A Serious Hiatus & NHC Round 1

Is what I fell into.

Blogging consistently is tough, my hat is off to those who manage it.  It is funny that once you fall behind it is so much tougher to start again.  But yet I shall.

I have some personal brewing news I will cover, but first I wanted to share some highlights of the recent beer judging I conducted.  The Pittsburgh area hosted a first round judging for the National Homebrew Competition.  This competition is open to anyone who wants to enter their homebrew.  I personally have not entered a beer into this competition.  It is a tough competition, and at $10 per entry it is not inexpensive.  Still, if you think you can brew with the big boys, this is the place to show it.

I judged a total of three categories: Specialty, German Wheat Beers, and IPAs.  Frankly the last two categories were very disappointing.  The wheat beer category was full of decent but uninspiring beers.  The hallmark of the German hefeweizen is the banana and clove flavors created by the yeast.  The beers we tried had varying amounts, but all were too tame.  This is a tough category because the flavor profile of a wheat beer fades fast, and maybe I was a bit harsh in my judging.  Still I was hoping one beer would sweep me away; alas, none did.

The IPAs followed a similar path.  Outside of the acetone bomb someone dropped in the middle of the flight, the beers were decent but lacked the punch of hop flavor and aroma one expects from an IPA. The American IPAs suffered the most, in fact there were only two English IPAs in our flight.  I judged one of those to be the best I tasted.  It was brewed impeccably, with no off flavors.  If it had just had a bit more punch in both the hops and body, it would have won.  It was just more ESB-like than IPA-like.  In the end I still thought it deserved to win over the American IPAs it was matched against, but my fellow judges thought differently.

The Specialty category was fun.  I like to judge this category because I think it is one of the more openly objective categories.  In categories like IPAs, you often end up with two or three similar beers and the winning choice is somewhat subjective.  In the case of specialty beers the brewer must name what they have done to make the beer special, and you must judge how well they pulled it off.  By my reckoning the best beer in this category was a beer with onions, garlic, oregano, and brown sugar.  Yes you heard that correctly.  All of the fellow judges snickered as we opened the bottle.  But you know, the brewer pulled it off.  That beer was like drinking a pizza.  The onion and garlic flavors were apparent and well balanced.  The oregano was subtle and the brown sugar I could not find.  That hurt the beer in the competition.  If you name an ingredient you better be sure the judges can taste it or else you have failed.  In the end this beer did not win gold in its category, but I salute the brewer who made it.

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