Square Kegs, the homebrew club based in Lincoln Square (IL), put on its first homebrew competition on January 28th. There were nearly 500 entries, 35 judges (most of which were BJCP certified), and a variety of styles were submitted.
I submitted the first draft of my RIS (Russian Imperial Stout) for judging. I had originally planned on entering a barleywine as well, but I thought better of it after I realized how little I still had.
To me, my stout was good but not great. It did not have the complexity or the abyss-like depth of flavor of the RISs I enjoy. What it did have going for it is that its head retention was great, for the most part it smelled like a stout, and it's color was what you'd expect for the style.
All things considered I was proud of it, but I was aware of what I'd change the next time I brewed it. So, I entered my RIS because I wanted to know what certified judges thought of it and what they thought I could do to improve it.
This past week I received my results, and I did about as well as I thought I would. In the end, I received a 32/50 which is good enough for my beer to be considered 'very good'. The cover sheet of the judges critiques states that a beer that is considered 'very good' 'may have a minor flaw (technical or stylistic), or may be lacking in balance or complexity'. St
The one thing I had not noticed in my beer until it was mentioned in the judges score sheets was the presence of diacetyl. For those of you who do not know, diacetyl is produced at the beginning stages of fermentation and then later reduced. Maintaining or even increasing the temperature at the end of fermentation can help in its reduction, as will not prematurely removing the beer from the yeast. Oxygen reintroduction can cause its formation through oxidation of diacetyl precursors present in the beer. Ensuring the presence of adequate amounts of amino acids will also help prevent its formation. Extract brewers can often have problems due to the lack of amino acids in the extract. Lastly, diacetyl can be produced by some strains of bacteria. Again, proper sanitation and control during yeast propagation will help minimize its presence (italicized text taken from BJCP study guide).
Besides the diacetyl, there were a few great surprises in the judges notes. The first judge could sense pepper , dark fruit esters, and coffee/toffee in the aroma. The second judge sensed green apple in the aroma and thought its mouthfeel was 'slick'.
All in all, I am quite glad that I participated in the contest, and I will definitely do so again next year.
Should you be interested in a recap of the Winterbrew event as a whole, check out the Chicagoist wrap up here: http://chicagoist.com/2012/01/30/recap_lincoln_squares_winter_brew.php#photo-1