Singing Boys Brewing Blog
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Singing Boys Brewing Blog

Off-Flavor Workshop

by Jim Vondracek on 10/22/17

A fellow BJCP national judge, Kyle Nordquist, and I organized and presented an off-flavors in beer workshop earlier this week.  We presented 12 off-flavors, using a Siebel off-flavor kit, to 18 workshop attendees in a very cool setting - Lo-Rez Brewing's taproom.

Each vial was mixed with a liter of the base beer.  We used Corona as our base, because one of the workshop attendees is gluten intolerant and she tolerates Corona, which is apparently low enough in gluten to be considered gluten free.  

We started by briefly discussing how we taste beer - that it involves both stimulation and our perceptions and how our processes for aroma are much more complex than for flavor.  We went over a bit of vocabulary, then tasted the base beer without any additions and discussed what we were perceiving in the aroma and flavor.  Attendees always had some of the undoctored base beer in front of them, so they could recalibrate if they were having a difficult time picking up the aroma or flavor.  

For the off-flavors, we  doctored a liter of beer in a pitcher with an off-flavor vial, mixed, then poured into individual servings of about 2 ounces  We'd encourage folks to describe what they were smelling first, then what they were tasting.  Then, using the materials I prepared, we'd discuss the off-flavor, its chemistry, and its causes.

You can view which off-flavors we used and the materials we put together here. For best viewing, download and open in Word.  

Attendees seemed to be interested in the idea that different flavors are perceptible at different levels to different people.  Many also seemed to be surprised that those levels can be very different in the aroma versus the flavor.  

We were hosted by our local brewery, Lo-Rez.  Big thanks to Dave and Kevin for opening the taproom for us on one of their normal days off.  Folks stayed around afterwards and the really good Lo-Rez beers were a much needed antidote to the 12 bad beers we had just tried!  Dave also took anyone who wished on a tour of the brewery.

Image result for lo rez brewing logo

Five Lo-Rez staff participated in the workshop, too, which was great.  Some of them might be interested in getting Cicerone certification and knowing off-flavors is helpful for that. 

It was a diverse group - in addition to the Lo Rez folks, we had two professional brewers from another local brewery, Horse Thief Hollow.  So, we had three professional brewers, four beer servers, nine homebrewers and two non-brewing beer drinkers.  

In the off-flavor workshops I'd attended before, it was a homogenous group - all homebrewers.  The diversity of this group, both in terms of their experiences and in what they were hoping to get out of the workshop, made this a livelier and more interesting workshop.  

We charged $30/person for the workshop and contributed the proceeds - $510 - to our homebrew club, CHAOS.  

Experimental Hop #6277 IPA

by Jim Vondracek on 06/13/16

A few months ago, while shopping for hops, I came across #6277 (so designated because it’s experimental, not been determined to be commercially viable yet nor named) and bought a package of it.  John at Farmhouse Brewing Supply seems to often have small amounts of these experimental hops available - one of the reasons I buy hops from him.  

This spring, Hugh and I brewed an American-style IPA featuring good ‘ol #6277 and recently tapped our keg of it.  We’re really enjoying this beer and the hops are particularly interesting.  Unlike many of the popular American hops, #6277 does not give a big hit of citrus or have a juicy quality to it.  Rather, I perceive it as having a predominantly minty, pine, and wood quality, with an undercurrent of mild lemon. 

A high alpha acid hop, at 13.9%, we started throwing the hops in at 20 minutes until the end of the boil and it seems to give a clean and not harsh bittering.  

In our beer, the hops flavor is more in-your-face than its aroma, but that could also be because of our relatively modest dry-hopping, where we used one ounce.  I find that this beer is less one-dimensional in its hop character than many single-hop beers, although to be clear this isn’t technically a single-hop beer - we used a small amount of Pacific Jade to add clean and soft bittering at the beginning of the boil.  In any case, #6277 seems to give a more complex hop flavor profile than many American hops.  

I think this would be an interesting hop to add to the hop schedule in a big, dank American Double IPA - one of those big beers that reminds you of walking through a dark, wet forest.  

Here’s the recipe for the beer we made:

Grain Bill
Pale Malt 81.5%
Victory Malt 7.4%
Wheat Malt 7.4%
Caramel 60L 3.7%

Hop Schedule
0.5 oz Pacific Jade, 12% AA, @ 60 minutes
0.5 oz #6277, 13% AA, @ 20 minutes
0.5 oz #6277, @ 15 minutes
1.0 oz #6277, @ 10 minutes
1.0 oz #6277, @ 5 minutes
1.0 oz #6277 dry hopping

Safale US-05 Yeast
Irish Moss

The Numbers
Original Gravity: 1.058
Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 6.3%
Estimated IBUs: 76.4
Estimated Color: 8.3 SRM

Single Infusion Mash, Batch Sparge, 150F
Brewed at the CHAOS Brewhouse
Primary Fermentation for one month @ 65F
Dry hopped for seven days
Transferred and cold crashed @ 40F for three weeks
Kegged with priming sugar and allowed to naturally carb in the keg for three weeks.  

Using the Feedback from Competitions

by Jim Vondracek on 05/05/16

Bill Goetz and the BOSS board asked members for ideas on topics they'd like to talk about at meetings and one suggestion was to discuss how to use the feedback from competitions.  These are notes I put together to get us started on the conversation - to be filled out by conversation, questions and specific examples from members.

Four Important Aspects to Understand about the Feedback from Competitions
  • Beer evaluation is neither totally objective or totally subjective.   Human perceptions are not exact but judges can give you insights into your beer.  Like a lot of things, you have to dig into it to get the most out of it. 
  • There are many variables at a competition that can impact perceptions - flight order, number of beers in a flight, shipping, how the beer is stored, the condition of the bottle, temperature served at, other aromas at the competition site, etc.  
  • There are two great advantages of beer competitions:
    • The judging is anonymous - the feedback you get is honest and legitimate.  
    • There is a process for educating, testing and ranking judges.
  • If both judges agree on a point, it’s probably good to look into it.  Also, looking at a judge’s experience and ranking might also give you insight into her/his comments.  
How Do I Interpret the Scoresheet?

The top four sections (Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel) are where the judges share their perceptions - what they are smelling, seeing, and tasting.  Read those to compare what they perceived to what you perceive in your beer.  Sit down with one of your beers and go through it with them.  

The final section, overall impression, is where the judge gives you a sense of your beer’s strengths and weaknesses, how it fits or doesn’t fit the guidelines, and ideas for how you might improve your beer. 

You should also look at the check boxes to the left for any off-flavors that were perceived.  Sometimes those may be appropriate for the style.  

Three Common Problems and How to Address Them:
  • Low level, slowly developing wild yeast or bacteria.  When the brewer tried the beer at home, it was great.  S/he shipped it off, it sat in a hot UPS truck for a few days, then in the organizer’s garage, and finally, four weeks later, the judge is evaluating it.  Many wild yeast and bacteria are slow developing and relentless and start to be more perceptible in a beer as time passes.   Reviewing all the sanitation practices is the best advice.
  • Staling and/or oxidizing.  See above.  These can develop over time, also, becoming more prominent and perceptible, especially if the beer isn’t transported and stored well, or the beer style is better represented by a younger beer - hefeweisen, for example.   Some advice is to watch post-fermentation oxygen exposure and, depending on the style, perhaps enter it younger.  
  • Fruity and estery.  These are usually related to the yeast flavor profile.  Brewers may be underpitching yeast, or fermenting at too warm a temperature, or have some other yeast management issue that is leading to the fruitiness and estery flavors in styles where a clean yeast profile is called for by the guidelines.  

I'm a National Judge!

by Jim Vondracek on 03/03/16

Back in October, I sat for the third BJCP exam, a written essay exam.  Recently, I learned that, averaged with my score on the second BJCP exam, a tasting exam, my total scores were high enough to earn promotion to National rank.  As a National judge, I will be able to participate in many ways I haven't previously - administer, proctor and grade exams, for example.  Most importantly, competitions are always struggling to get enough top ranked judges and it will be a good thing for those competitions to have another active National judge available.  

I recently read that BJCP has credentialed approximately 5,700 judges in total and that only about 15% of those credentialed judges are ranked National or higher.  Back when I took the written exam, I wrote up a blog post with the exam questions - you can read it here 

Cask Conditioned Irish Stout for CHAOS' Stout & Chili Night

by Jim Vondracek on 01/12/16

Hugh and I brewed a dry Irish Stout at the CHAOS brewhouse for the club's upcoming Stout & Chili Night.  The twist on it is that we're cask conditioning it - rather than bottling or kegging, we put it into a pin cask (about a five gallon cask), primed it with a sugar solution and are letting it condition and naturally carbonate in the cask. We'll serve it by pounding a tap into the cask and let gravity do its work.  

The English call this Real Ale - and its kind of a big thing there.  If you want to read more about cask conditioned ales, take a look at this article I wrote a few months ago\

Stout & Chili Night is fun - homebrews, a bunch of chilis, music and great people.  And its the only place you'll be able to taste our cask-conditioned Irish Stout! Its a great deal, too - $35 for a trial membership gets you into this tremendous evening, with thirty homebrews, a few professional breweries, and food.  Follow this link for more info

Irish Stouts are the dry, low ABV version of stouts - think Guinness or Beamish.  Dark with a pronounced roasty flavor.  At 4.4% abv, and with a dry finish, its easy to drink a couple of pints and not feel bloated or inebriated.  Its the working man's stout.  Our recipe for the Cask Conditioned Irish Stout was:

Pale Malt (64%)
Flaked Barley (23%
Roasted Barley (5%)
Bries Blackprinz Malt (8%)
1 oz. Pacific Jade hops (13% aa)
Nottingham Yeast

For the beer geeks:
Original Gravity: 1.044
Final Gravity: 1.010
ABV: 4.4%
39 IBUs

Brewing an Epiphany Beer

by Jim Vondracek on 01/12/16

Nancy and I have been worshiping with a Lutheran community in the south Loop, Holy Trinity, or HTLoop.  It offers a traditional, reverent liturgical practice merged with a progressive outlook and meets in a dramatic space in an old loft building.  Because we worship at 5 pm on Saturdays, we have wine or beer receptions afterwards.

In December, one of the seminarians serving at HTLoop, Alex, and I brewed a batch of wheat beer together at the CHAOS brewhouse, where I'm a brewing member.  We did a ten gallon batch and this was Alex's first all-grain brew day!  Above is a photo of Alex stirring the mash tun.

We'll serve this at an after-worship reception at HTLoop in late January or early February.  It should be an easy to drink, relatively light, sessionable American-style wheat ale.  We used wheat, two-row, and Munich malts.  For hops, we used UK varieties, Challenger and East Kent Goldings.  The yeast was a straightforward American yeast, US-05, which should give a clean flavor profile and attenuate well, leaving a dry and drinkable beer.  We mashed at 150F and are fermenting at 65F.  

New Beer on Tap - Pale Ale with Nelson Sauvin Hops

by Jim Vondracek on 10/24/15

Current Offerings on October 24, 2015.  The pale ale featuring the Nelson Sauvin hops is newly tapped and delicious - the hops taste and smell brilliantly fresh.  

Beer Judge Certification Program Written Exam

by Jim Vondracek on 10/22/15

I've progressed through the Beer Judge Certification Program to where I now qualify to take the third of three exams.  To get to this point, I've passed the multiple choice entrance exam, achieved a score of 80+ on the beer evaluation exam, and acquired 20 experience points by judging at competitions.  Last weekend, four of us in Chicago took the exam, which was administered by BJCP Grand Master II judge Brian Eichorn.  

After taking the exam, I'm not optimistic.  Despite reviewing for the exam, I found that I was extremely rushed and, in hindsight, am kicking myself for what I didn't say on some of the questions.  I feel that I was so focused on regurgitating answers I had memorized  that I didn't play to my strength, which is a strong understanding of how brewing works.  For example, I could have written a book on how the ingredients and recipe in the Weizen recipe I provided fit and impact the style, and instead I wrote three or four short sentences.  Doh.  

Given my beer evaluation exam score (85%), I would need a 75% or greater on this written exam to move up a rank, from Certified to National judge.  I don't think I got that, but won't know for sure for a few months, as the exams from across the country are graded.  In any case, I can retake the exam and the process certainly wasn't a waste - reviewing the materials enhanced my knowledge in many ways.  

The written exam begins with 20 true/false questions which senior judges are expected to know and to be able to answer quickly.  Missing any of these questions takes off 1 point from your total score (out of 100).  Correct answers do not add to your score.

The main portion of the exam is five essay questions, each worth 20% of the total score.  Below are the questions that were one my exam.  Providing these questions doesn't break any confidentiality, the BJCP study materials provide all the possible questions which may be on an exam.  In any case, here are the essay questions from the exam I took:

  1. For each of the three styles, Foreign Extra Stout, Robust Porter and Sweet Stout, provide a statement describing the styles as well as the differences and similarities between the styles by addressing each of the following topics:

    1. Describe the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel of each style as in the BJCP Style Guidelines

    2. Identify at least one aspect of the ingredients (malts, hop, water chemistry) or background information (history, fermentation techniques or conditions, serving methods) that distinguishes each style

    3. For each of the styles, list at least one classic commercial example of the style as listed in the BJCP STyle Guidelines

    4. Describe the similarities and differences between the three styles

  1. Provide a complete all-grain recipe for Weizen/Weissbier, including:

    1. Target statistics (starting specific gravity, final specific gravity, and bitterness in IBUs or HBUs), and color (as SRM or a textual description of color)

    2. Batch size, ingredients (grist, hops, water and yeast) and their quantities

    3. Mashing, boiling, fermentation, packaging and other relevant brewing procedures

    4. Explain how the recipe fits the style’s characteristics for flavor, aroma, appearance, mouthfeel and other significant aspects of the style and describe how the ingredients and processes used impact this style.  

  1. For each of the three styles, Biere de Garde, California Common and North German Alt Beer, provide a statement describing the styles as well as the differences and similarities between the styles by addressing each of the following topics:

    1. Describe the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel of each style as in the BJCP Style Guidelines

    2. Identify at least one aspect of the ingredients (malts, hop, water chemistry) or background information (history, fermentation techniques or conditions, serving methods) that distinguishes each style

    3. For each of the styles, list at least one classic commercial example of the style as listed in the BJCP STyle Guidelines

    4. Describe the similarities and differences between the three styles

  1. Describe and discuss the following three beer characteristics: a) phenolic, b) fruitiness and c) sourness.  What causes them and how are they avoided and controlled?  Are they ever appropriate and, if so, in what beer styles?  Address the following topics:

    1. Describe each characteristic and how it is perceived

    2. Identify the causes and controls for each characteristic

    3. Identify appropriate/inappropriate styles

  1. This question addresses two separate ingredients, malt and yeast.  Please provide the following information in your answer:  1) Identify and describe the different types of malts by their color and the flavor they impart to beer, and give at least four distinct style with which specific malts are associated.  2) Provide five distinct considerations in selecting the appropriate yeast strain for a given beer style.  

New Lagering Fridge for the CHAOS Brewhouse!

by Jim Vondracek on 10/12/15

On Saturday, Hugh and I helped fellow CHAOSers Kyle, Matt, Mike and James move in a huge professional refridgerator into the brewhouse. 

We moved our current, smaller unit to its new spot in the brewhouse and now, between the two units, we'll set one at lager fermentation temps (usually 48F -50F) and the other at lagering aging temps (usually 34F - 36F).  The lagering unit can also be used for cold crashing of ales before bottling and kegging.  

This is a significant upgrade in our brewhouse's capacity - very exciting!  We've got a Pilsner fermenting now that will need to spend a month lagering and we're planning on brewing our next lager - a Dortmund Export style beer.  

Rivers Edge Homebrew Festiv-Ale

by Jim Vondracek on 07/19/15

My friend Bill Goetz and I represented two homebrew clubs, CHAOS and BOSS, at the Rivers Edge Homebrew Festiv-Ale on Saturday.  It was organized by Jason Parris and Rock Island Brewing Company and was a great time.  A nice, warm July afternoon surrounded by brewers and those who appreciate artisanal, handmade beers!  

Bill brought a German Pilsner he had made, I brought a Summer Wheat Ale and a Robust Porter.  Two other friends from CHAOS brewed beers for the festival but weren't able to attend themselves - Jeff Whelply brewed a Vanilla Cream Ale and Chuck Mac brewed a hoppy brown ale.  

It was a hot day by the Mississippi River and we purposely brewed some lighter,easy-to-drink beers for this.  Taking that a step further, Bill had the idea of pouring two Radlers, a German tradition of mixing beers with a citrus mixer.  We did two combinations:  the Pilsner with blood orange Pelligreno and the Summer Wheat with lemon Pelligreno.  Light, quenching and refreshing!  The Radlers turned out to be very popular.

We met the most interesting people at the festival, both the brewers and those who came to drink our beers.  It seemed that about two-thirds of the folks we served wanted to talk about the beers, brewing, and the clubs.  Many came back many times.  One woman, towards the end of the day, told us that the Vanilla Cream Ale was 'orgasmic'.  I assured her I would share her review with Jeff!  

After cleaning up our table and heading to the hotel for a quick shower, we joined some of the other brewers, including our friends Scott and Karen Schar, at Rock Island Brewing Company (RIBCO).  Highly recommended, check it out when you're in Rock Island.  

Jason, in addition to organizing the festival, was an advocate for getting the Illinois homebrewing laws reworked to allow festivals like this to take place.  He said that some liquor commission officials were there, since this was the first festival like this in Illinois since the law was changed.  The key to the law is that the festival must have a charitable purpose - in this case, the money raised supported a youth arts organization in Rock Island, a most worthy cause.  

At the end of the day, there was a raffle and I won a 5.4 gallon cask!  Thanks to Brian at Quad Cities UBrew.  I'll need to start serving some cask conditioned ales at club parties.  

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