Tuesday 7 August 2012

NHC 2012 Final Round results

Several months ago, I entered a few beers into the ALES competition in Saskatchewan. This is the only homebrew competition in Canada that is a qualifying round for the National Homebrew Competition (the largest homebrew contest in the world), which takes place in a different city in the U.S. each year. Two of my entries, an Oktoberfest and American IPA (the Alpine Duet clone I brewed in January), won medals (gold and bronze, respectively), and therefore moved on to the final round in Seattle in late June. I was worried about the age of the IPA by the time the competition came around, so I brewed a replacement American IPA in late April - a different recipe, however, due to a shortage of Amarillo hops.

Unfortunately, neither of the beers placed in the final round, but I wasn't exactly disappointed. I didn't have high hopes, what with the quality of beers that I would be competing against. I just recently received the scoresheets for the two beers... it's always nice to get unbiased, informative opinions from BJCP-certified judges, especially ones who have had a lot of experience judging homebrew competitions. Below is a summary of the scores for each beer.

Oktoberfest (Groundskeeper Marzen) - Category 3(b)

The overall score for this beer was 34.3 (in the 'Very Good', 30-37 range) out of 50, which I was actually pleased about. The three individual scores were 36, 34, and 33.

- Aroma: Scores were pretty good here (two 8s and a 10/12), with the judges commenting on the "rich, clean malt" aroma, with it being a bit bready and toasty - pretty much what I would hope for in an Oktoberfest.

- Appearance: No complaints here either (2, 3, and 3/3) with an amber/copper color, great clarity, and excellent head retention.

- Flavor: Not as many comments in this section as I would have liked to see (scores 15, 13, and 12/20). The judge who gave it the highest score said to "eliminate the grainy/astringent element"; the other two judges had no complaints regarding astringency. The only other comment was from the judge who gave the LOWEST score; he simply said "good malt complexity". No other flaws were noted.

- Mouthfeel: Pretty average (3, 3, and 4/5); again, the first judge noted a "slight astringent finish", marking it only as a 1/5 in the astringency section. Another judge said that it "may be overly carbonated"... may?

- Overall: 6, 6, and 7/10. I would agree with the scores for this beer... it's always been one of my favorites that I've brewed. It's definitely a bit too old now (brewed in May, 2011... maybe a fresher batch would have scored even better?), but I think it's held up REALLY well, considering.

American IPA ("Z.E.D. IPA") - Category 14(b)

This beer didn't score as well as the Oktoberfest; the overall score was 27.6/50 (in the "Good" range of 21/29). Individual scores were very consistent with 28, 28, and 27.

- Aroma: Scored pretty well here, with 7, 7, and 8/12. The hop aroma was generally agreed to be very high, with notes of citrus, grass, and pine. The judges all seemed to think that the malt aroma was too-overshadowed by the hops. I have a bit of an issue with this... the BJCP clearly states the following regarding American IPA:
"A prominent to intense hop aroma with a citrusy, floral, perfume-like, resinous, piney, and/or fruity character derived from American hops. Many versions are dry hopped and can have an additional grassy aroma, although this is not required. Some clean malty sweetness may be found in the background, but should be at a lower level than in English examples."
I suppose the judges thought there was no malt aroma (two of them rated the malt aroma as 1/5 in terms of prominence), but one clearly thought there was some there (3/5).

- Appearance: Good scores (2, 3, and 3/3); gold color, with pretty good clarity and a bit of hop haze, and very good head retention.

- Flavor: Here's where the beer stumbled... three 10/20s. Basically, all three judges felt the hopping was too aggressive, with no real malt-backup, causing the beer to finish "fairly harshly". Bitterness was ranked 4/5 by all three, with the malt at 1, 2, and 3/5 (hops were 4, 4 and 5/5).

- Mouthfeel: Again, not so great... 2, 2 and 3/5. "Harshness" was mentioned again, along with astringency by one judge.

- Overall: 5, 5 and 6/10. The notes on flavor and mouthfeel speak for themselves; the judges felt some more malt presence and complexity would really help this beer.

I thought the scoring may have been a bit unfair for the aroma (based on the BJCP guidelines), but I completely agree with all the other comments. I DID overhop this beer, especially in the dry-hop, which accounted for 3 oz each of Citra and Simcoe for a 5-gallon batch. I still have a few of the Duet clones left, and I feel even though they're 5 months bottled now that they're still a better beer. Looking back, I would have probably been better off entering the clone, or at least classifying the new beer as an Imperial IPA!


  1. Always good to get professional feedback, but at the end of the day, everyone has their own opinion. So many factors can alter the perception of the beer when a judge sits down to taste it.
    Still, to make it to the NHC finals is a thing to be proud of, regardless. Good job!