Thursday, July 28, 2011

Most Popular Beer Styles: 2011 NHC Entry Results

Its no surprise to anyone who has entered a beer competition that some categories are incredible competitive and others barely have a pulse.  Dozens of bottles are entered in the popular styles and other less popular styles get grouped together and relegated to the 'no-one-loves-me' table in the back.

We've explored this phenomenon last year when the 2010 National Homebrewing Comp was in progress.  With the 2011 NHC complete and awarded, it was worthwhile to revisit the results and see if the preferred beer style trends continue to be the same or if there is a shift brewers preferences. 

For this analysis, I’m only looking at the beer categories themselves (my apologies to the cider and mead makers out there). To normalized the data, all categories are given as the percentage of the total entry pool that they represent. From this year's NHC competition, the most popular and the least popular styles are as follows (with the full dataset given below).

 1. Stouts (cat. 13) - 566 entries or 8.7% of total
 2. American Ales (cat. 10) - 493 entries or 7.6% of total
 3. India Pale Ales (cat. 14) - 462 entries or 7.1% of total
 4. Belgian Strong Ales (cat. 18) - 404 entries or 6.2% of total
 5. Belgian and French Ales (cat. 16) - 394 entries or 6.1% of total

 23. Euro Amber Lagers (cat. 3) - 140 entries or 2.2% of total
 22. Fruit Beers (cat. 20) - 143 entries or 2.2% of total
 21. Amber Hybrid Beers (cat. 7) - 157 entries or 2.4% of total
 20. Dark Lagers (cat. 4) - 171 entries or 2.6% of total
 19. Light Lagers (cat. 1) - 191 entries or 2.9% of total

The top five beer categories have been the same five styles for the past 4 years with the only change being in the ordering.  Stouts and American Ales have flip-flopped for the number one seat each year, while IPAs and the Belgians fight for seats 3 through 5. 

One the other side of the spectrum, lagers in general are taking a beating.  Of the five lager beer styles, three of them are in the bottom five while Pilsners (#17) and Bocks (#14) aren't that much further up.  As has been in the past, there are nearly three times as many beers entered in the top five categories as compared to the bottom five categories.  

Over the past four years (2008 – 2011), there has been some have been changes in the popularity rankings as some style gain favor and others lose it.  As mentioned, the Top Five slots have really changed.  However, there have been other styles have been consistantly climbing or falling. 

MOST POSITIVE MOVERS (Ranks: '11 / '10 / '09 / '08)
 1. Smoke / Wood-Aged Beer - cat. 22 (Ranks: 8, 11, 13, 16)
 2. Specialty Beers - cat. 23 (Ranks: 6, 7, 10, 11)
 3. Herb / Spice / Vegtable Beers - cat. 21 (Ranks: 9, 10, 9, 12)
 3. Sour Ales - cat. 17 (Ranks: 18, 19, 18, 21)

MOST NEGATIVE MOVERS (Ranks: '11 / '10 / '09 / '08)
 1. Light Lagers - cat. 1 (Ranks: 19, 18, 17, 15)
 1. Strong Ales - cat. 19 (Ranks: 13, 12, 12, 9)
 3. German Wheat Beers - cat. 15 (Ranks: 16, 13, 15, 13)
 3. Scottish & Irish Ales - cat. 9 (Ranks: 11, 8, 7, 8)
 3. Light Hybrid Beers - cat. 6 (Ranks: 10, 9, 8, 7)

The growing popularity of barrel-ages beers and extreme beers has definitely played a factor in the rise in popularity of Categories 22 and 23. Those two categories were also the fastest rising categories last year.  However, I was shocked to see Hefeweizens and Scottish/Irish Ales amongst the sinkings beers.  Category 9 is one of my all time favorites styles, yet entry selection has been fickle to it in the past few years.  Sad.

The complete data set for how each beer style category performed is presented below.  

2011 NHC Entry Rankings by Beer Style Categories

2011 RankCat. #Name# of Entries (2010)% of Entries (2010)2010 Rank2009 Rank
210American Ale4937.6%12
418Belgian Strong4046.2%55
516Belg & French3946.1%33
623Specialty Beers3465.3%710
822Smoke / Wood2894.5%1113
106Light Hybrids2724.2%98
119Scottish & Irish2574.0%87
128English Pale Ale2563.9%1611
1319Strong Ale2523.9%1212
1511English Brown2273.5%1419
1615German Wheat Beer2163.3%1315
1817Sour Ales2043.1%1918
191Light Lager1912.9%1817
204Dark Lager1712.6%2220
217Amber Hybrid Beer1572.4%2022
2220Fruit Beer1432.2%2122
233Euro Amber Lager1402.2%2123

Everyone has a list of favorite beer styles – let us know which are your favorites and how they are represented in the competition scene.



"I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."
-Homer Simpson

Monday, July 25, 2011

Flemish Fisherman - To Submit or Not, That is the Question

It has been a more than a year since Jeff and I brewed the Flemish Fisherman, a Belgian dark strong ale.  The beer was brewed in the beginning of July 2010 as part of our Lug Wrench collaborative beer series.  The recipe was supposed to be a clone of De Struise's Pannepot, a world class complex dark ale.  Given that a year has past, I figured it was time to give Flemish Fisherman a review.  I also needed to determine if the beer should be sent to a Richmond, VA homebrew competition - The Dominion Cup.

The beer pours an almost opaque dark brown color, with hints of ruby highlights when backlit by a strong light (seen above "caught" by my daughter's fishnet of stuffed animals).  A course off-white head sits atop the beer, though it fades rapidly, leaving just a thin white ring around the surface of the beer.  The aroma of the beer is complex, with stronger notes of banana mixed with dark fruit.  There is also a hint of brown sugar or toffee in the nose.  The spices placed in the beer have faded dramatically over the year since the beer was brewed, leaving only the faintest trace - which could exist in my mind because the recipe is known to me.

The beer's flavor is deep and complex.  The first part of the taste reveals a slickness on the palate that slides into a dark caramel sweetness.  The sweetness is abruptly interrupted by a spicy flavor reminiscent of cinnamon and coriander.  The sweetness returns in the end of the taste, accompanied by a warm alcohol sensation that is a bit out of place on this warm July evening.

All said, Flemish Fisherman is a complex and interesting beer.  My biggest complaint is that it does not finish drier.  The result is that the sweetness and alcohol build as the pint continues, making it less drinkable than is ideal in the Belgian dark strong ale style.  On the other hand, the judges of the Dominion Cup will taste only a small amount of the beer, probably only 2 or 3 ounces, so they will be less susceptible to this factor.

I guess it really comes down to my desire to send in two bottles from my precious stash of Lug Wrench beers.  I count myself lucky to have to make such a decision.



Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grain By The Truck-Load: Bulk Purchases

Certainly one of the advantages of a homebrew club is the ability to buy in bulk and take advantage of volume discounts. Several folks in my local homebrew club (RIFT) recently put together a bulk grain order. A total of 12 homebrewers took part in our order which resulted in 24 sacks being ordered. The 1,255 lbs of grain arrived this week much to everyone’s pleasure.

While this is a crap load of grain through the eyes of a homebrewer, this is just a single batch to some of the commercial brewers. Intrigued by that thought, I plugged all the grain into BeerSmith to see what size batch we’d be looking at. Assuming all the grain in our bulk order was used for a batch… 
  • It would take a 20 bbl batch (620 gallons) to get a 1.055 batch.
  • The estimated color would be 4.6 (which makes sense since most all the grain is base malt)
  • It would take 66 oz of Chinook hops added at 60 minutes before flame-out to achieve ~30 IBUs of bitterness.
  • Approximately 3 gallons of an yeast slurry or 250 vials of yeast would be needed to meet an appropriate pitching rate if the beer was an ale.
Back on the homebrew side, this stash of grain will generate at least one hundred 5-gallon batches or 8-10 batches per homebrewer involved in the buy. Sounds like everyone is going to be busy.



“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption … Beer!"
-Friar Tuck

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mystery Hop Update

Six weeks ago, I was lucky enough to find a hop plant growing down near the road on our new property.  I have no idea how it got there, but the leaves and bines were unmistakable.  So I strung up some twine to the top of the adjacent post to see if it would climb up.  Well, it certainly took off...

Mystery Hop, Mid-July 

The plant has gone quite bonkers with several bines shooting past the top of the 8 foot poll looking for something else to grab onto.  The tips of the bines are now stretching out into the neighboring farm property, which I hope they don't mind.

After the plant took off, the question changed from 'Is it a hop?' to 'Will it produce cones?'.  Well this weekend answered that question as I noticed several burrs, the precursor to cones, forming along the bine.  Awesome.

Hop burrs showing up.

If cones are indeed produced, they should be fully mature in about a month from now in late August.  It's at that point that I'll be able to start the uphill battle of identifying what cultivar of hops.  I'm hoping the aroma of the raw hops will give me the first clue to what it is, after which I'll most likely need to make a hop tea or pilot brew to hone in on it.  That and depend on friends with better palletes than I have.

Keep your fingers crossed for me!



"Everybody has to believe in something ... I believe I'll have another drink."
-W. C. Fields

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zymurgy's Best Beers in America Poll

Every year in the one of the summer issues, Zymurgy magazine presents its Best Beers in America poll.  Zymurgy is the journal of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) and is produced six times a year for the benefit of AHA members.  The poll, in its ninth year, asks all AHA members to submit a list of their 20 favorite beers.  The only rule in the poll is that selected beers must be commercially available in the United States.  In 2011, Zymurgy received 3,259 votes for 1,306 different beers from 433 breweries.  The results are captured in the July /August 2011 issue, along with some analysis, additional rankings, and clone recipes.

I have listed the top 10 beers in America below.  For a full list, along with the other rankings (best brewery, best portfolio, top imports, and spirit of homebrew), please see the Zymurgy article.  [T indicates tie]

1. Russian River Pliny the Elder
2. Bell's Two Hearted Ale
T3. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA
T3. Founders Breakfast Stout
5. Bell's Hopslam
6. Stone Arrogant Bastard
7. Sierra Nevada Celebration
T8. Sierra Nevada Torpedo
T8. Stone Ruination
10. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Russian River's Pliny the Elder, a double IPA, took top honors for the third year in a row.  This beer has gained a cult-like following in the United States and abroad, that when combined with the difficulty in finding it, helped propel it to the top of the list.  A member of my homebrewing club got to try the beer at the National Homebrewers Conference this year in San Diego.  He said the beer's citrus character was so strong that it reminded him of a glass of grapefruit juice, but went down smooth and was very tasty.

The most prevalent trend in the Zymurgy poll, to me, is the overwhelming popularity of IPAs.  Of the top 10 beers, only one does not possess a significant hop load - Founder's Breakfast Stout.  The rest of the beers, although not all IPAs, all have strong citrus hop character and could be argued to fit into the West Coast hop-centric beer recipe pattern.  Don't get me wrong, I like hoppy beers.  But what happened to all of the other popular styles that do not feature hops?  What about saisons, sour beers, barrel and wood-aged beers, and Russian imperial stouts?  I would have expected more beer style diversity from a group like the AHA members, who I would think have such a wide range of tastes.  Maybe it will be different next year.

What do you think about the latest Zymurgy poll?  Do you think that IPAs reign supreme in the United States beer culture?  Let us know.



Monday, July 11, 2011

Homebrew "Marketing Speak"

I often disregard the "marketing speak" found on the craft beer packaging I purchase.  While some of it contains helpful information, such as designated style or types of ingredients used, much of the text is fluffy and generally superfluous.  However, following blogs like Pour Curator has shown me the amount of energy and creativity that is necessary to create a solid beer brand and marketing image.  While I may feel that such energy should be harnessed and put towards the product inside of the bottle, it is clear that such efforts are important to today's craft beer industry.

I must set aside this marketing skepticism once a year, however, in conjunction with a friend's summer party.  I have been brewing beer for this annual crab and clam fest for several years now, and my friend likes to provide tasting notes for the attendees, so they have a better idea of what can be found in the various taps.  The effort in creating the homebrew "marketing speak" always seems far greater than the resulting words on the page.  It gives me a greater appreciation for the difficulty of generating these messages, but it does not completely eliminate my skepticism.

I thought that our readers might enjoy my mediocre marketing efforts, keeping in mind the light-hearted family and friends gathering they originate from, so they can be found below.



Hippy Hawk Bohemian Pilsner – Bohemian pilsners are more malty and rounded than their dry German cousins, while still retaining the crisp and sharp hop edge that defines the pilsner style.  This characteristic roundness is emphasized by lower mineral content water that provides a softer body, which helps bring the malt body in balance with the Czech Saaz hops.  The Hippy Hawk Bohemian Pilsner features the same name as last year, given that it is a repeat recipe.  The name originally came from a hawk that was circling over the deck on brew day, as well as the Bohemian quality of the beer that will leave you wanting more and more of this beer.  Groovy, man . . .

Sleepy Horse Cream Ale – Cream ale has long been a staple of American beer culture and was originally brewed as an ale alternative to the classic American lager.  The cream ale style was once prevalent in the United States, especially in the upper Midwest, and was also known as Common Beer or Present Use Ale.  It is one of the few American beer styles to survive Prohibition.  Genesee Cream Ale is a popular version of the style and hails from my hometown of Rochester, NY.  John seems fond of this beer because it helps get him through the numerous grass-cutting chores of summer, but has “more flavor” than other lawnmower beers.  The beer’s name comes from one of Mary’s horses, who had to be sedated for hideously expensive dental work during brew day.  The sleepy horse could have polished off several pints of this low hopped and easy-going beer after such an arduous visit from the vet.

Pissed Black Cat American Pale Ale – The pale ale style is one that has defined the American craft beer movement.  It originally came from England, where its slightly higher alcohol content and lighter color than traditional British milds and bitters made it very popular.  American brewers have made it their own by using citrus hop varieties, such as our use of Millennium and Centennial, higher hopping levels, and larger alcohol concentrations.  The beer’s name came from a pervious brew session, where John witnessed my neighbor’s black cat urinating on my smoker.  I hope she was not commenting on the quality of the dishes cooked on that smoker, or on the taste of this beer.

Smokin’ Wet Smoked American Amber Ale – Historically speaking, all beer would be considered “smoked” because the malted barley used to make beer was dried over wood fires.  The smoke from those fires would infuse the wet grain with different characteristics, depending on the type of wood used.  It was not until the 18th century, where kiln drying malt became prevalent, that smoky flavors became less common in beer.  One of the first batches of beer I brewed for John’s summer party was a smoked amber ale.  John was still trying to figure out how to properly carbonate kegged beer and half the keg was gone before the party even started because of his carbonation “experiments.”  I supposed it did not help that John enjoyed the beer so much.  In honor of that early batch, I have tried to create a beer to live up to John’s experimental standards.  The name comes from a rain storm that rolled through, unexpectedly, on brew day and soaked everyone and everything.  When the sun came back out, the steam coming off the deck gave rise to the beer’s name – Smokin’ Wet.

Midnight Breakfast Oatmeal Stout – Oatmeal stouts are derived from dry Irish stouts, though the addition of oatmeal in the grist provides a rounder and less edgy finish, which is often described as a “slick” feeling on the palate.  This style has long been a favorite of mine and it is the only beer that has been on tap at John’s party ever since I started brewing beer for it.  John has been using a stout tap to serve the oatmeal stout since 2008.  The stout tap uses a nitrogen/CO2 gas mix to carbonate the beer, which provides it with a rich and velvety finish and a dense foamy head.  The beer is dark as midnight, but the smell coming off the kettle on brew day reminds me of breakfast oatmeal.  Yum.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Iron Brewer Competitor

Lug Wrench first reported on the Iron Brewer contest in a post in November 2010 and I have been following the competition ever since.  Iron Brewer is back again in 2011 with the same concept - brew a beer with three randomly determined ingredients within 2 months of the round's start date.  The winning beer for that round will be the beer that best features the secret ingredients, and is selected during a live Internet radio broadcast with the competitors.  The winner of each round advances to the championship competition at the end of the year, where the real prizes are, aside from bragging rights.

I am finally a contestant in Iron Brewer, Batch #2, Round 6, where I will be competing against seven other homebrewers.  I am most interested in Iron Brewer because it will push me in directions I have been reluctant to follow.  I primarily work with established recipes with "normal" brewing ingredients.  Iron Brewer, for better or worse, will push me to make my own recipe out of crazy ingredients.  The secret ingredients for the Round 6 are:

I have used all of the ingredients before, except the rose hips.  The research I have done so far indicates that they could add a fruity and slightly spicy flavor, possibly like cranberries.  I hope to make a tea or extract out of the rose hips to get a sense of what they can do and the potency of their flavor.  I am excited to see what the other competitors do with these ingredients.

If any of our readers has recipe suggestions for how to use the secret ingredients, please post a comment and let me know.  I am fairly certain of what direction I am going, but I am curious what others may think.

Best of luck to all of the Iron Brewer competitors.



Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July

Jeff and I wanted to wish all of our readers a Happy Fourth of July.  We hope you have the opportunity to gather with friends and family and enjoy each other's company and celebrate our wonderful country.  Hopefully, aside from the grilled food and fireworks, you had a chance to enjoy a nice homebrew or craft beer too.



Friday, July 1, 2011

The Session #53: The Return of Harpoon

Welcome to The Session - a collaboration of bloggers writing on a common beer-related topic.  For the month of July, John Holl of John Holl's Beer Briefing chose "Beer Redemptions" as the collective topic to explore.  A round-up of all the blog posts will be posted in the near future.  You can read more about Beer Blogging Friday ("The Session") over at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

After reading the description for the July topic for the Session, one beer experience became crystal clear in my mind.  Harpoon IPA.  The beer is now a staple in the New England market, but the very first time I tried the beer, it was a novelty and something exotic.  And it was god-aweful on my palate.  My first taste was back in the college days where beer was predominately an alcohol delivery mechanism.  But Harpoon IPA (along with Brooklyn's India Pale Ale) was my first IPA experiences.  I can almost vividly remember thinking "what the hell was wrong with this beer?".  "Who would drink this stuff?"  I was certainly not a fan.  But it was alcohol and its what we had, so we choked it down hoping the buzz would come fast to alleviate the bitterness.

After such a negative experience, I must have had gone a decade before going back and trying an IPA.  It wasn't until my palate had developed and I was able to associate IPAs with other flavors (i.e. grapefruit, citrus, floral, etc) as opposed to just liquid bitterness that I began to crave something hoppy.  Call it maturity. Call it an evolution in taste.  The things we find repulsive sometimes return to become desired. 

So why is this a beer redemption?  Since blossoming into a craft beer fan over the last several years, Harpoon IPA has passed through my pint glass innumerous times.  It's a go-to-beer for me when the draft selection is just macro lagers.  It's a favorite.  The kicker is that the overly-aggressive and bitter beer of my youth is now timid compared to other IPA offerings in today's market.  That's the redemption.

Thanks for John Hull for hosting this months Session!



"There is more to life than beer alone, but beer makes those other things even better."
-Stephen Morris   
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