Part of the Brewcrafting series.
If you have not yet heard, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) recently released the guidelines for the 2016 National Homebrew Competition (NHC). This will be the first year the competition will use the updated 2015 BJCP styles [PDF warning], so many homebrewers–especially myself–have been eagerly awaiting the release of these updated guidelines. The AHA mentioned last year the NHC 2016 competition will be a transition year and will only be using a subset of the new styles; it will be especially important to closely examine the competition guidelines and not the 2015 BJCP Guidelines, as there will be significant structural differences between the two. Fortunately, the relevant updated style guides have been included within the NHC 2016 guidelines, so stick with them and you will be A-OK.
This is a good time for another installment of my Brewcrafting series, so take a look a the guidelines, read on, and let’s get ready for NHC 2016!
Bonus: take a look at the NHC 2015 Gold Medal winning recipes to help you plan your own!
NHC 2016 vs BJCP 2015 (vs BJCP 2008)
If you are familiar at all with the 2008 BJCP guidelines (AKA every competition for the past seven years) then you are mostly familiar with the major categories for the 2016 competition–with three differences:
- American Pale Ale, American IPA, and Strong Stouts (Tropical, Foreign Extra, American, and Imperial) have all been split into separate categories to better distribute entries in highly impacted categories.
- Specialty IPA is now a sub-category of IPA, so stop entering your Black/Brown/Red/White/Session IPAs in the Specialty Beer category! 🙂
- Many of the new 2015 BJCP styles have been added to what are essentially the 2008 major categories, so go wild entering your Gose, Wheatwine, and Sahti (amongst others) as first-class styles.
Otherwise everything else should feel pretty familiar, just make sure you review the updated style guidelines; many of them have been significantly updated. For instance, English Pale Ales mention significantly less caramel character than previous years after the guideline committee admitted the older guidelines were based on old/oxidized imported examples (which increases perception of caramel).
After studying to pass the BJCP Exams and judging a few times this last year I have learned a bit about what judges are expecting, so I am going to be tuning my strategy. One of these days I will get around to writing a post called “Thinking Like A Beer Judge,” but in the mean time my strategy is going to look a little something like this:
- Authentic ingredients only. German beers get German malt, hops and yeast; same thing for English beers. No offense to North American suppliers, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi to region appropriate ingredients that is though to replicate. Terroir + technique are more important that most folks realize!
- “Standard” yeasts. I love experimenting with different yeast strains, but it usually comes back to bite me as the “exotic” yeasts express character different than what judges expect. It bums me out that many judges will dock you for character, though within the style guides, different than what they are expecting, but I might as well give them what they want. I will be standardizing on WLP830 German Lager for my lagers and WLP002 English Ale for my English ales. Judges do not seem to sweat yeast choices in American style ales as much, so I will be using Vermont Ale from the Yeast Bay.
- No experimenting. Though I love trying new ingredients and techniques, NHC is not the time to try something new–that is what the other eight months of the year are for. Tried and true recipes and processes only.
- Brew what the judges expect. This seems obvious, but there is some nuance to this. For instance, in San Diego you can generally get away with hoppier than average for the style, but you will get docked for higher levels of malt forwardness. Do not think you will impress anyone with a super authentic recipe if it is different than what judges are used to. Maybe you will get lucky with a progressive judge, but NHC is not about luck.
- Avoid impacted styles. If you browse to the NHC Final Round winners (2015 -> Final Round in the pulldowns) you can see the number of entries for each category. Scott Janish also compiled a great list of chances to advance to 2nd round based on category and judging center that I highly recommended to help you strategize. Essentially, abandon all hope ye who enters American Ales, IPA, Stout, or anything Belgian.
- Brew styles I actually like. For some goofy reason I entered two stouts last year, a voilation of #5 above and a style I am not especially fond of nor very experienced in brewing. No surprise, they did not do very well. 😐
Entry specifics are not yet released I am assuming the following based on last year:
- They will ask if we want to enter up to six entries, but we will be limited to four entries. There is a possibility to enter a fifth if there is extra room.
- The entries will be due early/mid March (they were due March 11th in 2015). My hope is that the entries will be due closer to actual judging dates this year; it really bummed me out last year that San Diego did not get judged until over a month after drop-off.
My plan is to brew my long lead time beers (strong ale, lagers) early December/January and leave the time close to the due date to brew some short turnaround ales. Depending on the due date and if I get extra entries, I have time to brew a Mild. If I somehow get a sixth entry I will bottle some lambic I have bulk-aging in my cellar. Here is the schedule:
|#||Beer||NHC Category||BJCP Category||Brew Date|
I am still kicking myself for approaching the competition so haphazardly last year, I had my dates all mixed up and was not able to adequately prepare my brews–forcing me to enter whatever I had lying around. This year I am ready!
Wheatwine – El Trigo Fuerte
First up in my brew schedule is the Wheatwine, a wheat-heavy strong ale that will need a few months to mellow before the competition. A relatively young style, Wheatwine is making its first appearance as a first-class subcategory for the competition. I know I mentioned “no experimentation” as one of my strategies above, but I was excited to try out one of the new styles and it has been a few years since I brewed a strong ale. To make up for trying something new I will be sticking rather closely to Gordon Strong’s recipes for Wheatwine. If it turns out poorly I have given myself some wiggle room to brew something else.
According to the style guide, Wheatwine is heaver on fruity wine character than hop or malt-heavy American and English Barleywines. I plan on playing up the doughy wheat character and dosing the beer with fruity, wine-like hops such as Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc. Vermont Ale should play up the fruitiness nicely and will give me the high attenuation I am looking for.
Vienna – Geburtstagsparty
I have written about my fascination with Vienna Lager in the past, so it is no surprise I will be submitting one for NHC. I oscillate between Mexican style Viennas (Fiesta Cumpleaños) and more authentic Continental style Viennas (Geburtstagsparty), but I find Continental style fares better in competition (and can be double-entered in other styles). It is no small secret that I am in a friendly competition with /u/brulosopher and /u/testingapril to produce the highest scoring Vienna (which I won for NHC last year), so the pressure is definitely on.
I did not get a chance to write it up, but I brewed an “all-in” Vienna (92.5% vienna malt) this summer which received rave reviews from my club. My plan is to bump up the vienna malt to an even 95%, but leave everything else mostly the same. Depending on how malty it is I always have the option to enter it as an Oktoberfest or even a Festbier. Otherwise, this is a clean and classic recipe that should be a hit with the judges.
Schwarzbier – Some Clever Pun
I am still smarting from my Carafa/Carafa Special screwup from my last attempt at Schwarzbier, but it is still a style I enjoy brewing and would really love to knock out of the park. This is a good case of brewing to judges expectations, as I find most judges have not had a fresh example of the style in its homeland (which is basically a black Pilsner). Instead I find it helpful to load up on the Munich malt to add a breadier character that makes it halfway between Pilsner and a dunkel.
This is a pretty standard/straightforward Schwarzbier recipe and I am avoiding another Carafa debacle entirely by using Blackprinz from Briess [PDF warning]. I am generally unimpressed with Briess malts, but I think Blackprinz (along with Victory, Special Roast, and Carapils) is truly exceptional: it is a dehusked then roasted black malt that adds great color with minimal, super-smooth roast. I have fallen in love with Blackprinz this past year and I really think it is what my Schwarzbier needs for the dark, but not roasty character I am looking for.
Best Bitter – Bestest Boy Bitter
I am saving the best for last, as it were, as I can turn a bitter around in less than two weeks and it is a style I feel very confident in. My Best Bitter also did the best of my 1st round beers last year, narrowly missing advancing to 2nd round by placing 4th in Mini-BOS. This time I feel confident I can close the gap, as my previous batch was a few months old by the time I submitted and I plan on this batch being at the peak of freshness by the time I submit.
I am tweaking my previous version of an English pale ale by reducing the amount of Crystal to be in line with updated English Pale Ale expectations and to use WLP002 as the yeast strain. However, the super low attenuation of WLP002 is making it tough to reach proper gravity for the style–I will fix that by adding a dash of dextrose and mashing low to dry it out. Otherwise, a small amount of Pale Chocolate will add the color I am looking for and a nice bit of toastiness that is pleasant in the style.