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General Category => All Grain Brewing => Topic started by: enso on May 10, 2010, 10:49:58 AM

Title: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: enso on May 10, 2010, 10:49:58 AM
Judges seem to be really hard on them. Or perhaps they don't quite know what to make of something under 4% abv?

I love Scottish shilling ales and I believe I make some damn tasty ones.  I think they are wicked smooth, clean and flavorful.

Judges don't seem to agree.  I have often had comments about sourness and infections.  I don't taste or smell sourness or infection at all and I am pretty sensitive to that.  I wonder if it is the malts I use?  I love to add a bit of aromatic malt for the wonderful maltiness.  Early on in fermentation I perceive a fairly noticeable raisin character from it.  It fades to more bready malt flavors as it cold ages.  I wonder if that is what they are picking up on?

The other no-no that I do is the kettle caramelization.  I know that this is often perceived as diacytal by judges so it is not recommended, but I love it.  It adds to the malty sweetness I think and certainly the color.  I try to stick to the "authentic" simple grist approach.  I used to use only Marris Otter and a touch of roasted plus the caramelization.  I only added the aromatic to boost the maltiness to try and mimic the more amber/brown base malts that would have been used.  I have not had any complaints about diacytal, but perhaps it is adding to the sourness issue?  One judge actually did recommend MORE kettle caramelization...   ::)

Another comment that tickled me was that the yeast character was not evident enough.  That is one thing I personally do NOT expect in a Scottish ale.  I intentionally ferment as cold as the yeast will let me.  In this case 55F for Wyeast 1728.  After a long cool ferment I age it even cooler for a month or so.

I realize infection is probably more of a potential in such low abv beers but I really truly do not believe these are infected.  I do not have any issues with any other beers and I really do not taste it in these.  My sanitation is excellent and once they are fermenting they tend to be almost lager like in there treatment.

I am just stumped.  It isn't that they are always slammed.  I entered the same beers recently in 2 competitions.  One in the NHC and one in a local comp.  I did not have much hope of my Scottish 70/- doing well in the local comp (non-bjcp) because generally the beers that win are HUGE, either in alcohol or hops.  I actually took 1st.  In the NHC...  Bombed,  only 28!

I don't know.  I really love how the beers are so I won't be changing them.  Anyways, just rambling here I guess.  Thanks for reading.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: dbeechum on May 10, 2010, 11:22:09 AM
I totally get where you're coming from. I think most judges on competition day are looking to be "wowed" and don't stop to remember that the "wow" in the smaller beers is the flavor that's added to a small package.

My mild, which I'll defend to the death gets pounded on (it has won a few medals so I guess I shouldn't kevtch too much) for various reasons, but sit back at a fest and I can guarantee that a full 5er is going bye bye before the day is done.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: bo_gator on May 10, 2010, 02:32:51 PM
Way to go Drew, I was about to mention problem with milds. At least with Mild there is the excuse of not knowing what is should taste like due to lack of commercial examples, but Scottish ales should be something any and or all BJCP judges should know how to judge no matter the ABV ::)
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: hopfenundmalz on May 10, 2010, 02:40:05 PM
Enso - on the sourness issue, when you submit your bottles, keep a couple for yourself and drink on or near the judging date.  I had one that went to the NHC that was off when I tasted at the end of April.  If you bottle from kegs, this is one of those quallity checks that you can do.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: MDixon on May 10, 2010, 04:51:35 PM
The other no-no that I do is the kettle caramelization.  I know that this is often perceived as diacytal by judges so it is not recommended, but I love it.  It adds to the malty sweetness I think and certainly the color.  I try to stick to the "authentic" simple grist approach.  I used to use only Marris Otter and a touch of roasted plus the caramelization.  I only added the aromatic to boost the maltiness to try and mimic the more amber/brown base malts that would have been used.  I have not had any complaints about diacytal, but perhaps it is adding to the sourness issue?  One judge actually did recommend MORE kettle caramelization...   ::)

Explain in detail how you "kettle caramelize", if all you are doing is boiling, you are not caramelizing anything, you must boil to a candy stage (removing the water) to achieve caramelization!
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: blatz on May 10, 2010, 05:38:20 PM
not for nothing, but I just gave a mild a 45, and it won the English Brown cat,  2 weekends ago.  best damned mild to pass this lips.  

turns out I know the brewer, so he gave me some pointers on what made it so great, and then also told me its only barely above 3%!!

so there  ;)
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: richardt on May 11, 2010, 07:34:15 AM
... he gave me some pointers on what made it so great, and then also told me its only barely above 3%!!

Care to share?  I'd love to know what ingredients or methods makes for a great tasting session beer.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: mikeypedersen on May 11, 2010, 10:38:19 AM
... he gave me some pointers on what made it so great, and then also told me its only barely above 3%!!

Care to share?  I'd love to know what ingredients or methods makes for a great tasting session beer.
+2.  I'll second that emotion!
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: weithman5 on May 11, 2010, 10:50:48 AM
all that matters to some people is the alcohol content (same people who probably tried to get their hands on everclear when they were teenagers) it sounds like you guys all love your milds and that is what is important.  and sometimes you win and sometimes you don't.  when i can make a good mild,  i will enjoy it for what it is not what someone else thinks it should be.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: tom on May 11, 2010, 11:02:17 AM
The BOS at the NHC in Cincinnatti was a Cream Ale.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: bonjour on May 11, 2010, 11:03:00 AM
I do make a pretty good Imperial Mild, 17+%,  tastes like a big Barleywine.

To get the flavor ino a small beer is as difficult (if not more so) than brewing a really ig beer well.

I'll have a Amarillo Mild and a Simoe Mild at the NHC.  Yea that's out of the box, but they are about 3%

Fred
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: blatz on May 11, 2010, 11:23:45 AM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: smoga on May 11, 2010, 11:35:08 AM
I have to reply.
I love the style. I did enter a Scotch 80 in the BJCP
And yes, my BJCP S80 also received a 28 - and yes, they did knocked it down for....diacetyl

Couple of things to note: These beers (Scotch 60/70/80) really change character as they age.
How old was the beer you entered? Have you tasted it lately?
My beer was only about 6 weeks old at judging and that buttery character has completely disappeared as it aged.
I admit, I gave the wort a 2 hour boil to bring out more of the caramel flavor. See page 127 of "Brewing classic styles"

You cite one of the most common problems with judging; useless and contradictory advice. I find that it is common to get middling scores with no real reason why the beer got knocked down. One judge called for more hops (in this style?) the other called for less hops. A couple suggested a dacetyl rest (with Wy1728?) and colder fermentation. I fermented at 60

I too found the judging comments not very helpful or relevant to this style.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: richardt on May 11, 2010, 11:45:30 AM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

Thanks for sharing!  YUM!  That sounds like the right approach for max flavor in a session beer. 
I've also considered adding a small percentage (5-10%) of aromatic or melanoiden malt--what do you think?
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: Pawtucket Patriot on May 11, 2010, 12:38:49 PM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

Home toasted oats add a great depth of toasty flavors.  I used them in my winter ale last year and I thought it was one of the best beers I've ever brewed.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: blatz on May 11, 2010, 02:33:08 PM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

Thanks for sharing!  YUM!  That sounds like the right approach for max flavor in a session beer. 
I've also considered adding a small percentage (5-10%) of aromatic or melanoiden malt--what do you think?

richardt, in my experience, 5-10% is not a 'small percentage' of aromatic/melanoiden (I believe they are virtually the same) - I keep them at less than 2% when I use them - a little goes a long way.


Home toasted oats add a great depth of toasty flavors.  I used them in my winter ale last year and I thought it was one of the best beers I've ever brewed.

I've never thought of using them, but I am definitely going to toast the oats on my next stout - just gotta remember to do it ahead of time so I can give them enough lead time to rest.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: sienabrewer on May 11, 2010, 04:45:36 PM
I've never thought of using them, but I am definitely going to toast the oats on my next stout - just gotta remember to do it ahead of time so I can give them enough lead time to rest.

I don't think that is necessary.  When toasting grain, yes, you have to give them 2 weeks minimum.  I toasted oats on brewday for an oatmeal stout.  There were no ill effects, i.e. astringency, and the beer tasted great.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: uthristy on May 12, 2010, 07:33:09 AM
The other no-no that I do is the kettle caramelization.

Explain in detail how you "kettle caramelize", if all you are doing is boiling, you are not caramelizing anything, you must boil to a candy stage (removing the water) to achieve caramelization!

Not sure how enso does it but when I make a dark Bière de Garde, I drain off 4L of 1st runnings,add some sugar and boil that down to .75 -.5L. Add back to kettle at flameout, really darkens and adds sweetness  to the finished  beer.

Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: enso on May 13, 2010, 02:07:09 PM
Enso - on the sourness issue, when you submit your bottles, keep a couple for yourself and drink on or near the judging date.  I had one that went to the NHC that was off when I tasted at the end of April.  If you bottle from kegs, this is one of those quallity checks that you can do.


Check.  I was drinking a bottle as I read the judging sheets.  Tasted great.  Though I suppose the ones I sent out were not kept in as controlled an environment.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: enso on May 13, 2010, 02:11:57 PM
The other no-no that I do is the kettle caramelization.  I know that this is often perceived as diacytal by judges so it is not recommended, but I love it.  It adds to the malty sweetness I think and certainly the color.  I try to stick to the "authentic" simple grist approach.  I used to use only Marris Otter and a touch of roasted plus the caramelization.  I only added the aromatic to boost the maltiness to try and mimic the more amber/brown base malts that would have been used.  I have not had any complaints about diacytal, but perhaps it is adding to the sourness issue?  One judge actually did recommend MORE kettle caramelization...   ::)

Explain in detail how you "kettle caramelize", if all you are doing is boiling, you are not caramelizing anything, you must boil to a candy stage (removing the water) to achieve caramelization!

I take the first 1 gallon of runnings and I boil it hot down to about a quart or less and add it back to the rest of the wort.  I tried to tack a gravity reading the first time I did it.  It was malt extract thick and off the scale!  You have to watch it like a hawk.  Boils over or burns easily when it gets that low.   ::)
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: enso on May 13, 2010, 02:27:51 PM
I love my milds too.  I have actually done fairly well with my mild.  Took 2nd in 2 different competitions.  Though it does suffer the same fate at times as the shillings.  I agree that there is less familiarity with milds amongst judges and drinkers in general.  I disagree that there is a better understanding of Scottish shilling ales out there.  I think there are MANY incorrect commercial examples brewed here in the U.S.  and just like milds, few to none imported from Scotland due to the same transportation issues milds face.  Plus there has been for a long time the erroneous information out there about peat smoke and the reek...  My take is that a mild actually stands a better chance as many have not tasted one and do not have any preconceived notions.  With Scottish ales they have all kinds of misinformation and preconceived ideas of what it should be.

I concur on the brewing of session beers.  You have to think a bit differently to pack more flavor into a small package.  A key to getting good flavor and mouthfeel is to mash high.  I mash my mild at 156-158F.  I mash the shillings up there too.  I tend to mash each succession (60, 70, 80...) a notch higher than the preceding.  In my mild I use some dark crystal, a good amount of aromatic/biscuit/melanoidin type malt (about 14 %)

Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: santoch on May 14, 2010, 12:26:05 AM
I live near Seattle.  I've judged plenty of BOS rounds that go to the smaller beers. Last year's Puget Sound Pro-Am (>300 beers in the comp) BOS was a fantastic Kolsch.  We also had a Mild take the BOS at Novembeerfest (~280) a few months ago.  Great beer.  I guess I'm saying that the big beers don't always win around here.


Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: dbeechum on May 14, 2010, 12:34:30 AM
I guess I'm saying that the big beers don't always win around here.

Nor do they in many places once they make it to the BOS round. Hopefully the BOS judges who are lined up are experienced enough to step out of that strong beer bias.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: richardt on May 14, 2010, 06:24:05 AM
Looks like there's some difference of opinion on "how much aromatic/melanoiden malt to use."
Blatz says "less than 2%" and enzo says "around 14%" for a mild.  I'd like others to chime in if they could.

I have not brewed a mild, yet.  But I'd like to do so--I'm in the researching the style stage right now.
I didn't have my beer notes in front of me when I wrote my first post and threw out a 5-10% figure for aromatic/melanoiden malt.
   
I went back and checked my recipe for my Saison (1 lb aromatic out of 21 lbs total [17 lbs grain + 4 lbs cane sugar] = nearly 5%).  The judges didn't think it was overpowering---my Saison placed first.

I agree with dbeechum that most judges (myself included), while trying to honor and judge a beer in accordance with the BJCP style guidelines, will tend to show a bias towards more robust, fuller-bodied and fuller-flavored beers within the category, and for stronger and fuller-bodied beers overall.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: a10t2 on May 14, 2010, 06:39:52 AM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

I'd also suggest doing it as a no-sparge, for maximum body.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: blatz on May 14, 2010, 07:48:53 AM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

I'd also suggest doing it as a no-sparge, for maximum body.

might as well, right?  what would sparging save you on a beer of this gravity, maybe $2 in grains??  ;D

I think I just might have to make this sometime soon.  It'd be nice to have a beer around that I could have a pint or two of on a work night.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: tom on May 14, 2010, 09:22:20 AM
his secrets were a high mash temp (body, dextrins) and home toasted oats.  The toasted oats gave so many interesting flavors - I don't make a lot of british beers but I am intrigued to try this out.

I'd also suggest doing it as a no-sparge, for maximum body.
I did that once and a judge thought it was "too big for style" although it wasn't.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: a10t2 on May 14, 2010, 09:52:59 AM
I did that once and a judge thought it was "too big for style" although it wasn't.

I never assume anything (good or bad) is actually in my beers unless two different judges in two different comps have noted it.
Title: Re: Is it just me or are session beers hard to enter into competitions?
Post by: wilypig on June 14, 2010, 10:11:08 AM
I am very involved in the local HB competition and have just organized the Extract COC. It is my opinion that it is harder for a Session ale to fair well against the previously stated WOW factor of very complex bigger beers only if the judges are not experienced enough to appreciate the subtleties of session ales. For the Extract COC the top 2 beers were very subtle in their own right. The first place was a lightly spiced Weiss beer with black pepper corn. The second place was a perfectly balanced American Amber lager. These entries stood up to some very complex and robust IPA's, Porters and RISs. An exceptionally well balanced session ale can stand up to a complex yet busy RIS any day. If you are a Session ale brewer have faith, keep working for balance and drinkability. It is not uncommon for my local HB competition (over 350 entries) to have at least half of the top 10 beers at the BOS table be session or very subtle beers