Stay at Homebrew – Here comes the Judge!
The Budvar homebrew competition that came to a close recently was a fantastic example of what you can do at home if you put your mind to it. Many of us have been working from home, on furlough or unlucky enough to have lost our jobs. What to do? Watch endless repeats on daytime TV? Do more exercise than you’ve done in years, followed by cooking and eating more food than is considered healthy? Perhaps another Netflix binge?
Well probably a combination of all these things, I’m certainly in no place to judge! Some brave and committed souls took up the challenge and home-brewed a lager. Yes, a lager.
Those were the rules, but it could be anything from a local version of a Mexican beach beer (not an official style) to a whacking great high ABV Baltic Porter and anything in-between.
We had boxes of entries come in with dunkels, Vienna lagers, Czech pale lagers, doppelbocks, and most lager styles you can think of. Josh Smith and I were the judges. We linked up on a boozy Zoom ‘meeting’ and started to crack the bottles open, one by one. We tasted, cogitated and then ruminated. We were impressed at the overall standard, these were more than just drinkable, they were good!
At stake, an all expenses trip to České Budějovice – the home of Budvar – to meet the brewers, tour the brewery and taste the beers that come from the only place it’s ever been brewed. An amazing chance to have a beer in a copper brewer’s tasting tankard, straight from the lagering tanks where all the beers gently rest and condition until they’re ready. No doubt the lucky winner will taste some limited brews that may not find their way to every pub!
have judged at a number of beer competitions over the years – The World Beer Awards, European Beer Star, International Beer Challenge – and they’re all a bit different. We decided that we weren’t going down a serious ‘style guidelines’ route but wanted to reward the best made beers. For a fun homebrew competition, I certainly didn’t want to be deducting points for not being ‘true to style’ (those dreaded words that make brewers shudder).
We gave each beer a score out of 50. 5 for appearance, 15 for aroma, 25 for palate and 5 for finish. Points were deducted for any faults we detected including the common enemy of homebrews (in my experience) unwanted fermentation flavours and aromas. Lagers should have minimal or no fruity and spicy notes from the yeast (think flavours from Belgian ales like banana, pear drops and clove) and these often happen when the temperature is too high for fermenting. There were certainly a few good beers that suffered a little from this issue! Stressed yeast also can produce sulphur or larger amounts of diacetyl (butterscotch) and there were hints in some of the entries.
We finally shortlisted all the beers that scored over a threshold and re-visited them. There were seven that made the grade and we had to make some tough decisions. A few friendly debates, discussions and deliberations and we had our top three.
In third place Jerry Pringle with a good interpretation of a Czech dark lager
Tasting notes: Lovely rich mahogany colour, beer dropped bright. There was a slightly fruity malt-loaf note on the nose behind baked brown bread and a touch of caramel. The palate gave all the flavours from the aroma and added a roasty, dry cocoa powder notes on the finish, giving balance to the overall beer.
In second place Ben Smith with an innovative Japanese Rice Lager.
Tasting notes: Pale straw colour, dropped bright, with a clean aroma, showing subtlety and elegance with notes of blossom, lemon and a delicate herbaceous hint. The palate matched the aroma and finished with a clean and crisp refreshing mouthfeel. A well-made beer.
n first place Innes Crawford with a classic Czech premium pale lager.
Tasting notes: Good deep gold colour and clarity. Spicy hop notes on the nose with fresh baked white bread crust. The palate followed with a hint of caramelised grain added in. The finish had a good assertive level of bitterness and an excellent balance. A well-made and very drinkable home-brewed version of a Czech classic!
We caught up with Innes after the win had sunk in to find out about his brewing and beer passion.
JT: Hi Innes, how are you feeling after the big win?
IC: I’m still buzzing from it, I’m pretty sure everyone I’ve ever known knows about it now.
JT: Did it come as a surprise?
IC: Yes it certainly did, given that I’d entered a Czech pilsner I thought it would be under extra scrutiny given it was being judged by the guys who make THE Czech pilsner and thought it would be pretty difficult to measure up to that.
JT: I hope you celebrated with a Budvar!
IC: Of course! Na Zdraví!
JT: We saw you in scrubs on the video call announcing the winner, what do you do for a living?
IC: I’m an Accident and Emergency doctor based up in Aberdeen.
JT: How on earth did you find time to homebrew?
IC: I make time, I love brewing and it provides a nice escape from the world when I can lock myself in the garage and create some beer. I can’t do it as often as I like but then who can.
JT: How long have you been homebrewing?
IC: I’ve been brewing for about 7 years now – I started back in New Zealand doing kits and when I moved back to Scotland I started doing extract brewing then finally made the plunge to an all grain brewing kit and not looked back since. I used to do it in the cupboard before my wife got sick of it and I was banished to the garage.
JT: Have you brewed much lager before?
IC: I mainly brew lagers now, I think like most brewers I started off making IPAs, wheat beers etc, but I’ve quickly migrated to lagers. I really enjoy the challenge of it, there isn’t much to hide behind, so any off flavours are really obvious. There is also nothing quite like pulling a cold pint of your own brewed pilsner after a long shift.
JT: What other styles of beer do you tend to brew:
IC: I tend to stick to lagers over winter and brew stronger ales over the summer. I like to brew styles which I can’t get hold of easily and it’s difficult to get hold of good quality lagers particularly the dark or amber styles – I’m still trying to fine tune my dark Czech pilsner recipe, and I love making a Munich Dunkel.
JT: Anything brewing right now?
IC: I’m currently making a wee heavy aged on bourbon and oak and a Wheat wine which is a style I haven’t tried before.
JT: I used to homebrew a lot as it really helped me to relax. With what seems like it could be a stressful job, is that the case with you?
IC: Definitely, I really enjoy the creative aspect of it and I spend hours researching and formulating recipes which is a nice way to distract yourself from work. On brewdays I lock myself away in the garage and really enjoy just having a bit of time and space to myself and focus on brewing.
JT: So, I assume you’re excited about the prize to visit Czechia and the brewery in České Budějovice, have you been to the Czech Republic before?
IC: I’m really excited, I visited Prague a few years ago, which is how I got into brewing Czech lagers in the first place after sampling some of the spectacular lagers there. I’ve never quite made it to the Budvar brewery however, so I can’t wait to see where it is all made and of course to taste some samples.
JT: I know you’re going to have a great time; I wish I could go too! So who are you taking with you?
IC: I haven’t quite decided yet, I think my long-suffering wife would be keen for a trip away and she does enjoy a good pint as well.
JT: Thanks for your time, and congratulations on the big win and the awesome prize, any homebrewing tips for newbies before you go?
IC: Thanks very much it’s been a pleasure to be involved and I hope you do the competition again next year. I think with regards to tips the three things that have made the biggest difference in my brewing particularly for lagers are; temperature control; good sized yeast starter and proper oxygenation of the wort. If you can nail these down it will go a long way to brewing good beer!