Off to the Fair
by Josh J | 06 Sep. 2016
2016 was the second year that I submitted beers to the MN State Fair Homebrew Competition. Although, last year was not very well planned, and more of a last minute 'why not?' This year was different, I had a game plan. And hell, I'm pretty excited with how it went!
I planned my 2016 brew schedule with the state fair in mind. A few of the recipes were practiced throughout the spring, and a couple were first time brew "hail mary's." The plan was to brew the darker ales first as they age the best (or need to age), and save the IPA for last. Last year we welcomed my son Eli into the world in July, which means that I had to brew my IPA in June (earlier than I would have liked). Ultimately, it was highly affected by oxidation, so I wanted to minimize the amount of time in the bottle this year.
Overall, I had a blast brewing for the competition! But there were a few complications. Foremost, I had one of the best complications a beer lover could ask for: I had too much beer! I bottle off of kegs stored in my bar downstairs. I only had 2 CO2 lines into the fridge and brewing 5 gallons of beer every two weeks created a bottleneck (pun intended). My friends, family, and co-workers were loving me this summer.
The second complication turned out to be a pretty sweet situation in the end. Entries were due on August 5th and so I took the day off from work to ensure I had plenty of time to get them over to a drop-off location. I ended up having to work most of the day because that's just karma. Well, the evening of the 6th rolls a long and "Oh S**t! I forgot to get my entries in." I felt sick, all that planning, brewing, and anticipation out the window! So, I emailed the coordinator to see if there was anything I could do, I would drive anywhere anytime! Fortunately I got a response right away that went something like "Sure, we are sorting the entries tomorrow. You can drop them off, but we will put you to work." Turned out to be a pretty awesome morning helping them sort the 673 entries (1,346 bottles) by beer category and replacing the entry label with a randomly generated number. Plus, I got my entries in :)
And finally, a week before the fair I injured my foot. Which made hobbling along at the fair on a crutch absolutely horrible. But, oh well.
How it Works
So here's how it all works. Participants can submit once to each of the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) styles (there are roughly 128 styles). You submit two bottles of each beer. First round judging is completed by two certified beer judges to determine winners (usually, 1st, 2nd, 3rd) for groups of beer styles (eg the multiple different types of Pilsners are grouped and a 1st, 2nd, 3rd is chosen). 1st place winners advance to the Live Best of Show round which is judged live at the State Fair. Best of Show winners are chosen.
I got a third place ribbon for my entry to the Specialty Wood Aged Beer category: my "Bourbon Barrel Aged" Barleywine! I've even started planning for next year already (and maybe even the National Homebrew Competition this spring :) ). The biggest challenge that I'm facing is: do I tweak/modify/perfect recipes for competition by following style guidelines, or do I work on recipes and tweak/modify/perfect for my taste. The answer is both: there will be some beers that are just mine, and some that are competition worthy.
Here is an overview of the beers I submitted this year:
Brewed back in November and bulk aged. The body turned out lighter than planned, so it got marked down for being a bit thin. The alcohol burn was still prevalent. I will probably brew another batch this year, and bulk age for 2 years to get it just right.
Winner winner, third place dinner. Pulled a gallon off of the Barleywine batch and aged on an oak spiral soaked in bourbon (to simulate bourbon barrel aging).
I brewed this one in April for my wife and kept a few extra bottles around to submit on a whim. It's not 'on point' for the style characteristics (too much citrusy hop flavor showing through), but my wife loves it so it stays the way it is and I won't be submitting into further competitions.
Brewed in May and bulk aged for a couple of months. I definitely didn't carbonate this one enough to get it to be a classic Belgian. The scores from different judges were on opposite ends of the spectrum. I have some tweaking to do, and will try to get this recipe further.
I've been iterating on this recipe for a while. Brewed it earlier in the summer to give it time for the flavors to combine nicely. Overall the scoring was pretty high. I have a couple slight tweaks to make to the recipe, and will definitely be submitting it to more competitions.
Definitely an experimental brew. Added some maple syrup, bacon, and bourbon to my porter. Its a nice sipper in small quantities (6 oz is good), was fun to make!
I've been playing with Brown Ale recipes for a while. For such a basic style I can't seem to get this one just right, and it's still not there. Submitted it anyway to get some feedback.
I love this IPA. It's for everyday consumption (not overly hoppy, not overly boozy, just right). I still have some work to do on the body, and to tone down a harsh bitterness that pops through, but it is getting there.