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WILT 9 – My Beer is Very Good

I entered the Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition (SNERHC) this past weekend with a Russian Imperial Stout I brewed in September.  It was the first competition I’ve entered and I also decided to steward. 

What I learned is that judges are very interested in sharing their knowledge and that judging beer can be a lot of fun.  As a steward I was responsible for fetching the beer from the back room where it was being kept cool when asked for by the judges.  I wasn’t really “assigned” to a table per se.  Rather, I got to choose a table that didn’t have a steward already assigned and help the judges out.

The competition was broken down into two flights, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  In a given flight a pair of judges is assigned one or more panels of beers to judge.  A panel may consist of all the beers in a given category (English Brown Ale’s, for example) or it may consist of just some of the beers in a given category if there are a large number of entries (like IPA’s or Belgian and French Ale).  Regardless, for a given panel(s) I got some or all of the beers and brought them to the table.

Once that task was complete, other than making sure we had water, bread, pencils and scoresheets I didn’t have much work to do.  That meant I got to pretend to judge.  Basically, every single beer got poured into three glasses (one for each judge and one for me) and then I assessed the style information to understand what it should be like and then rated the beer on scratch paper.

I did really well with the English Brown Ale’s as I have some familiarity with those.  The German Wheat and Rye Beer I did OK (in terms of how closely my score matched the consensus of the two judges.  On the Sour Ale category (lambics, Flanders Red, etc.) I was either too high or low.  I think that’s just because I don’t have many of those beers.

Overall, the whole stewarding/judging thing was great.  I look forward to doing it again at some point.  How did my beer do you ask?  It did all right.  It ended up in 4th place in the Stout Category out of what looked to be about 12 entries.  It scored a 31.  While that’s not a great score, it does put the beer into the “Very Good” category which means that it was “Generally within style parameters, but with some minor flaws”.  I haven’t gotten my complete score sheet yet, but I think I probably got dinged on flavor – it had to much of an alcoholic flavor to it – needs to age more than just the 6 weeks I gave it.  I look forward to getting my detailed sheet to see if this is what held it back or if there were other things wrong with it.  I was pretty happy though to see that it got the 31.  I had plenty of beers that day that scored in the low to mid 20s.

I’ll probably brew this RIS again, with some tweaks and enter it again next year, perhaps with some others.




WILT 8 – I am crazy

Several months ago I was having a conversation with someone about brewing and I described for them how I did an extract brew and that I was thinking about making the move to “all-grain”.  Their response was, “Geez, that sounds pretty crazy.”  My response to this was that going “all-grain” isn’t all that crazy, but that there are guys out there that actually get the mineral profiles of their water and then tweak them by adding various additives to model them after water profiles in various regions of Europe (Dublin, Burton on Trent, etc.).

Guess what, only a couple months after that conversation I am now “crazy”.  I just had my water tested.  Here’s what I’ve got:

Mineral Measurement
Calcium 9
Magnesium 1
Sodium 55
Sulfate 3
Chloride 41
Bicarbonate 57


From what I’ve read/learned I have great water.  It has relatively low mineral content which means I can brew a very light beer, like a Pilsner, but can add minerals as required to model other water profiles.  This is a lot easier than need a reverse osmosis system to get rid of minerals and then add them back in.

Am I going to modify the profile of my next beer, probably not.  However, I do know what I’m dealing with now and should I want to make a particular style that can benefit from a different mineral composition I am in good shape to make modifications.

WILT 7 – Hop to it

It’s really kind of interesting how important hops are to beer.  I spent some time this evening reading about different types of hops and their properties. 

There’s a lot of great reference information here:

Of particular interest is the information on AAU and utilization.

There’s also a nice list of hops here:


WILT 6 – Sizing a Mash Tun

While this isn’t something I necessarily learned “today”, it is something that I referenced today in order to help out a member on the site.  So, if you’re in the market for a mash tun (cooler in many cases) it is often useful to know what size you should get based on the type and size of beers you’re going to make. 

There’s a nice writeup here that outlines the size cooler you’d need to make certain gravity beers:

I usually mash with 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain and have plenty of room for 5 gallon batches, even high gravity, and will be able to mash a 10 gallon batch of a normal gravity beer.

In between the Russian Imperial Stout and the Christmas Ale, I brewed a clone of Harpoon’s Winter Warmer.  I figure I should probably do up the BJCP writeup of the style here to be consistent.

Category 21 is the Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer category and is pretty open as far as I can tell.  21B is the Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer sub-category. 

Here are the vital statistics:

  BJCP Guidelines Scoville Christmas Ale
IBUs Varies 31
SRM Usually on the darker side 25.9
OG Varies 1.067
FG Varies 1.023 (estimate)
ABV Generally above 6% 6.5% (estimate)


Generally this category has flavors/aromas indicative of the season (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.).  I used some Chicory in this along with a hops known for their piney aroma/flavor.  So, we’ll see how it turns out.

Scoville Christmas Ale

So far this brew has gone off without a hitch.  I hit my pre-boil gravity to the thousandth. Can’t beat that.  We’ll see where I end up with my OG post-boil.  OK.  So, I didn’t have time to really write/post between then and now.  Hit my gravities and everything is on target.

So, the last couple all-grain batches I’ve done have been batch sparge as opposed to fly sparge.  I only brought my sparge water to 170 degrees.  What I now realize I didn’t account for was the fact that the grain bed lost quite a bit of temperature during the first drain.  So, with this new information I heated my sparge water to 180 and when I added it to the grain bed ended up with a temp of 168 degrees.  So, this will be the new sparge temp that I aim for.  Also, with beersmith I tried the equal runnings options and hit the target pre-boil gravity exactly as expected.  Way cool

I’m entering my first beer competition on the October 25th.  It’s the Southern New England Regional Homebrew Competition (SNERHC).  I found out about it too late to really plan a particular brew, so from a timing standpoint, if I wanted to enter, I had to enter what I was brewing on 9/12 and that was a Russian Imperial Stout.  I filled out the registration form today and selected my category of 13F: Russian Imperial Stout.

I immediately asked myself, however, whether what I had brewed would qualify.  My recipe was a slightly modified version of a recipe for Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout so I thought I’d probably be ok, but I better check anyway.

There’s a great guide to all the beer styles judged at a BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) sanctioned event here.  So, in addition to learning about the BJCP style guide, today’s WILT focuses on Russian Imperial Stout.  In fact, each beer I brew from now on will have a WILT dedicated to the specific style.

Without restating the BJCP, a Russian Imperial Stout is very dark, has a rich and complex aroma, intense roasted malt/grains, and full-bodied mouthfeel.  Of importance to me, however, was whether mine fell within the category’s numbers:

  BJCP Guidelines Scoville Russian Imperial Stout
IBUs 50-90 67.1
SRM 30-40 39.1
OG 1.075-1.115 1.092
FG 1.018-1.030 1.018
ABV 8-12% 9.71%


So, it looks like I’m in good shape for the style.  Hopefully the judges like it.  Note that most higher gravity beers are conditioned for several months.  The original recipe suggests that North Coast actually ships this within three weeks of brewing.  So, I’ll have had about 6 weeks in between which seems ok in my book 🙂

Scoville Brewery (that’s what I’ve dubbed my 5-10 gallon system) is brewing its inaugural Christmas Ale this weekend.  It’s my first completely custom recipe and uses 2-Row UK malt for the base, along with some Crystal 60, Munich, Chocolate Malt and Roasted Barley.  Centennial and Chinook make up the hops and an English Ale yeast (WLP002).  The starter is 1 cup of light DME that I’m getting to boil as I write this.

Looking forward to a good brew.

I built a keezer a little over a month ago and keep it at about 44 degrees.  Seems like a good serving temperature to me that fits most styles.  Since I have room for a carboy in it I’ve thought about doing a lager.  As I’ve started to read more about lager I have learned that there is a good deal more to the fermentation process for a lager than there is for ale type beers.

A term I had heard/read about in the past, but never truly understood, was “Diacetyl Rest”.  To understand where and why that is imporant, let’s look at the difference between a lager and an ale from a fermentation standpoint.

Most ales, fermented with ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) will ferment out in 3-5 days excluding lag time.  Lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus) takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks to ferment out.   From what I’ve read about lagers if you leave it in primary for 4 weeks you should be good, so that’s what I plan to do.

Fermenting at 45 degrees for 4 weeks is what I’ll plan to do.  However, this assumes that I pitch my yeast into 45 degree wort.  Some brewers will pitch into warmer wort, say 65 degrees and then gradually drop the temp down over a couple of days.  The problem with this is that when it gets colder the yeast aren’t as able to consume the diacetyl they produced when they were fermenting at the warmer temperature.  Diacetyl produces a buttery flavor that is not within style.  As such, after fermentation is complete you’ll need to do something about this before you start lagering.  The solution is a diacetyl rest which is basically raising the temperature of the beer (it’s beer now) to 55-60 degrees and leave it there for 24-48 hours.  This kickstarts the yeast and allows them to consume the diacetyl and gets you ready for the lagering period.  Lagering can take place over several weeks/months.  You can can lager at 45 degrees for 3-4 weeks, 40 for 5-6 weeks or 35 for 7-8 weeks.

My next step is to see what the temperature of the water coming out of my cold faucet is.  If it is in the 45 degree range then, since I have an immersion wort chiller that takes me down from boiling to 68 in about 15 minutes I’m thinking I’ll just drop it down to where it needs to be and pitch at 45.  This should negate the need for a diacetyl rest (from what I’ve read).  In this case I’ll leave it in primary for 4 weeks and then move it to secondary for 4 weeks.  If my cold water is warmer, then I’ll incorporate a rest.  My basement during the winter is between 55 and 60 so that should work just fine.