This year I decided to enter a couple of my homebrews into the National Homebrew Competition. The National Homebrew Competition is the largest homebrew competition in the U.S. and is held every year as part of Homebrew Con. Homebrewers from all over the country submit their beers to compete against their peers and this year there were over 8,600 entries. In order to judge all these beer, the first round of the competition is divided into 12 regions. The top three beers in each category from each region move on to the final round and are judged at Homebrew Con. From there, the best three beers are picked from each category and the brewer is awarded a gold, silver or bronze medal and the brewer of the best beer also gets a cool prize. The top beers in each category then duke it out for the best of show award.
I decided to enter my two best recipes and see how they stacked up against the competition. I brewed a Belgian Witbier and a Black IPA. I have brewed the Wit several times and it's one of my favorite beer styles. It was a pretty simple recipe: 45% pilsner malt, 45% flaked wheat and 10% flaked oats, Saaz hops, coriander seeds, and some bitter orange peel. Of course, I screwed something up and my mash temperature was too low, so I had to improvise and do a step mash, where I added additional water to bring the temperature up to target. After that initial fubar, everything went smoothly and I hit all my targets. The beer came out great. The Black IPA was a more complex recipe: 71% 2-row malt, 13% Munich malt, 6.5% Midnight wheat (this is what made it black), 3% Crystal 40L, 3% Crystal 120L, 3% flaked oats for a little more body. I bittered the hops with Horizon and then did a 30-minute Simcoe addition followed by a five-minute addition of Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe. Finally, I dry hopped with Citra and Mosaic. This brew day went really smoothly with no major issues and I really enjoyed the beer.
Once everything was done fermenting I kegged both beers and forced carbonated them. I was short on time so I had to do the crank up the CO2 pressure and shake the hell out of the kegs to get them carbonated enough to bottle it. I bottled a six pack of each beer. Boxed up two bottles of each with a ton of bubble wrap and took them to the UPS store to ship. I may have lied to the lady at the counter that it wasn't beer and just yeast samples that I was sending out. They frown upon shipping alcohol. Then I played the waiting game.
The judging day in my region was several weeks after I had to ship the beer to the judging center. After the judging process was complete, it took another couple of weeks for them to post the results. I wish I could tell you that my beers won and were going on to the finals, but that didn't happen. My Belgian Witbier scored a respectable 33 out of 50. One of the judges said it was flat, so something must have happened to one of the bottles, causing it to lose its carbonation. I probably would have scored even higher if this didn't happen. The Black IPA scored a slightly disappointing 29 and most of the feedback was that it wasn't hoppy enough. Next time I brew it, I will double the late addition hops and see what happens. Despite not having a winning beer I was happy with the beers I entered and received great feedback from the judges on how I can improve on my recipes. I know with more practice and some tweaking I can make an award winning beer and will continue to enter my brews into competitions.
Bill Ramsey is a self-proclaimed beer geek and avid home brewer. He has spent countless hours scouring the Internet for information about beer and brewing and isn't afraid to share that knowledge with friends, family and the occasional stranger. As a survivor of hundreds of beer festivals, he can talk to you for hours about beer if you let him, just ask some of the women he has dated. If you ever run into him in the wild he will probably be enjoying some new style of beer while googling everything he can find out about it and trying to formulate a clone recipe for it in his head.