Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Janet's Brown: A Classic Recipe

Mike "Tasty" McDole
There are some classic homebrew recipes out there that have carved a name for themselves in the community over time.  Their prowess is passed on by word-of-mouth (or click-of-mouse) and they represent both a legacy of innovation and a snapshot of past moments in homebrewing's evolution.  Two examples that come to mind are Dave Brockington's Sister Star of the Sun IPA and Charlie Papazian's Goat Scrotum Porter.  Many people have brewed them and they have gained notoriety and/or cache in the process.  They have staying power because they are groundbreaking.  Both recipes above have been around for decades.  While I haven't brewed Goat Scrotum Porter, I made my own version of Sister Star of the Sun, and it's not hard to see why homebrewers consider it special.  How many times has this beer been brewed? Thousands upon thousands of times, I would imagine.

I'd like to add Mike "Tasty" McDole's Janet's Brown Ale to the list of classic recipes.  It's a hoppy version of an American Brown Ale, and it features some classic American hops in Northern Brewer, Centennial and Cascade.  With an ABV above 7%, it falls into the fictional style category: Imperial Brown Ale.  I first tried this beer in homebrew form as made by Lewy in 2011.  It's smooth and nutty, with a slight creaminess to it that belies its ABV.  The color is a complex 28 - 30 SRM and the hops make themselves known in both the aroma and taste.  At NHC 2011 in San Diego I had a chance to talk with Tasty and he explained some of his thoughts about the recipe, most notably his attempt to keep the different flavors in balance.  I think he did an excellent job formulating his hop additions, and that it's the way that the hops combine that sets Janet's apart from imitators.  In 2012 I had a chance to try Janet's on tap as interpreted by Vinnie Cilurzo.  On a trip to the Bay Area, I stopped by Russian River and had a glass of Janet's that was one of the better beers I've tasted in a long while.

I brewed Lewy's version (#5) of Janet's Brown Ale earlier this month and have since started to condition it.  All signs point to it being a great (maybe even classic) beer.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

NHC 2013 First Round Results

The more that I brew, the more specific feedback I need to get better.  A decade ago, when I made my first few beers, I just wanted to make something palatable.  If it tasted good enough and the ABV was at a healthy level, I was pretty happy.  In the course of brewing the past 600+ gallons, my idea of a good beer has changed significantly.  After reading The Mad Fermentationist's recent post about The Four Stages of Homebrewing, I'd like to think I'm somewhere between Advanced and Expert (and probably more the former than the latter).  In addition to those close to me developing the experience, familiarity with terminology and palate sensitivity to provide higher quality notes and constructive criticisms, my recipe refinement has started to rely on the palates of others beyond myself and my circle of friends.  Most of the beers I make are good, but not all of them are great.  When I make changes to a recipe or process, it's generally a small tweak or a minor ingredient adjustment.  That's one reason why entering beers into competitions has been enlightening.  The feedback that I get is more technical and accurate and the bias (my own or that of friends) is removed, making for an honest assessment of the beer.

NHC 2013 First Round Scoresheets
I entered my third competition last month, submitting two beers to the First Round of the National Homebrew Competition.  NHC requires 5 bottles, and I usually keg, so I entered beers that I thought were good and that I had enough of.  I entered KTG into Category 13F - Imperial Stout and III into Category 17B - Flanders Red Ale.  I love both beers, and I got some great feedback from judges and a result I was happy with: KTG advanced to the Second Round of the Competition with a 3rd place score of 40.5 in the Stout Category.  Here's a sampling of the judge's perceptions in their own words:

BEER: KTG - Imperial Stout (13F)

AROMA: medium-low malt aromas; dark chocolate and coffee; fig, plum, dark cherry; some sherry

APPEARANCE: pitch black with black highlights; opaque in clarity; head has a creamy tan silk texture

FLAVOR: dark chocolate and roasted coffee; complex ester profile; no detectable hops; alcohol detectable; sherry-like quality, possibly age

MOUTHFEEL: medium-full bodied with moderate carbonation; no astringency

OVERALL IMPRESSION: complex and delicious; additional hops for more complexity

SCORE: 40.5/50                    PLACE: 3rd out of 45 entries
BEER: III - Flanders Red Ale (17B)

AROMA: moderately fruity; tart cherries, rd plums, cassis; woody, piney, no hops; funky aroma evident but not overwhelming

APPEARANCE: slight haze; medium tawny, no head

FLAVOR: good restrained level of tartness; dark fruit; could use more residual malt character

MOUTHFEEL: fuller body with low to no carbonation; somewhat syrupy

OVERALL IMPRESSION: good example; each taste reveals new levels; could use a more complex malt bill

SCORE: 33.5/50                    PLACE: none

3rd place finish
Unsurprisingly, my own biased opinion assigns a higher score to III, but I think most of the things that the judges shared were accurate.  When both judge sheets mentioned  greater malt complexity, I realized that I had been tasting its absence without really identifying it.  I have high hopes for KTG in the Second Round: new judges and fresh perceptions, but stiffer competition to be certain.  If it doesn't go any farther, I'd still be happy.  I want to rebrew both beers and make those small changes that turn a good beer into a great one.