My first homebrew contest is in the books. And while I didn’t win (or even place in my categories), I’d have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

I entered my Summit Winter Ale clone into the Upper Mississippi Mashout with the sole intention of gaining some real honest feedback from trained BJCP judges. Brewing beer is an ongoing journey of refinement and process improvement. And I feel that objective feedback is going to play an important role in my education and ability to maximize the quality of my beers in the long run. So from that perspective, while I didn’t get any recognition (and didn’t anticipate getting any), I feel like I came out with some very valuable insight and knowledge I probably wouldn’t get otherwise.

I placed my beer in both the “New Entrant” and “Scotch Ale” categories, and across the board, received scorings that put my beer in the “Very Good” spectrum. Which is great, and frankly better than I expected given this was the first contest I’d entered. Some general comments included: 

  • “Balanced with a dry finish, malt forward but not caramel or butterscotch.”
  • “Good body, warming, dry finish.”
  • “Dark brown in color with good clarity, moderate tan head that persists. Creamy texture.”
  • “This is a good example of a Scottish 80. Nice malt complexity.”

Very kind remarks. But what really impressed me most was how consistent the ratings and comments were, both good and not so good, across all four judges. More impressive considering these tastings were done independently of each other. It wasn’t like they were sitting around a table conferring notes. This indicated to me these folks really knew what they were doing, strengthening the credibility of the judging and giving me a very fair and objective indication of areas I may need to improve on.

The main stylistic flaw they all saw was that the beer was a little on the boozy side, which I would absolutely agree with. This one came in at about 7% ABV, which in the Scottish Ale category is certainly on the high end. I attribute this to the high fermentation temperature (this one hovered just above 70 degrees in the primary), causing the yeast to be a little more active and efficient than usual. Also, while the beer presented some mild to moderate caramel notes, a few of the judges felt I may have used a bit too much chocolate malt or black patent in the grain bill as it came off to some as “scorched”. Fair enough, and looking back at the grain bill I can already see areas where I might back off a little on the darker malt next time I brew to help give it more of that copper coloring as opposed to dark chocolate.

So now that I know what the judges thought, what was my take?

I think as a winter warmer (which Summit Winter Ale technically is) this beer is pretty darn good. As a Scotch Ale, I think it falls down a little stylistically, but it was the only category I felt the beer reasonably fit into. Pours a very dark chocolately brown with a big tan head, providing a moderate roasty aroma with little to no hops. Pretty inviting. Good clarity overall, even with the darker coloring. Taste is nice and smooth. I definitely get some of the Crystal malt I used, which lends a mild sweetness combined with a decent roasted flavor from the black patent. Not too strong like coffee, but maybe dark and bitter chocolate. Dry finish.

Rating: B+

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