Homebrew Alley VII Homebrewing Competition

Hey everybody! Remember me? That yeast rancher from Brooklyn, NY? Yes, that one! Well I’m still alive and kicking! I apologize for the long hiatus in posting yeast experiments, but the truth is that I’ve been just too busy in lab. With grants due in a couple days there has been quite a push to come up with ideas and preliminary data to test them. Since the primary aim of this particular grant is my thesis project, I hope you can understand how it takes precedence over brewing and yeast ranching for the time being. Hopefully after submitting it this week things should get back to normal and I’ll no longer slave away until 10-11pm every day and will have time to brew some beers and ranch some yeast. The next yeast experiment is already planned out and will probably be posted in about a week for the benefit of a portion of my readers who have been asking me to do it for some time now. Until that sweet time comes I’ll try to entertain you by telling you how my first homebrew competition since 2011 went.

This year Homebrew Alley had over 700 entries, making it the biggest one yet. I picked it because it was local and there was no need for shipment as long as I paid the entrance fees and dropped the bottles off at the appropriate location. As you probably know, I always refer to competitions as a waste of beer and money because of my previous experiences with oxymoronic comments from judges (like the famous “dry and cloyingly sweet”) as well as just plain wrong statements such as describing Brettanomyces character of beers that have never been touched by Brett. This year I thought I’d give it another try mainly to see what people think of my sour brews. To my surprise, my Berliners ended up taking 1st and 3rd places in the categories entered. Another surprise was the scores for the Witch Poison Gruit. Though it received the lowest score I’ve ever gotten, it was nice to see that the judges accurately identified its characteristics, which they thought to be fermentation flaws, but instead came from the ingredients. To me that shows that this time people judging the beers were competent and didn’t just make things up.

Rather than posting the photos of the score sheets I’ll just give you the text because some of them are written in extremely illegible hand or just cut off mid-sentence.

So, on to the scores!


Not sure why they sent me two 3rd place ribbons.

xxxx = can’t be read without a cryptologist.


Berliner Weisse

Entered in Category 17 A


Judge #1:

Aroma: Moderate sour aroma (both lactic and slight acetic). Moderate leather, hay – nice. Complex. No hops. 9/12

Appearance: Pale yellow. Very slight haze. Pours with very low white head that dissipates immediately. 2/3

Flavor: Aggressive, but not overpowering sourness, mostly lactic. Bone dry. Mild Bretty barnyard flavors. Hints of wheat and honey in background. No hop flavor. 16/20

Mouthfeel: Effervescent, very prickly, no astringency or warmth. 5/5

Overall Impressions: Excellent Berliner. Maybe a little big for the style, but delicious. 8/10

Total: 40/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Very mild sourness. Mostly lactic. Allows some wheat to shine through too. No hops. Some barnyard xxxx in there too. 8/12

Appearance: Pale golden. Opaque. Very slight white head xxxx energy and fades quickly! 2/3

Flavor: Sharp sourness – very lactic with supporting horsey and barnyardy. No fruit or yeast character evident. 16/20

Mouthfeel: Super light body. Low carbonation level. Dry as heck! No booziness. 2/5

Overall Impression: Undercarbonated for the style. More would have made it livelier. A little more general “funk” than a Berliner typically has. But this is a very tasty Berliner. Should get even better with age. Thanks for entering! 7/10

Total: 35/50


Final Assigned Score: 37.5

Place awarded:  3rd


My thoughts: It’s interesting how two people drinking the same beer differ in carbonation description. It was also a little surprising to see that it’s aggressively sour because I always thought of it as very mild.


Troubadour (Berliner with raspberries)

Entered in Category 20 A


Judge #1:

Aroma: You can smell the sour as it pours. Tartness dominates, followed by a hint of “stinky feet”. Raspberry in the back (very true to life raspberry at that). Slight petrol behind, which is complementary. 10/12

Appearance: Pours with large head that rapidly disperses to film on top, clear, light pink/straw color. 3/3

Flavor: Sour tartness dominates. The raspberry flows behind. Otherwise clean lactic strong. Petrol notes towards end compliment. Some barnyard character as well. 17/20

Mouthfeel: High carbonation, light body, puckering, dries out. 5/5

Overall Impression: A delightful beer. The level of tartness is on the higher end of the spectrum for a Berliner and also has a nice depth. Displaying nice lacto as well as Brett character. This might be intense for some, but I love it. Beautiful job! 9/10

Total: 44/50


Judge #2: actually same person as Judge #1 from Berliner Weisse

Aroma: Strong grainy wheat aromas accompanied by a touch of green apple-like sourness, a touch of acetic acid and a hint of raspberry. Slight phenolic. No hops. 10/12

Appearance: Pours fairly clear. Salmon color with a tall white head that dissipates quickly. 3/3

Flavor: Wheat apparent along with an aggressive sourness (combo lactic and acetic, more lacto). Mild plastic phenolics. Raspberry barely perceptible, but there. Hops not apparent – good. 17/20

Mouthfeel: Medium body (maybe a bit high for the style). Very highly carbed – nice. Mouth puckering, prickly. 4/5

Overall Impression: Very nice Berliner. Could use a touch more raspberry. Maybe a little big for the style. 8/10

Total: 42/50


Final Assigned Score: 43

Place Awarded: 1st


My thoughts: Never expected this! When I brought this brew to a homebrew meeting and people gave it very positive and enthusiastic reviews I thought they were just being nice. I guess this really is a successful combination. Now I just don’t have an excuse to not make this again!


Schismatic Dubbel

Entered in Category 18 B


Judge #1:

Aroma: Raisin, stone fruit, malt sweetness, restrained hop character. Sweet fruity ester character from yeast is very restrained. 9/12

Appearance: Pours with a thick, tan, airy head. Reddish-brown color. Clings to glass very beautifully. 3/3

Flavor: Salted caramel sweetness is dominant. Fruity yeast characteristics are very pleasant and has a strawberry quality to it. Alcohol warming is very noticeable at end (and on breath afterward). Toffee is dominant. 15/20

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-high carbonation. Initial creamy texture which leads to an alcohol warmth and slightly chewy. 4/5

Overall Impression: Very well executed beer in terms of style. However, alcohol warmth could be toned down just a touch and you may want to experiment with slightly less caramel malts. I really enjoyed this beer. 7/10

Total: 35/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Big malty nose with some toffee notes and a little clove. 8/12

Appearance: Dark amber color with beige head. Great retention. Fairly clean. 3/3

Flavor: A lot of toffee + caramel. Very malty. Some raisins + phenols. Nicely balanced. Whole lotta toffee! 10/20

Mouthfeel: Medium-full mouth. High carbonation. Creamy. No alcohol warmth. 4/5

Overall Impression: Good example, but it falls a little flat in the end. 6/10

Total: 31/50


Final Assigned Score: 33

Place Awarded: none


My thoughts: This is not bad for a dubbel brewed in 2010 I think! Interesting how they differ in terms of alcohol warmth. Sounds like I should try recreating it.


Witch Poison Gruit

Entered in Category 17 E


Judge #1: Non-BJCP

Aroma: Big smokiness xxxx. Light cooked vegetables. Cabbage aroma. Some baby diaper, tons of diacetyl. Malt aroma – low to none. 3/12

Appearance: Golden. Hazy billowy head. Fizzy like soda. Head disappeared quick. 2/3

Flavor: Sharp sourness with Bxxxx smokiness. Smoke is peat-like with some bacon. Tart. Not a ton of malt. 7/20

Mouthfeel: Med-low boon. No astringent. No alcoholic. Tart. 3/5

Overall Impression: Unfortunately the diacetyl and smoke in this beer make it hard to drink. It is complex, just not the right kind of complexity. 5/10

Total: 20/50


Judge #2:

Aroma: Slight fishy aroma and a xxxx dominant cherry wood smokiness. No hop aroma. 5/12

Appearance: Pours orange-gold with thick head that dissipated almost immediately. Cloudy, but appropriate for style. 2/3

Flavor: Very complex, with smokiness and somewhat unusual fermentation characteristics. Strong lactic tartness, appropriate, but (not sure what happened here. he just cuts off) 8/20

Mouthfeel: Light body and medium carbonation. No alcohol warmth or astringency. Very strong and lingering slickness from lacto and diacetyl. 1/5

Overall Impression: Very strong lactic taste, but not very refreshing. Need to clean up the lactic off flavors (smokiness, fish) and reduce the slickness (probably combination of lacto and diacetyl) 4/10

Total: 20/50


Final Assigned Score: 20

Place Awarded: none


My thoughts: This is the lowest scoring beer I’ve ever had, but despite that I am strangely happy about it. The judges described it pretty accurately, but didn’t know that it’s all not fermentation flaws, but derived from the ingredients themselves. Smokiness, fishiness and bacon are contributed by a huge amount of peated malt. Vegetative character is contributed from the juniper branches, pepper and lemongrass. Slickness is probably from the rye. In any case I agree with them that the vegetal smell isn’t very appealing. It also looks like my suspicions about using rye and darker malts in a no-boil beer is not a good thing. Something in them doesn’t play nice with the bugs. Don’t know what to make of diacetyl as I haven’t noticed it. It probably wasn’t the best idea to enter it is a Gueze, but I just didn’t know where else to stick it. All in all this beer is what it is and they got it pretty much right. Most important thing is that I enjoy it in the summer, and strangely, so does my mother who hates beer.


There you have it. Looks like my Berliners are better than I thought and this gives me more incentive to continue with funky and sour brews.

As I mentioned before, I am still very much alive and intent to keep homebrew funky yeast science going strong. In recent days I’ve been getting more emails asking about the Cantillon Iris isolates as well as whether or not I’ve isolated some new strains. The answer is a definite YES. There will be more Iris strains in upcoming weeks and there will be more unique bugs isolated soon too. Hopefully after this week I’ll be able to get back to it.


12 thoughts on “Homebrew Alley VII Homebrewing Competition

    • Thanks Jeff! Yeah there is a new development in my project so for now this load is off my shoulders so I anticipate getting back to yeast ranching in full force.

  1. Great to hear from you again. Dmitri, congratulations on your awards. Well done! Nice ribbons you got there. 700 entries is just impressive. In Switzerland, there are only two homebrewing competitions held annually. With about 200 entered beers in total. 700 entries is like three years of Swiss homebrewing competitions 😉

    All the best for your grant and your project. Cheers, Sam

    • Thanks Sam!
      It was decided today that my project will branch off into it’s own separate grant so for now I’m free! Going to have to travel the country a little for collaboration and new technique learning though 🙂

  2. Hi Dmitri,
    Several odd coincidences here: I am the judge that scored your two Berliners. Odd in that I think there were something like 60 judges at the competition and 763 beers.
    Odder still is the fact that I had tasted them before before at the Beer Table meet-up last year (I was the one with the rose/hibiscus farmhouse ale brewed with Fantome bugs-I think you took my dregs with you). I’ve been to that meet-up twice and haven’t been since that particular occasion,. What are the chances?
    I have to say that these beers aged very well. They are certainly more complex than I remembered them being last year but they were tasty then, too.

    Just to comment on a couple of points:
    When we mentioned an aggressive sourness it’s in relation to the style. The sourness wasn’t outrageous and certainly wasn’t out of style but it was what I’d consider the upper end of the spectrum for the style (which I like). Most Berliners I’ve had, both home brewed and commercial, aren’t sour enough but these were great.

    Regarding the discrepancy in the descriptions of the carbonation, I think this is a rather common issue when judging competitions and for good reason. We are generally pouring 2-3oz for the tasting. Depending on a number of factors, including how the judge pours, and how long he/she takes in assessing the aroma and appearance before tasting, this small amount of beer can lose quite a bit of carbonation.
    As I’m sure you’re aware, both beers were highly and appropriately carbed.

    Congratulations and I hope to run into you again at the Beer Table get together, that is if I can ever remember to go.


    • Hey Bill!
      Yes, I remember that Rose/Hibiscus Farmhouse ale very well. It’s one of the best homebrews I’ve ever tasted and was the inspiration for a dark strong that I brewed just two days ago. Unfortunately I didn’t succeed in culturing anything pure out of those dregs, but maybe I’ll try again since I still have them. Really an amazing beer. Just wonderful stuff which has a warm place in my heart. Do you remember the recipe?
      Of course I understand that the carbonation difference was in the glass and not the beer itself, and the sourness is not high. Every other Berliner I tasted was almost not sour, so I like this better too.
      As for BeerTable meetings, they don’t host them anymore and are actually closed on Mondays. So I’ve been homewbrewer-meetup-less for a long time now as it was the only one that worked well for me. Everything else that I know of is either in Manhattan or so far up in Williamsburg that it’s inconvenient to get to, but maybe I’ll get lonely enough and try to make it there sometime.

      • Sorry to hear about the Beer Table meet-up. It was fun both times I attended.
        I do indeed have the recipe for that beer on my computer at home. I’ll email it to you after work this evening.

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