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Messages - thomasbarnes

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I've had two late dropouts for the exam that I'm giving in two weeks.

Unless you're VERY well prepared and have already passed the online qualifier exam, I don't recommend that a first-time exam taker attempt the exam on such short notice, but this is a great chance to improve your score if you wish to retake the exam.

Rochester, NY
Saturday, August 19th, 10 AM
@ Swiftwater Brewing Company

contact thomasbarnes AT by Thursday, August 17 to reserve your seat.

Rochester is approximately 5 hours from NYC or Philly, 4 hours from Cleveland, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, or Ottawa, ON. It's about 3 hours from Albany, NY or GTA, Ont.

FWIW, I'm a former BJCP grader and I've offered the tasting exam several times before, so I know what I'm doing. I've also lined up three great proctors. It should be a good exam, and I strive to make it as fair as possible while still testing your skills.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: Phenolic Feedback
« on: August 23, 2015, 11:59:00 PM »
The Pale Ale that got terrible marks had numerous remarks around a phenolic off flavor (smoky/plastic). Two score sheets said the same thing (although I've been told judges score together so perhaps they influence each other).

Peoples' perceptions differ, and some times certain hop blends can give the illusion of phenolic character. And, as you said, judges' perceptions can be flaky, even for higher level judges. (Although a National or better judge will be accurate more often than not, and should be able to explain exactly what perceptions they detect, and give correct suggestions for how they think those faults can be fixed.)

Additionally, many competitions use hard plastic cups which are lined with mold release compound which has a distinctive plastic smell. Unless cups used at the judging table are aired out prior to use that smell can linger and fool inexperienced judges into thinking there's a problem with the beer - particularly in the aroma.

So, it might be nothing at all, and just bad luck with judges.

But, in addition to the good suggestions provided so far:

1) How much caramelization/melanoidin development (i.e., darkening, toasty or "darker" malt character) are you getting during mash/boil? Do you suffer from scorching on the bottom of your boil kettle? Does your boil kettle have a layer of scorched/carbonized wort on the bottom?

Scorching, or even just extreme levels of caramelization, can produce smoky phenolic notes.

The fixes are to turn down the heat on your heating element during mash/boil, put a flame tamer under your boil kettle/mash tun,  and/or go to mashing/boiling vessels with better conductivity and thicker bottoms.

If it's present, do what you can to remove as much scorched material from the bottom of your brew kettle.

Smoky/plasticy phenols are unlikely to a result of polyphenols/tannins extracted from the mash by mashing out at too high a temperature, by somehow carrying grain particles into the boil, or by adding too much hop volume. Polyphenols will give a harsh, bitter flavor, which can sometimes seem "oaky," or "barrel-like," as well as distinctive drying, astringent mouthfeel character which can be mistaken for mouth-coating hop resins, acidity, or high mineral levels. pH above 5.8 in the mash, or prolonged temperatures above about 168 *F when mashing out or boiling, favor polyphenol/tannin development.

2) What's your cleaning/sterilization procedure like? In addition to the perils of using too much chlorine-based cleaner/sanitizer, wild yeast - which can throw plastic/smoky notes - can hide in cracks or crevices in your system, including areas where dirt isn't removed. You can't sanitize dirty equipment.

Take a long, hard look at all your cold side equipment, inspecting it carefully for cracks, pits or scratches. Are there bits of equipment that you're not fully taking apart where bugs can hide? Perhaps replace soft plastic cold side equipment like hoses or brew buckets. Make sure that you're properly cleaning your equipment - both to eliminate dirt and to prevent pitting or scratching.

3) What's your packaging procedure like?  Often times, brewers will really sweat cleaning, sanitation and rinsing for their cold side equipment, but not for their bottles or kegs. And, its really easy for wild yeast or other bugs to take hold in dirty kegs or bottles.

All the suggestions that apply to fermentation equipment apply to packaging equipment and containers.

Additionally, if you're using iodine-based sanitizers, make sure you're not soaking bottles/kegs in a too concentrated solution, and make sure that containers rinsed "no rinse" sanitizers are fully dry before you start packaging. Otherwise, you can get distinctive aromas/flavors, which can sometimes be mistaken for smoky/plasticy, in the finished beer.

4) What's your hop blend? Does it include high levels of hop strains which commonly get described as being "spicy" or "woodsy". Its just possible that to certain palates that hop blend might seem smoky.

5) What's your "yeast management" procedure?

If your yeast is contaminated with wild yeast, you can get smoky/plastic notes. Excessive yeast stress due to high temperatures, poor wort oxygenation, and/or underpitching can cause some strains of brewer's yeast to throw phenolic notes (typically clove/spice, but occasionally smoky or plasticy).

Are you pitching a sufficiently large, and sufficiently healthy starter? Are you using the same good wort production and cleaning/sanitization techniques you'd use in the brewhouse for the wort and equipment you use to make your yeast starter? Are you oxygenating your wort to achieve the proper levels of dissolved O2 for the wort's OG? Are you fermenting at the proper temperature range for your yeast strain?

If you're reculturing your yeast, are you using proper sterilization/exclusion procedures to get pure samples from batch to batch?

6) What's your water like, and what's your water treatment plan?

I've left this for last, since it's the least likely option since you said you're dechlorinating your water.

Unless you're living in a part of the world with water that needs to be extensively modified in order to make it suitable for brewing, and you have the knowledge, means and equipment to "built your brewing water from scratch," I'd recommend against using pure RO or distilled water. Your mash and your yeast need certain mineral and metal ions to be present at certain ranges in the water for optimum performance.

For most parts of the country, dechlorinated tap water is suitable for brewing some or all styles of beer, although for the large swaths of the country where there are high levels of temporary hardness, you might need to decarbonate your water prior to brewing the lighter styles. For the areas of the country where there are high levels of permanent hardness, you probably want to amend your dechlorinated tap water with RO/distilled water to get the mineral levels and pH right.

A final possibility is are you somehow getting chlorinated water into your beer? For example, if you've got an immersion chiller, a leaky faucet attachment or hose on the inflow side can allow chlorinated water to get into the wort. Check for leaks!

Are you rinsing your cold-side/packaging equipment with tap water and leaving significant amounts of water in the containers before you run wort/raw beer into them?

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: belgian blonde cidery/acetaldehyde aroma
« on: September 26, 2013, 10:32:23 AM »
I wonder where John Palmer got the idea that too much corn sugar causes this issue?  It's pretty obvious that insufficient time on the yeast is the culprit.  I've used over 20% corn sugar in a Belgian Strong with no problems.

Two reasons.

First, once you start pushing above about 20% sugar, yeast nutrients might become an issue, and weak fermentation due to poor nutrient levels might be a cause of acetaldehyde. More typically, however, you have to go to something ridiculous, like 40% sugar, to start getting insufficient yeast nutrients.

Second, large quantities of adjunct sugar can impart a "cidery" quality to a fermented beverage, although this isn't necessarily due to acetaldehyde.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: Water Book?
« on: September 26, 2013, 10:14:48 AM »
Was supposed to ship last week.  Anyone receive theirs yet?
Did I miss something?

I got mine on Saturday.

Events / BJCP Tasting Exam Slots Available - Syracuse, NY
« on: August 07, 2012, 09:29:49 PM »
I've been informed by the exam organizer that there are seats available for the Syracuse, NY tasting exam.

Sept. 15, 10:00 am, Polish House, 915 Park Ave, Syracuse NY

Contact Mick Barnes at ASAP to sign up.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: 1st round NHC results
« on: May 11, 2012, 07:20:11 PM »
"how does one judge find the beer bone dry and the other cloyingly sweet?"

Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others - search on "supertasters" vs. "non-tasters".

Also, sometimes poor attenuation can be partially masked by astringency, hop bitter or high carbonation.

Isn't there an assigned head judge that reviews the comments for consistency?

Generally, no. At best, you'll have someone reviewing scoresheets during the competition for bad judging practice - like insulting or minimal feedback.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: 1st round NHC results
« on: May 11, 2012, 07:10:47 PM »

+250 on that one.  Got my score sheets back on Monday and was pretty disappointed in the quality.  One sheet had only 5 written words on the entire page, another had 1 or 2 entire sections of the score sheet completely blank.  One judges started a sentence and didn't even bother to finish it before skipping to the final score.  Lots of one line descriptions for Flavor and Aroma.  Not what I expected from our National Competition and certainly not worth the $10 entry fee.

A big competition is no excuse for crummy judging. Complain to the competition organizer. You definitely didn't get your money's worth.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: 1st round NHC results
« on: May 11, 2012, 07:02:04 PM »
As a fairly active judge who lives out in the sticks, I'd love to see a small stipend that would at least cover gas.  I could see a higher fee being used to both raise revenue and lower entry numbers.  Not sure how expensive you'd have to make an entry to accomplish the latter.  After all we've demonstrated we have some disposable income just through our brewing hobby.

That would seriously drive up the entry fees. Some competitions do partially comp. for mileage, however at least for out-of-town or out-of-state judges (e.g., Indiana State Fair).

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: 1st round NHC results
« on: May 11, 2012, 06:58:19 PM »
Question: are you allowed to fine tune your recipe if you brew a new batch for the final round? I doubt i will advance but am curious nonetheless.

Yes. Absolutely. As Martin pointed out, some styles lose their luster very quickly. If it's a low-alcohol (4% or less), a wheat beer, or one where hop aroma and flavor should be fresh and prominent (e.g., IIPA) you should definitely consider rebrewing.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: 1st round NHC results
« on: May 11, 2012, 06:55:45 PM »

A friend of mine got a score sheet back from the first round that had 5 words on it - there were more words listing the judges name and the style of beer.

There's a solution to that problem - complain to the competition organizer. That's unacceptably shoddy judging.

I think there are a few reasons.  First is wort darking and caramelization.  The second is that the isomerization activity of alpha acids plateau's completely by 90 minutes.  Third is that the benefit of SMM volatilization drops off appreciably as the malt's reserve of SMM is relatively exhausted around 60 minutes for pale malt and 90 minutes for pils malt.

The pro-brewer/scientific literature I've seen indicates that AA utilization peaks at ~2 hours, but a 90 minute boil is generally good enough. A 2-hour boil might be needed if you're really trying to pull every alpha acid molecule you can out of the beer in a high gravity wort.

Other than that, spot on.

Big pro-brewers hate long boils both because of energy costs and because time is money - especially for big brewers which might be brewing 4-5 batches per day. They have all sorts of tricks to minimize energy usage and speed up wort boiling. One of the coolest, but trickiest, is brewing the beer under a slight pressurization. AA Isomeration is optimized at something like 215-220 *F, but the danger is that if you get your wort much hotter than that, AA start to degrade :O

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: Berlinner or Lambic?
« on: May 11, 2012, 06:40:31 PM »

It takes time for both lacto and brett to develop. If the brett character is too much, either use it as a blender beer (very appropriate for all varieties of our) or just call it an "American Sour Ale"

Given that you just mash-hopped, the alpha acid levels - which are what's bad for bacteria - will be low.

Commercially, the only authentic Berlinerweisse still brewed is Kindl, and it's hard to find. Good commercial "Berliner-like" weisses are Berliner Bahnhoff and Fritz Breim 1809 - the latter being a bit unusual in that it's a historic, "vollbier" strength Berliner (~5%).

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: My homebrew smells like vomit
« on: May 11, 2012, 06:28:16 PM »
Just in case nobody's mentioned it, next time, make sure you keep your sour mash at about 100 *F. If the temperature drops, you can get wort spoiler infections - like the one you've got.

Fortunately, sulfur compounds are highly volatile, so there's a good chance that wort boiling, fermentation and long aging will make it go away.


Thanks BJCP for lowering your standards just enough to let me slide by to continue my unbroken streak of mediocracy!

Passing the BJCP qualifier exam with no study at all hardly counts as "mediocrity". It's a tough exam and the fact that you scraped by still counts.

It's like the doctor joke,

"What do you call the guy who graduated last in his class in med school?"


While you need to get a slot in tasting exam soon, I wouldn't be in a rush to take the tasting exam. If possible, find a BJCP training class in your area, or find an experienced BJCP judge to mentor you on troubleshooting, styles and the mysteries of filling out a good scoresheet.

Just one month of prep, with no prior training or study, is setting you up for a potentially failing score on the tasting exam, when you're obviously smart and experienced enough that you could get an 80+.

General Homebrew Discussion / Re: Swift kick to the nuts!
« on: April 23, 2012, 02:48:09 AM »
No, they didnt. I could see that being an issue. For next time, should a Vanilla Porter go into the herb, spice category or the specialty category?

SHV - unless there's something else about the beer that kicks it into specialty (e.g., fruit, unusual fermentables, like honey).

Also, if you do enter it into competition, state the intensity level of the vanilla in the aroma and flavor, but don't necessarily state the exact type of porter unless the base beer absolutely nails one of the three recognized styles of porter.

For example, "Porter with light vanilla aroma and moderate vanilla flavor" would be a good description for a porter which sort of straddles the line between brown porter and robust, and doesn't have a whole lot of vanilla aroma.

The idea is that you want to tell the judges what to expect, and what NOT to expect, rather than making them guess.

As to your feedback in competition, other folks have mentioned possible causes for diacetyl. I'll add another tip: start your fermentation at the lower side of the preferred temperature range and let it rise a bit as fermentation finishes. Diacetyl gets produced during the initial phases of fermentation and gets scavenged up at the end. Cooler starting temperature = less diacetyl, warmer finishing temperature = more energy to clean up diacetyl before the yeast floccs.

Diacetyl and DMS together could be a sign of infection, but often you'll get other off flavors as well - sour, smoky or plasticy. If you're doing everything right with sanitation, it's probably not an issue.

Otherwise, if you're doing everything right by your yeast beasts, using a relatively clean-fermenting yeast strain, and getting good beer, I wouldn't worry about it too much.

Sometimes certain hops and yeast strains can throw sulfur notes which can be mistaken for DMS, especially at low levels. In addition to a 90+ minute, full, open rolling boil, quick cooling and vigorous fermentation will also drive out DMS.

Ultimately, learn to troubleshoot on your own so that you can fix your own problems without having to rely on judge evaluations in competitions. Since you don't have to guess about ingredients and techniques, your evaluations can be much more accurate.

Alternately, hook up with a local HB club, find people in the club whose opinions you can trust and have them evaluate your beer face-to-face. That way, they can ask questions as they taste. If they're BJCP judges, so much the better, since they'll be able to give you tips on what makes a beer competitive in competition.

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