Here’s the link to an article I wrote for Chattanooga Magazine. Enjoy.
I had the opportunity to help judge beers up in Nashville at Music City Brewers Music City Brew Off homebrew competition this weekend. MCBO is a really good competition. It was well organized, ran smoothly and the quality of the entries was pretty high. They also treated the judges really well and it was a pleasure to judge this competition. Thanks to the Music City Brewers for their hospitality and for letting the Barley Mob contingent help judge.
Friday’s judging session was followed by a catered dinner and a presentation from Mantra Artisan Ale‘s brewmaster, Derrick Morse. Derrick spoke about Mantra’s start, its future plans and some of the ins and outs of the brewing business. He also brought an assortment of Mantra beers to sample including Cassis, their phenomenal Flanders Red.
You can find the full results here.
If my count is correct, I judged 30 beers and 3 Mini Best-of-Show rounds on Friday and Saturday. My favorite? A Golden Beet Saison. Category 30A (Spice, Herb, and Vegetable beers) can be a tough category to judge. There is the potential for some great beers and sometimes some truly terrible ones. Most that we judged were pretty good, but the beet saison was really nice. I expected it to be divisive as beets are not universally loved to begin with. This beer was everything a saison should be and had a nose that smelled just like sweet, earthy golden beets. The beet flavor was there, too and paired nicely with the saison base. It medalled in its category an held up pretty well in the final Best-of-Show round as well.
Once winners were announced and raffle prizes awarded, everyone got to hang out and socialize at the Club Crawl. We got to sample some amazing homebrews and commercial beers and an awesome time was had by all. Whether you are a homebrew considering entering beers in the Brew Off next year or are interested in judging, you’ll be glad you did. It’s a great event.
So I’ve been brewing 10 gallon batches lately in preparation of our more-or-less annual Oktoberfest throwdown. Given that I’m not as young as I used to be, I was not looking forward to lifting the big CurTec fermenter up high enough to siphon into my kegs. Not to mention my auto siphon has some age on it and I’ve never felt really good about the cleanability of the thing to begin with.
I’d been kicking around the idea of using CO2 to push beer from the fermenter to the keg for a while. It’s not brain surgery; there are plenty of examples on the web that show how to do it. The only minor complication for me was the fact that I use two different fermenter setups. I use the Speidel 30 liter tanks for my 5 gallon batches and the CurTec for 10 gallon batches, but still managed to cobble together the hardware which, along with some stuff I already had on hand, gets the job done.
As implied in the title of this post, the solution was pretty cheap with a few big IFs. If you already have a CO2 tank and regulator (preferably extras that you don’t have to disconnect from your kegerator every time you want to keg) and if you already have compatible fermenters, then it doesn’t take much to make it happen. I also had some spare gas line and a ball lock gas disconnect which helped reduce the parts list.
If you already have the tank and regulator, the gas disconnect and assorted tubing, all you really need are:
Ball Lock Keg Lid Adapters These came from ebay. You can get these cheaper if you don’t mind waiting for China to ship them. These came from a domestic seller and arrived in two days. It’s a set of two. One post is a bulkhead and the other isn’t, but the non-bulkhead post can be used bulkhead-style on thin materials. I used the one with the bulkhead on the CurTec lid and the non-bulkhead post on a Speidel cap (photo below.) To get a good seal, I added some O-rings and stainless washers sourced from my local hardware store.
Stainless Steel Racking Cane-BrewHardware and tubing From BrewHardware. The Speidel fermenters have a spigot for racking and I already had tubing that fit, so all I needed for the Speidels was the gas post to attach to the threaded lid. For the CurTec, I ordered the racking cane, a drilled stopper to fit the hole I had previously drilled in the lid for the airlock and some 3/8″ silicone tubing. I drilled a hole in the lid to fit the ball lock gas post/bulkhead, which thanks to the O-ring and washer seals up nicely at pressures of 5-10 psi.
I haven’t used the Speidel setup yet, but I filled 2 kegs with German Pilsner that had been fermenting in the CurTec and this little rig worked like a champ. At around 5 psi the CO2 pushed the beer up the racking cane, through the tubing and into the keg with no leakage (gas or beer) at all. And if I’d had a ball lock liquid disconnect with a hose barb to fit the 3/8″ tubing I could have filled the keg through the liquid out post instead of the open lid and never expose the beer to oxygen. And that’s a good thing.
Need something to do for Groundhog Day instead of watching some obese rodent with a falsified meteorology degree flub a weather forecast? Get on over to Chattanooga Brewing Company for their Barrel Aged Tap Takeover.
So back in October, I had the opprotunity to brew one of my recipes at Chattanooga Brewing Company by virtue of winning their Pro-Am Brewing Competition that they hold twice a year with The Barley Mob, Chattanooga’s Homebrew Club. CBC is a great supporter of homebrewing and craft beer, and they open their brewhouse to a local homebrewer twice a year. For their fall Pro-Am, they asked for Porter recipes and I was both surprised and excited to have my brew chosen out of 13 entries.
Special thanks to Mark, Jonathan, Rivers, and the whole CBC crew for a great brew day. It was a blast to brew a production sized batch on their awesome brewhouse. My entry was a fairly traditional Robust Porter recipe with just a touch of Cascade hops to give it a nice chocolate and citrus blend:
Scott’s Barley Mob Porter
10 lbs 6 oz 2 Row Malt
1 lb Munich Malt
12 oz Crystal 40
4 oz English Chocolate Malt
6 oz Carafa III Special Dehusked Malt
1 oz East Kent Goldings @ 60 minutes
.4 oz Cascade @ 60 minutes
1 oz Fuggles @ 15 minutes
.2 oz Cascade @ 15 minutes
1 oz Willamette @ Flameout
.2 oz Cascade @ Flameout
34.6 IBU 33.8 SRM 1.063 OG Mash @ 152
I believe this batch is history. There may be a keg or two remaining around town. There is a Wild Turkey barrel aged version that will be part of CBC’s Groundhog Day Tap Takeover extravaganza that begins next week. Get you some. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Admittedly, the title of this post is perhaps a bit misleading. Stick with me, though. Reading this is not going to guarantee a win, but it might help your chances in your next Pro-Am.
Many craft breweries hold Pro-Am competitions and give homebrewers the chance to brew full size versions of their recipes in a production brewery and to have their winning beer served on tap to the beer loving public. It’s a great opportunity to share your talents with a wider audience. Not to mention the street cred you’ll enjoy from your fellow brewers.
I was fortunate enough to have my Robust Porter recipe selected by Chattanooga Brewing Company at their Fall 2015 Pro-Am, which afforded me the opportunity to help judge their Spring Pro-AM, which was held on January 18. I have previously judged beers at a few BJCP homebrew competitions, but this was my first time judging a Pro-Am competition. The approach is similar, but there are some additional concerns that come into play that you should be mindful of. I’m sure there are Pro-Ams whose criteria and judging are structured differently, so don’t take my advice as absolute, rather consider the factors at play beyond brewing good beer.
That said, Brew Good Beer
It probably goes without saying, but let’s not overlook the obvious. If you participate in BJCP homebrewing competitions, you know that a winning brew should be well executed with no discernable faults. Off flavors, aromas, and infections are deal killers. While strict adherance to style guidelines is usually less of a factor in a Pro-Am, the fundamentals of good brewing still apply.
Believe it or not, your local brewery may not necessarily be able to procure all the ingredients available to you as a homebrewer. Keep that in mind when planning your recipe. Choose ingredients that are readily available or that have available substitutes. Experimental or exotic hops might pose a problem. Also beware of ingredients that will be cost prohibitive when scaled up to a 10-15 barrel batch. Your saffron IPA may be very tasty, but the brewery may balk at buying a pound of for a one-off brew.
Your best Winter Warmer or Oktoberfest may not fare too well if for a summer release. Ask the brewery when they plan to brew and tap the winning recipe. If you are brewing a seasonal beer, make sure its appropriate for the time of year when it will be served.
Get to know the tap list of the brewery who is hosting the Pro-Am. Taste every beer on the wall. Be sure your entry either contrasts or somehow complements the brewery’s selections. Also check out the winning selections of the previous competition. There’s a good chance that, for the sake of variety, they may not choose the same style beer in back to back Pro-Ams.
Avoid the Sours
Unless the brewery already has a sour program, leave the bugs at home. Most breweries will be reluctant to introduce wild yeasts and bacteria into their brewhouse and many times they will specify that sour beers not be entered into competition at all.
Ask the Brewmaster
Lastly, get to know the brewery and the brewers there. If they care enough about homebrewing to host a Pro-Am, they are likely happy to answer your questions about ingredient availabililty, process, and their beer philosophy in general.
When you plan your next Pro-Am competition entry, remember this: They are likely not looking for just the “best” beer. They are looking for the beer that excites and inspires them and one that they want to share with their customers. Now all you have to do is brew it. Good luck!
Just finished bottling two more beers for competition. My first two competitions for 2016 will be Extravaganza!, hosted by Bluff City Brewers and Connoissurs in Memphis and Peach State Brew Off, presented by Covert Hops Society. I’m hoping to improve my medals per year ratio to something above the 1:1 I’ve enjoyed the past two years.
I’m hoping that if the quality of my brews doesn’t get the job done, I can make something up in quantity. I’m entering five beers for these first two competitions:
- Munich Dunkel
- Amarillo/El Dorado American Pale Ale
- Saison inspired table beer
The Schwarzbier and Munich Dunkel are my first lagers ever, so I’m especially looking forward to feedback on them.
Any competitions coming up for you? What are your entries?