2 entries for Nashville. Not sure why Atlanta is no longer on the list this year...
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My first competition entry was in American Pale Ale. Didn't realize back then the competition in that category. Didn't place but did get some great feedback. I did get a gold the following year in that same category.
I use hop pellets. And with my IPAs that means when the hops expand they basically fill the filter. I have to drop the filter down to hang on the lip of the keggle opening at that point to get all the hops in the wort. That is at a little over half a pound of hops. I've been very impressed with the filter. There are no discernible hop particles in the wort.
Yes to stainless but no on the creamers. I have two on my current kegerator and will probably get rid of them soon. I like to use them, but when a friend comes over and tries, they end up not being able to find the sweet spot to close it fully and they dump beer everywhere. I have some of the friends trained after two years, but some others just don't get it.
I had a Perlick creamer faucet that got enough build up to not be able to shut off after about 6 months. The beer in when it stuck was imperial stout, so it was pretty thick. I believe the o-ring tore a bit when the faucet was opened, and would not seal again. I also could not get the faucet off, so ended up replacing the guts with the innards of a standard Perlick. Now it's been running fine for quite some time.
Also had the same problem with others not understanding that it does not shut off when you push it all the way in.
tldr: go with the standard style stainless Perlick faucet.
Soaking container in hot water is good to get it to flow better. To get any remaining goodness - add hot water to container, swirl, pour.
I use a stainless filter for everything that goes in the boil (http://utahbiodieselsupply.com/brewingfilters.php), so I never get any vegetal material coming through.