Deciphering Judges Comments

posted Oct 2, 2013, 10:04 AM by Richard Bryant
by Jeremy Wickham

I've entered quite a few homebrew competitions, and I have really tried to take the feedback as constructive critisim. It is hard to take when someone rips your beer. I've sent soured beers, flawed beers, and some good beers. When studying for the BJCP, I learned that the overall impression is not just your impression, but using your brewing knowledge to suggest what the brewer can do to make that beer a better fit into the style in which it was entered. I'll give you a couple examples of what judges have said on my sheets, and just maybe this will help lure you to enter more competitions. 
 
Category 4C: Schwarzbier - Two Sides of the Schwarz
2013 National Homebrew Competition
  • Judge 1 - National - A fairly nice beer that suffers from a little diacetyl. Aside form a diacetyl rest at 68 degrees F 75% of the way through fermentation (75% x (OG - FG)) maybe aerate more and/or lager longer. Otherwise nicely done. 
  • Judge 2 - Certified - This is a good beer. That has balance between the base malt and the roast. Also has enough hops to balance the malt. 
 
2013 War of the Wort
  • Judge 3 - Recognized - Light smooth roast with malty richness made a very nice beer. Hop character was a little low in flavor and ok to be hidden in the aroma. Would like to see a little more hop flavor, although with a lighter roasted schwarz this is not completely a bad thing. Very nice beer! 
  • Judge 4 - Certified - Enjoyable well brewed schwarz. I think the bitterness is a tad too intense. Suggest reducing hop bitterness and backing down a little on the sharpness of the roast. Very dry.
 
Let me note, these entries were from the same keg. So technically unless something was wrong with the bottle, these should have been the same beer. But you know that finicky home brew. So what can I do to make this beer fit better into style? One judge noted diacetyl. Shall I worry too much about the diacetyl that was noted? Not really since I should make my diacetyl rest good practice. It wasn't a major flaw noted. So what did the judges tell me that will make this a 50 point beer? Not too much. Judges 3 and 4 both noted hop character, but in different aspects. This beer has been lagering since January so of course hop flavors would have dropped out. Judge 4 was the only one to note hop bitterness was harsh. Was it hop bitterness, or did I extract too much roasted bitterness? To conclude, they all four thought it was a well brewed beer, but it wasn't a great beer. What can I do to make it great? Other than the detected diacetyl, which I do not typically dectect in my beers until someone tells me. Mirror? Hello? Then the more hop character. This style has a low to moderate hop character, so I do not believe I will change my hop schedule. My major issue that I get out of these four comments is the diacetyl I need to work on my lagering practice. Patience is not my friend, so that means lagers aren't my friends either, but I do enjoy drinking a well brewed lager. 
 
Category 13C - Oatmeal Stout - Quaken Oaten Stout
2013 Bluff City Extravaganza
  • Judge 1 - Non-BJCP - a very drinkable beer. I would have liked some more sweetness and or oatmeal character. As the beer warmed I noticed a slightly tinny/metallic notes though were not overwhelming. 
  • Judge 2 - Non-BJCP - Beer suffers from off flavored and over carbonation. Not sensing oatmeal character. Could be a good beer with tweaking. 
2013 War of the Wort
  • Judge 3 - Provisional - Good beer very drinkable. Maybe try changing mash temps to try to get more unfermentable sugars to balance the bitterness. I would like more oatmeal character too. 
  • Judge 4 - Certified - the beer was not too far off style, but balance was problematic. Tweaking of recipe or procedure is recommended. Needs more oatmeal sweetness/slickness. 
These are two different batches, so technically these are different beers, but I want to show you that the judges' comments are not too different. But it is the same recipe with similar ingredients I could not get Maris Otter for the War of the Wort batch, so I did substitute the base malt for what the home brew shop had in stock. I did have a slight issue with the beers sent to the Extravaganza being over-carbed. Was my fermentation not complete? Apparently not. That was a ding there. That beer sat in the carboy for 3 weeks, guess I needed to raise my fermentation temps up towards the end of fermentation. I am baffled by the way  WLP002 flocculates and it appears to finish pretty quickly. 
 
I have had trouble getting that oatmeal sweetness/slickness that judge 4 mentioned. Body has been a problem for me with this beer. I need more dextrines. Is the way I handle my oats wrong? I use Quaker oats from the grocery store. Should I use quick oats? Should I cook the oats like I would for breakfast before I mash? I do bake the oats to try to bring out more nutty characters. This is a beer I want to to nail down as I really enjoy drinking this style. 
 
I know this beer is not a 30 point beer in the oatmeal stout category. It faired better in the War of the Wort. My goal is to perfect this recipe. I will. 
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So how many beers have you let your friends drink and they tell you it's awesome? It's great? Well this oatmeal stout, no one has told me to my face it is not quite right, as an oatmeal stout that is. Do they know better? Some of them do. I'll still drink this keg, sorry rose bush, you're not getting this beer. I know this, but I wanted some feedback on it outside my circle of friends. 
 
I hope this kind of put a bug into your ear about entering competitions and how they can help you brew better beer. If you only enter one a year, enter the War of the Wort next year, if you enter two, enter HBAMM's Monster Mash, which will be held in the Oct/Nov timeframe. 
 
Cheers! 
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