California Common,  Hybrid

California Common Competition Results

When I started this blog, I promised I would share the results of entering my blog beers into a minimum of three BJCP certified competitions. Now that my first blog beer California Common has been through 4 competitions on the Canadian Brewer of the Year circuit, It’s time to share the scoresheets. I’ll also provide my own thoughts on how this beer turned out and what changes I might make to the recipe the next time I brew it.

For the impatient, I’ll get straight to the point and present a summary of the results, and then go into the details.

California Common Competition Results Summary:

Number of competitions entered: 4

Medals earned: 1 (Gold)

High Score: 41/50

Low Score: 30/50

Average score: 34/50

Recall that I brewed this beer on January 13, 2019. Fermentation proceeded vigorously at 16.7C/62F, with visible activity completely stopped by day 5. I ramped the beer up to 18C/64.4F, and held it there for 1 week before starting a slow temperature drop to 10C/50F before kegging and then dropping the temperature further in my serving fridge to 3C/37.4F. Final Gravity was 1.011 from the 1.052 Original Gravity, resulting in a ~5.4% ABV. Once down to temperature I added gelatine with a small dose (~10 ppm) of SMB for oxygen protection, and force carbonated the beer. 2 weeks later, I pulled a sample and thought it tasted very good.

I bottled up a couple of entries for the first BOTY competition of the year, The Calgary Yeast Wranglers’ 2019 Homebrew Roundup. I was pleased that it earned a first place (gold) medal out of 12 entries in the combined American Amber Ale category. While feedback was generally positive, both judges remarked that it was slightly sweet for style, and reading between the lines that the malt / hop balance was too high in favour of the malt. There were also remarks suggesting it could finish a bit more crisp and dry. Still, it was described as a “very nice drinking beer” which I thought would bode well for the next set of competitions.

Yeast Wranglers

Two weeks later I bottled up a couple more entries and sent my California Common to the Lethbridge Werthogs’ Wertcontest, where it was judged in the combined Amber and Brown American Beer category along with 14 other entries and it didn’t place. Scores received in this competition were much lower, 30/50 and 31/50. The main complaint was that the beer did not have enough hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.

I was amused to see that the Judge who gave my California Common 16/50 the year before judged my 2019 version, and gave it 31/50. This same Judge said this beer was more like “an American version of an English Bitter” than a California Common, but he also ticked the “wonderful” intangibles box so I supposed he liked the beer. In general, I found the useful feedback from this competition quite sparse and was disappointed to find the handwriting on the other Judge’s scoresheet barely legible.

Seven weeks went by until the next competition, the 2019 Regina ALES Open. My California Common was judged in the Amber Hybrid Beer category in a flight of 18 entries, but again it didn’t place. The ALES Judges gave it  30/50 and 31/50, and again pointed out it was lacking in hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. By this time I was seeing a clear trend in the results.  

Finally, I entered my California Common into the 2019  Vanbrewer Awards where it was judged in the combined American Amber and Brown Ale category (13 entries in total). Although the scores were decent at 35/50 and 36/50, once again this beer didn’t medal and the judges comments were consistent with the previous feedback; the balance was too far towards the malty/sweet for style, with not enough hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.

Discussion and Next Steps

Although this beer may not have been a text book example of a California Common, I thought that my second attempt at 19B produced a very delicious and drinkable beer. This was the kind of beer you might order as an “Amber Ale” in a decent brew pub and drink several pints. It was a very nice, accessible beer that I would be proud to serve to paying customers if I ran a tap room, and I’m sure they would enjoy it.

Upon evaluating this beer while reading BJCP 2015, it is obvious to me that I undershot the hop additions throughout all stages of the boil. This wasn’t a surprise to me as I was gun shy after receiving the “unpleasant” hop character remarks from last year’s California Common competition scoresheets. As the beer lagered in the keg, the hop character continued to drop out which likely explains why it medaled in the first competition but didn’t place after that.

As far as what worked well, the malt flavours, fermentation character and appearance of the beer were all well within style. The beer also had that classic “American 2-row” foam and lacing that is a hallmark of Anchor Steam.

When I re-brew this beer for competition, I will keep the grain bill, water treatments, yeast and overall process exactly the same as Mk2. The only changes I’ll make will be to increase the 30 minute and 1 minute Northern Brewer hop additions. Those changes should make sure that the signature hop presence expected of this style is much more apparent. The larger 30 and 1 minute hop additions will also help to increase the bitterness and should correct the hop/malt balance, but I don’t want to increase bitterness much so I’ll make sure to keep the calculated bitterness increase from the 30 and 1 minute hops somewhere between 5 – 10 IBUs.

Now that I’ve retired this out of style but delicious beer from competition, there’s not much left to do but enjoy the rest of the keg and get ready to re-brew it with the aforementioned tweaks. See you in the fall competition circuit, BJCP 19B Mk3!

2 Comments

  • Craig

    Thanks for letting us tag along on your competition journey. One of these days I’ll get up the nerve to find a competition to enter into.

    • Alex

      Hey Craig, don’t hesitate to enter competitions. The judges won’t know it’s your beer they are judging and the anonymous reviews are the most effective way to improve your beers. They way I look at it, if I get a well written scoresheet with useful feedback it’s mission accomplished, even if the beer didn’t place. Just go for it!