Homebrew Alley X Recap

Best of Show judging at Homebrew Alley X.

Best of Show judging at Homebrew Alley X.

This year marks the 10th year of NYC’s largest homebrew competition, Homebrew Alley, which is hosted by the New York City Homebrewers Guild. Year in and year out, this contest is consistently well run and a pleasure to judge. (So much so, Homebrew Alley and the National Homebrew Competition are the only two competitions that I consistently enter each year.) Feedback is always great, the prizes outstanding, and awards party a lot of fun. Homebrew Alley is also a great trial run for the National Homebrew Competition whose entries are due a few short weeks afterwards.

Special thanks go out to Alewife in Queens for hosting two days of judging, as well as the awards and after-party. They allow to commandeer their entire upper level, feed us tasty meals, keep the beers cold in their walk-in, and tolerate an influx of beer geeks.

Homebrew Alley X saw 491 entries submitted by 243 different brewers. It is interesting that the upward trend for entries has dropped somewhat dramatically from the peak of well over 700 entries a couple years ago. At the risk of imbuing too much meaning into these numbers and extrapolating some sort of trend, it does make me wonder a bit about the trajectory of the popularity of homebrewing. The American Homebrewers Association has made mention about the decline in homebrew shop revenue so perhaps the astronomic growth homebrewing has experienced in the past 5-10 years is beginning to waiver? Is NYC losing one of its two homebrew shops in the past year somehow related to this? Is it related to the broader economic condition with more people working and having less free time to brew beer? Perhaps this is just a sustainable leveling off of what had been astronomic growth? If it truly is leveling off, will this somehow translate to the pro side? It is easy to raise a lot of questions around this topic, but much harder to find any real hard stats to answer them. Perhaps in time hard data will be published that can provide answers to some of these anecdotal questions.

Homebrew Alley X RibbonsAt this year’s competition, I managed to place a couple of beers. My Rauchbier took second place in combined BJCP categories 6 and 7 while my Dry Irish Stout (recipe forthcoming) scored first place in combined BJCP categories 14 and 15. I was pretty confident in the quality of both of these beers so it was nice confirmation of my personal assessments.

Aside from the awards, this competition was a bit of a personal milestone for me. On the judging side, I’ve now accumulated enough experience points in the BJCP to move up in rank from Certified to National beer judge. Aside from bragging rights, it doesn’t mean a helluva lot, but it is pretty cool nonetheless!

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition - October 11th in Dobb's Ferry

First Annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale Competition – October 11th in Dobb’s Ferry

Update, Winner! I had a great time serving beers to the thirsty public at the festival. It was great to talk brewing, enjoy everyone’s beers, and eek out one last bit of fall weather. I also managed to take home the biggest prize, the Brewer’s Choice Award! I am collaborating with Yonkers Brewing Company to have the beer brewed commercially. It’s gonna be a blast! Stay tuned for details about where the beer will be tapped in the NYC area.


Join me on Sunday, October 11th, for the first annual Westchester Farmhouse Ale competition at Harper’s Restaurant in Dobbs Ferry. 20+ homebrewers (including myself) will be pouring ‘farmhouse’ style homebrewed beers. Thirty dollars gives you access to 5 hours of drinking, food, and live music. The grand prize winner will have their beer brewed commercially at Yonkers Brewing Company with additional winners for people’s choice, brewer’s choice, and Harper’s choice.

If you like saison, and the many creative and interesting permutations of the style, this will be a fun event to check out.

Oast House Saison

My entry for this competition is a new take on the prototypical Saison DuPont-esque saison. I’ve taken a base of pilsner malt, added a bit of rye to round the mouthfeel and accentuate the spicy phenolic yeast character, and then added some oats to give what is typically a very dry beer a soft roundness on the palate. I then took the beer and fermented it with a house-mixed culture that originally consisted of harvested Saison Dupont dregs, The Yeast Bay’s Brett Amalgamation blend, and a touch of White Labs’ Lacto Brevis.

I’ve run this culture through a number of trial fermentations and it tends to be very fruit forward with lots of melon and minimal brett funk. There is some tartness that likes to come out in low-IBU beers such as this one, but is pretty much non-existent in beers over 15 IBUs.

Post fermentation, the beer was dry-hopped with a blend of New World citrus-forward hops that play very nicely with the fermentation character and tartness in the beer. The resulting bright and juicy fruit character is amazing — a perfect blend of yeast and hops.

If you come out, please stop by and say hi. I’m very curious to hear your feedback on the beer!

Mixed-Culture Dry-Hopped Saison Recipe:

Size: 5.5 gal
Efficiency: 66%
Attenuation: 88%

Original Gravity: 1.052 (measured)
Terminal Gravity: 1.006 (measured)
Color: 4.88 SRM
Alcohol: 6% ABV (calculated)
Bitterness: 10.1 IBUs

9 lb (69.2%) Weyermann Pilsner Malt
2 lb (15.4%) Oats Flaked – added during mash
2 lb (15.4%) Rye Malt – added during mash

Mash Regiment:
147 °F – 40m
152.0 °F – 20m
158 °F – 10m

Water Treatment:
Extremely Soft NYC Water
6g Gypsum (to mash)

8 g Centennial (10.5% AA) – 90 m
1 oz Citra™ (12.5% AA) – dry hopped 3 days
1 oz Azacca (10.3% AA) – dry hopped 3 days

Kettle Additions:
0.5 ea Whirlfloc Tablets – 15 m
0.5 tsp Wyeast Nutrient – 10 m

1L House Saison Mixed Culture



2015 NHC First Round Results

Every year I enter the biggest beer competition in the world, the National Homebrew Competition hosted by the American Homebrewers Association. The NHC is a two-stage competition where the top three beers in each BJCP category from each of the twelve regional centers move on to compete in the final round, hosted annually at the National Homebrewers Conference. With twelve centers taking approximately 750 entries each, this is easily the most competitive brewing competition in the world.


Every year, the AHA surveys its members and then sets a individual entry cap based on the level of interest. This year, that cap was set at five beers.

With the cap in place, I selected five beers which I thought had the best shot and sent them to the NYC regional center for judging:

For a variety of reasons (flight order, judge fatigue, judge bias, cellaring errors, etc.) there can be some variability with judging. Because of this, I generally feel really good when I’m able to place half my beers in a competition of this size. All in all, I’m pretty happy pushing two beers on to the next round. Although I slightly missed the high bar I set each year, I am reassured knowing that all the beers with exception of one scored quite well.

The outlier in the group was my Vienna Lager which was dinged quite hard for the perceived presence of diacetyl by one of the judges scoring the beer, and for being too ‘big’ by the other. I am personally very sensitive to diacetyl, and this illustrates how judges can sometimes confuse certain beer flavors (in this case, a light touch of caramel) with off-flavors (like diacetyl), particularly in a lager category where judges often search for off-flavors. Other than this scoresheet, the judging was quite good. My only other complaint would be that the bock category did not have any BJCP judges scoring the category.

For the curious, I’ve posted my scoresheets here. With some luck, I’ll be shaking Charlie Papazian’s hand during the awards ceremony at the National Conference.