touch of sour in the back of the throat, but it’s really just getting started.

Continue on to Part II.

Photos of the fermentation set-up:

The lacto ferment must be tasted to judge the sourness.

The lacto ferment must be tasted to judge the sourness.

All closed up. The chamber does have cracks at the opening, but it maintains heat very well. The door had to be fully open when cooling to 100°F

All closed up. The chamber does have cracks at the opening, but it maintains heat very well. The door had to be fully open when cooling to 100°F

Inside you can see a paint-can heater (lightbulb in a paint can) and fan. The fan uses the cool outside air to drop temps... for now. Additional enclaves will hold ice in summer.

Inside you can see a paint-can heater (lightbulb in a paint can) and fan. The fan uses the cool outside air to drop temps… for now. Additional enclaves will hold ice in summer.

Berliner Weisse in Fermentation Chamber a video by malweth on Flickr.

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NHC (and Ol’ Limey, take 2)


The National Homebrew Conference (and Competition). This is the penultimate brew-off, and it’s my first year entering. The problem is that Homebrewing has grown so extensively over the last 5 years or so that everyone who is anyone in homebrewing (and hundreds who aren’t anyone, such as me) enters a beer or 15. They capped the entries per person at 15 this year, which affects almost nobody. There are 11 judging centers for the first round, each capped at 750 beer entries (passing beers go on to round 2, being held in Philadelphia, PA this year). Lets first do some math: 11 * 750 = 8,250 beers. If everyone sends in 15 beers, that amounts to 550 people. If the average is 5 beers, that’s 1,650 people. There’s just not enough room for everyone to send in a beer or five.

That said, the servers when NHC comp registration were flooded, seizing up until around 4:30 pm EST (they opened at 3:00 pm EST). Coincidentally, that’s when I got home to see there were 700/750 entries in NYC (my closest center). I quickly registered my account and, after registering, there were 850 entries and registration was closed. Such a great system . . . it doesn’t let you register at a different location after you’ve registered elsewhere (regardless of number of beers entered)! The Georgia center was at about 350 beers, so I called the American Homebrew Association (wow… found a phone number!) and they were able to help me register with a different e-mail address I have and a fake AHA member number. At that point there were 600 beers in GA, so I registered 3: a RIS that’s been aging for a year (half drunk); the Ol’ Limey which I hadn’t realized was half a pint from being kicked; and the Wedding Night Stout, which was a 10 gallon batch brewed last year for my brother’s wedding. The stout was also nearly kicked (disappointing, since it finally got to that perfect point and I had 5 gallons left not too long ago)!

So that’s where I’m at. Ol’ Limey had to be re-brewed and I’m not entering the Dry Irish Stout (it may turn into a Hefeweizen if I feel like brewing a 2nd time immediately).

Ol’ Limey

Today I rebrewed Ol’ Limey, but changed the recipe. This one is 95% my own (the grain bill was stolen) because I used on-hand hops. Major changes because of that, but Hallertauer is really pretty similar to East Kent Goldings.


  • 0.5 oz Gypsum (I was way under 1/2 oz)
  • 1/4 tsp K-Metabisulfite (to remove chlorine)


  • 9 lb 8 oz Maris Otter
  • 4 oz Cara-Pils
  • 4 oz Crystal 40°L

Mashed in 13-16 qt water and hit my 154°F target on the nose! I put a wool blanket over the tun and only lost 1°F over the 45 minute mash. This was a pretty thick mash and first runnings were 23°P (1.096).

Sparged with ~6 gal. 2nd runnings (unmixed) were 7.5°P (1.030).

Mixed, this was 10.6°P (1.042). Target was 1.040 (10.0°P), so perfect!

I only screwed up one thing during the boil — forgot to put in the chiller at t-15 min. Boiled an extra 5 minutes.

The Boil

Again . . . what I had on hand.

  • t-60 min ~ 1 oz Northern Brewer [10%AA] (30.6 IBU, per BeerSmith 2)
  • t-20 min ~ 1 oz Hallertauer [3.9%AA] (7.2 IBU)
  • t-15 min ~ Irish Moss
  • t-5 min ~ 1 oz Hallertauer [3.9%AA] – this was supposed to be at 1 min.
  • t-1 min ~ 1 oz Hallertauer [3.0%AA, aged - apparently] (0 IBU)
  • t-1 min ~ 1/2 oz East Kent Goldings [5.8%AA] (0 IBU)

Looks like a lot of hops for a Best Bitter, but they were a bit old and most were flavor/aroma.

Aerated, pitched at 70°F and fermenting at 65°F in my new fermentation chamber (single stage w/ lightbulb paint-can heater). I’ll be using this chamber for my Westvleteran 12 clone to be brewed this spring (was going to brew around New Year’s, but I wasn’t ready yet).

Wish me luck at NHC! This is a short fuse beer!

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Ol’ Limey

Ol’ Limey

After a Strong Ale at estimated 9% ABV and a sour that will sit for over a year, I needed to try out my new grain mill set-up (Corona type cast iron mill) and brew a lighter style. I found an interesting recipe on for a Boddingtons Original Cask Ale. Boddingtons was acquired by InBev in 2000, which began closing doors in 2004. The Cask Conditioned ale died this year, but by all accounts it was changed since at least 2004 Having never had the pleasure of an Original Boddingtons, I decided to make this one.

I used:

8 lb Pale Malt (Maris Otter)
8.8 oz CaraPils
4.2 oz Crystal 60°L
1.1 oz Chocolate Malt

I aimed my mash at 154°F, but was closer to 156°F after dough balls were cleared out (lots more dough balls with my crush). After 30 minutes it was down to 146°F. I’m not sure what’s going on in my Mash Tun – but I may have to do some temperature tests and figure out the problem (today was a warm day, too… I wonder if some water got into the cooler somewhere). This one may end up drier than I was aiming for.

My other problem is still in measuring volume. I need two meters – one for the kettle and another for the big plastic garbage can I use to transfer from MLT to Kettle (this is needed because my kettle is a Hot Liquor Tank as well as a boil kettle). I have a solution for both – marking the outside of the bucket and a volume “yard” stick for the kettle… implementation is the next step.

1st runnings were 19.5°P (Specific Gravity of 1.081). First wort hops were added after the first runnings were collected. This was 0.6 oz of Northern Brewer at [14.3 %AA].

Lautering went better, the sparge stuck a bit, but it is easily recoverable.

2nd runnings were 10.0°P (1.040) and the mix was 12.25°P (1.050).
Final runnings were 3.25°P (1.013) and the mix was 9.5°P – I was aiming for 8.8°P (1.035) pre-boil, so that’s pretty good. (Boiling reduces liquid, but keeps sugars the same, so this gravity reading will increase by the end of the 60 minute boil).

0.60 oz of East Kent Goldings hops [5.3 %AA] were added at 45. Irish moss and the chiller were added at 15 and another 0.60 oz of EKG went in  at flameout.

I collected 5.5 gallons (about 1/2 gallon of trub left behind) of 11°P wort (1.044). Expected OG was 1.044, so I’m pretty happy overall. Any problems will be due to the low (final) mash temps, but I’m not too worried.

I aerated the wort and pitched Safale S-04 (dry English ale yeast). This is a quick brew – it should be ready in 1 month and at its best in 2-3.

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