Wednesday, February 5, 2014

#33 and #33B - Belgian Session IPA Double Tasting

I brewed this Belgian Session IPA/Belgian-American Pale Ale just over 6 weeks ago.  Tasting it during the time since, I have found it to be one of the best beers I have made to this point.  At a recent brewclub meeting it received rave reviews from all who tasted it including Michael Tonsmeire.  Unfortunately, it was so popular that it was gone by the time Charlie Papazian unexpectedly showed up to the meeting.  Getting such positive feedback felt great and made me want to review the half of the batch which had a green tea tincture added.  Today I'm doing a side-by-side tasting of each.

#33 - Straight

A- Slightly hazy coppery orange with a one finger bright white head.  Pretty perfect looking for a dry hopped beer in my opinion.

S- Hops dominate with tropical fruit (pineapple, mango) and light citrus (tangerine).  There is also a light fruity cherry character in the mix which appears to be from the Westmalle yeast strain.

T- Like the nose hops again dominates with the yeast seemingly lending a hand as pineapple, mango, peach and nectarine lead the way before a moderately bitter, lightly tannic, finish.

M- Relatively light but still mouthfeeling and moderately carbonated.  Like the color I would say this is exactly where I wanted it.

O- A very pleasant beer that nicely showcases Mosaic hops (most members at the homebrew meeting were able to pick this out without being told any other details).  Still, there are enough other elements to keep this complex and the low starting and finishing gravities and moderate bitterness makes this very drinkable and enjoyable.

#33B - Green Tea Version

A- Identical to the straight version.

S- This version comes off less fruity with the green tea coming into the mix as a lemon-tea character that seems to round out the other flavors nicely.

T- Like the nose, the flavors seem rounded off a bit with the tea.  Up front the flavor is again tropical fruit with light citrus, though not as pronounced as in the other version.  In the finish the tea character seems to round out the bitterness so that the finish is smoother.  The tea doesn't seem to dominate and I wonder whether someone who didn't know about it would guess it, but with the knowledge that it is there, and the immediate comparison to the straight version, it shines through.

M- Again, fairly dry but right where I would like it.

O-  Having only had one bottle of the tea version and not noticing the tea strongly at that time, this tasting really surprised me.  The tea is far from dominating, but shows through just enough to affect all the flavors around it.  While I might have liked a more assertive character from it, the experimental half came out nicely without being identical, a success by any measure.  In the end, I arrived at 2 similar, but equally good, beers.

Forgot to post the following blog entry on the results of this beer in a competition so I'm just adding it here.

The DC Homebrewers' (my local homebrew club) Cherry Blossom festival was the first brewing competition I have entered.  Being a BJCP sponsored event this competition holds a little weight and had almost 240 entries.  In addition to entering my Belgian Session IPA (As an American Pale Ale) I also helped steward the event.  In this post I have decided to focus on my competition results and compare them side by side with my own personal tasting to see how strongly I agree or disagree with the judges opinions.

Judge 1- Floral hops dominate the nose. Faint citrusy notes, crowded a bit by estery sweetness, faintly perfume-y. 7/12
Judge 2- Nice pine-laden hop aroma, a bit solventy, otherwise very clean. Little if any malt aroma. 9/12

Judge 1- Dense, fomy head. Brilliant clarity, absolutely no haze. Deep red-gold color. 3/3
Judge 2- Pale amber color, good clarity, just off white head, creamy and with good retention 3/3

Judge 1- Low-to-moderate floral and citrus hop flavor, competing with significant perfume ester flavors. No perceptible malt flavor underneath.  Dry finish with persistent hop bitterness. Faint cardboard flavor - oxidized? 9/20
Judge 2- Minimal malt flavor or body, but a good hop flavor from the start. Bitterness is subtle, and flavor is a bit one-dimensional with the fairly simple hop flavor going from start to finish. 11/20

Judge 1- medium light body, medium carbonation. Slight astringency, likely from hops.  Very drinkable, although the body could be fuller to support hops.
Judge 2- Slightly thin on the body, medium carbonation.  No astringency or warming, but - bit lifeless due to thin body. 3/5

Overal Impression
Judge 1- A beautiful looking beer, but the estery characteristics and slight body prevent the full expression of the hops.  Try fermenting at a lower temperature within the bounds of the yeast temperature recommended range. 6/10
Judge 2- A nice hop flavor beer, but lacks the malt and nuance of the style.  Boost body with specialty grain additions, or try a higher starting gravity. 6/10

Judge 1- 28/50
Judge 2- 32/50

My take:
Both judges seemed to be pretty similar here and both hit the nail on the head: this beer is too thin and too estery to be a true American Pale Ale.  The Belgian yeast (and the Palisades hops) both played into giving this beer a stronger estery and perfumey character than one expects in this style and the yeast definitely dried it out to a point where the caramel malt couldn't shine and instead the hops and yeast derived characteristics took center stage.  In retrospect I wonder whether this beer would have fared better in the Belgian Specialty Ale category though I fear it would have been deemed too clean there.  In the end both judges gave very accurate descriptions of the beer and some accurate feedback (given that neither knew the true reason for the dryness/fruitiness was the strain of yeast chosen).

If I were to enter another BJCP style competition I would likely only do so with a beer brewed intentionally to style, something that I have a hard time doing.  That said, I think it was a good event and my beer scored a pretty average score overall, respectable for my first time, especially given that the beer was far out of style.

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