The (Quarantine Edition) Session: Where Are You At?

This is post is in response to The Session topic presented by Fuggled.

As the days draw on, I sit here wondering how the rest of the year is going to shape up. My day to day life has not made a drastic change. I am both more and less busy while having an increase in working hours. Catching up on podcast during my commute on a completely clear highway is going to be one of the most missed aspects of our time moving through the unknown.

TheSessionLike many others I look forward to the little things, even though I terminated many plans before official notices of cancellation. These times slightly reminds me of undergrad; school, work, sleep, beer in an ongoing cycle. Back in those days I did not do half the travel that I plan in even half the year. Finding a balance between the preparation required in order to raise my BJCP rank, completing coursework for online courses that were never developed to be online, and doing what I can to help keep my local with a flow of income has definitely been an interesting tug and pull. For about a month now, I would buy a case of beer every Friday. It would not all be consumed within that week, but it did start piling up to the point where I would run out of space if I did not slightly increase my consumption in some way.

Besides grilling and drinking a touch more, I decided to use a bit of the beer to make soap. And just like everyone else I’ve tried my hand at sourdough, got a batch of sauerkraut going, restarted my kombucha habit, started taking part in Malört o’clock, began constructing a whiskey Infinity Bottle, and bought an electric brewing system. Out with the HERMS and in with the Foundry; I guess this is where I am at.

Before we all crossed through into a life that slightly reminds me of Dark Angel, I was at the brewery often enough for most the staff to know me but not enough to have my own seat at the bar. When I stop by for curbside pick up, it is nice to see some familiar faces. People that I may only spend a few hours with a month, but the faces that always bring me a smile.. img_20200421_2017035629377904366711920.jpgalong with a delicious pint.

I miss the Public House Brewers Stash beers that I would stop in for each release.

I am kind of bummed that I will not be able to participate in the AHA Big Brew Day with the members of The Missouri Association of Serious Homebrewers.

I am finally getting around to some of the education projects that I have been planning but made no movement on.

I guess this means I have been making some use of my evening and weekend hours but maybe I can take a week to sit back relax when all of this is over.

Cheers!

The (Quarantine Edition) Session: Where Are You At?

NC Brewers Cup

This past weekend was the North Carolina Brewers Cup. It is an amazing sight seeing a number of NC breweries post the results of their beers that were entered into the competition. It was also very nice to taste a good number of them; some for the first time ever. Drinking these beers blind gave a real nice perspective of the work being done to further brewing in one of the fastest growing states. View All The Winners Here.

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The first day of the competition was all of the homebrew entries. The NC Brewers Guild hosted this competition in conjunction/for? The NC State Fair which is taking place in Raleigh really soon. I was hoping to get off easy, but I opened the day judging IPA’s. Not that there is anything wrong with that, and the homebrewers did a really great job with them but I believe my judging partner and I went through approximately 13 IPA’s before I moved on to do the Mini-Best Of Show with the other group helping out with this category… which was a total of 6 beers competing for the top 3 spots. I guess I was rewarded for my efforts, though. The next flight I did, which was relatively small, was Light Lagers. What some would call the complete opposite of an IPA.

During the afternoon session of, Belgian and French Ales. Another relatively large flight but another great showing. The category was mostly Saisons but there was also a Biere de Garde. You just don’t see that often and it got me really excited. When it was all said and done, the winner went on to sit at the Best Of Show table, where I would soon be reunited with it.

As one would expect, when it came down to judging Best Of Show, it was relatively hard. There were a few that had to be knocked out over the most trivial things. Only the best beers made it this far and homebrewers have gotten far better over the past few years so you couldn’t just kick out something that had a major flaw but happened to be best in the category. When it was all said and done, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, a Schwarz Bier, and an American Pale Ale were the best to style, top brewed beers at the table. Though all of the entrants who made it to that table should be proud of the beer they produced.

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After day 1 came to a close, we all left to get ourselves in the right mindset to judge the entries of the commercial contest the next day. I met up with Bryan and we decided to stop into FullSteam to check out their anniversary shenanigans.

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The next morning I crawled out of bed not knowing which way is up. I guess checking out Miley Cyrus on SNL when I had to be up around 7am may not have been the best choice… oh, and the stout to keep me up during her performance. I grabbed a quick breakfast with MUCH COFFEE INCLUDED and headed back to Mystery Brewing, who was our host both days of the competition. I was really excited when I saw the morning table assignments; Pilsners. Which sadly, I do not remember very many NC brewed Pilsners I have had before this day.

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While judging through the entries, I realized how big of a mistake this was. There were many great Pilsners that after it was all said and done, I realized were available year round from some of the best breweries in the state. I guess I have some catching up to do. The quality and accuracy to style some of these beers had was indescribable. A very eye opening experience. What was next to follow, though… I thought I was already free from this pleasure.

The afternoon session was IPA’s… just like the start of my day hardly just 24 hours ago. And there were 48 entries from breweries around the state. The homebrew numbers were barely half of that. There were a few extra sets of judges, but that didn’t help much at all coming down to the Mini-Best Of Show.

Looking at the 9 beers in front of us, they all seemed identical in appearance. Several of the beers seemed to use nearly identical recipes. I mean, I don’t know what was in them but the flavor and aroma were so similar that I thought my palate and nose were just broken. The top 3, again, were very difficult to come across. They were the best of the best… and again… we go into Best Of Show.

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I thought judging Best Of Show for homebrew was difficult. I’ve done it a few times since I received my BJCP rank. But nothing could have prepared me for this. This was not only my very first time judging commercial beer in a competition. But my first time doing Best Of Show in one as well…  Talk about trying to find the best diamond in a sea of them… It came down to the smallest details about each beer. 23 set down in front of us and 3 selected as the best in NC. The pressure was really on.

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The results are linked above but these 3 beers, from 3rd to 1st, are the ones who went above and beyond this year. Also, that Pilsner that I was really embarrassed I never drank… and is available year round, from one of my favorite NC breweries… umm… yeah… I should probably head to the store. Take a look at the list and drink some of the greatest beers NC has to offer.

EDIT: Information from the press release.
We had a record number of entries in both homebrewer (191) and commercial (362) categories. We couldn’t have done it without your hard work and support!
You can find all the results here: www.ncbeer.org/brewerscup/ and a press release is attached. The top winners will be on display October 15-25 at the State Fair in the Education Building.

Cheers!

NC Brewers Cup

My Argument Against "Craft" Beer

Ok, ok. Just hear me out. It isn’t what it sounds like. If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with craft beer. If you don’t know me, that’s pretty odd that you are reading this… BUT THANK YOU!!! I hope you come back!

I recently got my BJCP tasting exam results back and I’m preparing for the written, as well as planning on taking the Certified Cicerone Exam within the next couple of months. So I’m getting deep into every aspect moreso than ever before.

Brewers Association Craft Beer Production Volume
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A few years ago, I was just one of those happy kids who was first getting into craft beer and I chased down every new release from all of my favorite breweries. I still do that with my number one favorite, but how could I not support them?

In all of my research and studying, I was taken back. I began to think about where we are today and all of the changes I’ve seen in this very short 5 year span in the grand history of beer. Things I didn’t even begin to notice until about my third year in beer. So, just think about everything I still have to learn and experience.

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Where we sit now is the greatest time that has ever existed for Craft Beer. Thinking about that, was it not common to hear Microbrew when referred to “our” beers not that long ago? To my understanding “craft beer” first began it’s usage in the 1980’s. And it wasn’t even a commonality at that time. “Craft Brewing” was how it was referred. It was about the movement that was happening in America. The way our beer was hand crafted vs the industrial methods that were sadly sweeping the country. Recently it has been used to describe the new generation of beer around the world but it’s origins seem to be with the early pioneers that were tired of what they were tasting, and for that, we praise today.

Now I understand that we want to differentiate ourselves. Make the market distinction obvious to those casual consumers, especially the ones that don’t know any better. But as one who is well versed in our community, and flipping back through a little history, why can’t we simply call it beer?

Do you see what I mean, now? I don’t go around telling people I drink craft beer. Or that I’m going out for a few craft beers. I just use “Beer”. I’m going to “X Brewery”, “X Bar”. I feel at a point, the thing speaks for itself.  It becomes quite obvious. I make sure to know who, to the best of my ability, makes a profit off of each pour I purchase. This is something the majority of consumers don’t think about… but then again, maybe it’s the appeal of the word craft, that people love.

Before the time of the microbrew, was it not just a pint of Ale or Lager? In 1516, do you think they had fancy names for the beers being created at that time? In today’s beer world, the distinction between craft and not so is being blurred. Crafty is a thing. Big business tactics are happening in the wake of the little guys. Certain aspects are still about the joy and community, but others quickly pull you back in to realize beer is a business. First & foremost. So where is the point where you quit acting like a little guy and accept that you are in fact in another league?

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I don’t mean like the big three. That is a whole different ball game. But the way a business operates and sells across the country. The number of barrels that are produce and sold each year. There is a difference between those just scraping by and those who can essentially rely on their consumers for years to come. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the way things are.

To me, craft isn’t about a definition. It’s about the way you treat your product and care about your community. While a company may try to separate themselves from corporate beer, does the scale of your brewery not introduce you into that world? The number of breweries or specific off shoot locations you own, do they not paint that picture?

Even with the Brewers Association defining craft beer and then adjusting the definition to keep the biggest brewers from losing the distinction, I wonder, why does it matter? Even if my favorite brewery went above that line, their beers, again, speak for themselves. No if, ands, or butts about it. Everything they do for the beer community as well as the charitable events and support they offer, really goes to show their passion. A side of their character you wouldn’t see from those that we do not label with the craft name. And surprisingly enough, at the end of the day, they still need to worry about their profit margin.

These breweries are machines, filled with passionate people. Creating experiences that we all share. Ones we look far into the future for. While I’m not saying they don’t deserve to use the title craft, I just feel we are at a point in time where it is not necessary.

Cheers!

My Argument Against "Craft" Beer

BJCP Tasting Exam

After such a long wait, the time has finally come and passed. It has been about a month and a half now and I still have a lot to cover when it comes to learning the history of the styles, etc. but the BJCP Tasting Exam is finally OVER!!! I was stressing a lot about it the first few days to a week or so after the exam but now I am just over it and want my results. Before I wanted an 80 or better, now I just hope I got a 60 so I don’t have to test with the updated guidelines… JK!!! I still hope I did great but this waiting period is killing me and seriously all I want is a pass at this point.

The main advice I have for anyone taking this is exam is to make sure you learn the styles. I know that may sound kind of obvious, but maybe I should phrase it this way. Make sure you know the differences between the styles. You are there to judge each beer presented to you based on what you sense. Not what the guideline says. Write down everything you notice and then afterward, consider what you tasted. The proctor told you this was a Sweet Stout. Was it really? or was it an under-carbonated Oatmeal Stout? There are differences but if you can’t pull out what they are, you are stuck taking their word for gold.

Overall I think I feel pretty good about it but we will see when the results come back. One more thing when it comes to taking the test. Or even when it comes to life: NEVER SECOND GUESS YOURSELF!

I showed up on test day not knowing what to expect. I signed in, sat down, filled out preliminary paperwork and just waited… I don’t know why I showed up so early. About an hour but I stayed in my car. I got in the testing room about 30 minutes before the start of the exam… Just waiting… I guess it is better than being late.

I was relieved when the first beer showed up. I feel it set the pace for the whole exam. The category was 1A: Lite American Lager. A pretty good one, too. At least I thought it was. Drinking it was honestly just like reading the guidelines. The only thing I knocked that one for was the fact that it was hazy. This is not a style I ever really drink but I would drink several of them no questions asked. People just get so stuck on the BMC is bad kick, that they cannot relate to a good beer in those styles. Just about every beer has its time and place. Lite American Lager included.

I thought I got pretty lucky with the choice of beers. The remaining styles went as follows; 5B: Traditional Bock, 10A: American Pale Ale, 13B: Sweet Stout, 19A: Old Ale, and 18C: Tripel. Each of those beers had their own strengths and weaknesses and there was only one I found nearly undrinkable. I felt everything was good until the very end of the exam where I finished up Beer Number 6 and had about 10 minutes remaining… That second guessing yourself thing comes into play here.

The Tripel that I thought was pretty awesome, started to taste funky… like really odd. Like odd enough for me to lower my score from a 34 to a 29! I should have left it because it seems I was right in line with everyone that I talked to after the exam before I went back. I guess one beer won’t really hurt me when it comes to grading but I was hoping to have all 6 be good. Just to hopefully score fairly well. And who knows what else I may have slipped up on. I thought the Old Ale might have been infected and then I go back to taste it after the exam and it was not as “bad” as I thought it was.

I did not adjust that score because I had given it a 19. It was a bad example of an Old Ale, regardless. Other examinees I talked to scored it right in line with me or in the low 20’s, so I am not too worried about that… unless it was not infected and I get knocked for that. But it is still only 2 beers out of 6… I feel I nailed the other exam beers and I was not too far off here, even with my changes or perceptions.

I will send out an update as I get my results back, but don’t expect to see that for another two or three months… or so I hear. Twitter or Google Plus will probably have the first look at that, but that is like breaking news. Until then,

Cheers!

BJCP Tasting Exam

Brewing The BJCP: Categories 10 & 6

It’s been a long time since I have been here… Quite a long time… at least I am on the same focus as I was the last time I wrote. The BJCP.

One update about this whole thing, though. I take the Tasting Exam May 17th! That is just a few weeks away… I feel pretty confident about Categories 14 and under. I mean, I can still learn a thing or two about the styles and a lot about the history, but I feel pretty good. 15 through 23, however… I guess some of them are pretty straightforward. For 20-23, essentially you have to know how the ingredients within them affect the base beer. There are some styles within those categories that are all their own, but again, I said I need to study.

I am going to be getting into the categories again, shortly. But for now, I guess this is a good time to start a new goal for my brewing… or at least something I thought about doing. Maybe not a goal, per se. I want to brew at least one beer from every style of the BJCP guidelines. I guess I started with one that a lot of homebrewers do, but for no other reason than at a recent competition I won a 5lb bag of Belma hops from Hops Direct… 5 POUNDS! I can’t imagine using it all in a reasonable amount of time, so I may end up giving some away. I went with a Single Hop Belma, American Pale Ale, (Category 10A: Check) to be my first beer… and since I had two empty carboys, I thought that an American Wheat with Belma might also work… only one way to find out, right?

A very clean hop, with a very orange, slight grapefruit, tropical pineapple, strawberry, and melon aroma.

 This batch is also the first time I had everything right in order to brew on my new system. What was funny about this brewday is that it was the day after “Stouterday”. A few of us got together at Bryan’s and… well, I think this photo says it better than anyway I could have.

Now imagine that photo with a game of Cards Against Humanity… and Judge Dread… and… well, yeah…

Now that we are past that… I drove home the next morning with a slight headache. It seemed to get worse though when I started brewing. It was never really bad, but it took some coercing of my liver to make it go away…

The brewday started out slow just because I wanted to be sure everything was perfect. I mean, this was my drool stands first major showing. It had to be perfect. I pulled it out a few days earlier to run water through it all. I figured out where I had issues and fixed what I could then. Obviously brewday would present with real life challenges.

Everything was going smooth up until the point when I decided I wanted to Mash In… typical, right? Nothing major happened I just realized that I FORGOT TO PUT IN THE CAMPDEN TABLET! I realized as soon as I finished mixing the mash and getting the pH. I sat down then shot up and went to crush the tablet. I typically put half of one in my strike water and the other half in my sparge water… Now that I am fly sparging instead of batch, I guess I have to remember to treat my whole volume. I just need to get my third Keggle back. I dropped it off at a shop to have some work done on it… anyway, I put the whole tablet into my mash tun and then crushed a second one into my sparge water… hopefully it worked out…

Everything else worked out perfectly until the very end. I got my pump all hooked up and I was ready to flow the wort through my plate chiller… for some reason, after I turned it on, nothing was flowing… I thought maybe there was an air pocket inside the motor, so I flushed it out. I thought maybe the elevation of the pump was not at an acceptable level, I thought maybe my false bottom was clogged because I typically use all leaf hops but today I was using pellets. This was also my first time using a false bottom. I typically use a Bazooka Screen in my brew kettle, and I know how pellets can gunk that up and mess up everything… the issue… I forgot to open the outlet valve on the pump… Yup…

So for this batch, I used the BeerSmith suggested profile for my system. I obviously made some edits to the profile but nothing I was not sure of… I ended up with about 7 gallons of wort… I hit my gravity dead on, 1.052… so there’s something… I just had way too much volume. I ended up racking some off until there was room in my carboy and then pitching my yeast before bed. I spent a bit of time preparing for my American Wheat Ale, (Category 6D), brew the following day.

Honestly, there isn’t much to talk about with the brew for the American Wheat. It was a very calm day, I ate the contents of my Easter Basket; Cascade hop candy, chocolates, a Brubar, and oh, I forgot to add the second half of campden tablet to my sparge water… I need to get my keggle! I never forgot before, but I used to do everything inside when I brewed… well, besides the brewing. I used to get all my water from inside, crush my grain, etc. etc.. etc… Now, I own a food grade hose, i.e. collect all water outside and other things. I guess I need to put it in a more obvious spot. I remembered initially, but oh well… I will get this worked out. Who knows, it may not be an issue. I should get one of those RV filters for my hose… yeah… that will work…

Again, the calculations in BeerSmith were a little bit off. My volume was a little high, but not like the brew before. I missed my gravity by a few points, Target: 1.050 Actual: 1.048 before adding the starter, 1.046-ish after. I’m not worried about it. I’m just looking forward to a nice, easy drinking, wheat beer… that I used 50% wheat in… so glad I had a ton of rice hulls just sitting around.

I guess my next brew is revisiting Category 6: Light Hybrids. On May 3rd, for the AHA’s Big Brew Day, I will be brewing a Kölsch, (Category 6C)… or a Kölsch Style Beer… whatever. I’m brewing it! I’m using a Kölsch malt that is made in/around Köln and a yeast from one of the breweries there… Also, GUESS WHAT NOBLE HOPS I’M USING!!! Besides the water, everything is coming from an authentic source… Now lets hope this stands up to the great examples I have had…

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I’ll post back with updates on the beers and also information about the style guidelines for them. In the meantime..

Cheers!

Brewing The BJCP: Categories 10 & 6