Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brooklyn Brewery Black Ops Review

From the Brooklyn website:  "Brooklyn Black Ops does not exist. However, if it did exist, it would be a strong stout concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery. The myth is that this supposed “Black Ops” was then aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat, and re-fermented with Champagne yeast. Presumably such a beer would raise a rich, fluffy dark brown head and it would combine chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like bourbon notes. A beer like that would be mighty nice, but it would be hard to make more than few cases – it could never be sold or released to the public. They say that the brewmaster revealed the beer to a few other people at the brewery only after it had been barreled. The rumor going around is that the brewery plans to drink the beer themselves over the holidays and give some to their family and friends. That’s what they say. But frankly, there’s no evidence for any of this. This beer is obviously a figment of people’s fervent imaginations. People tend to get loopy around the holidays. Everyone go home now – there’s nothing to see here."

I'm going to consider this a Russian Imperial Stout (category 13f) for review purposes.

Aroma:  Bourbon barrel aroma dominates.  Warm, woody, alcohol sweetness.  Roasty malts start to come through next with chocolate, coffee, and cherry notes.  No hop aroma, diacetyl, or other off flavors come through.  Woody vanilla notes are still strong as it warms. 11/12

Appearance:  Black as a SEAL or Marine Recon team coming after you.  Opaque, but not hazy.  Thick initial tan head with good retention.  Texture  of a foamy espresso with fine creamy looking bubbles lining the surface.  Excellent lacing with alcohol legs. 3/3

Flavor:  Bourbon barrel aging is obvious.  Wood and bourbon are there.  Roasty malt stands up and makes itself known.  Slightly sweet, but certainly not cloying with enough hop bitterness to balance it out.  Extremely pleasant alcohol warmth.  No off flavors detected. 18/20

Mouthfeel:  Full bodied with medium-low carbonation.  Moderate alcohol warmth, but not hot or solventy.  Chewy and velvety creaminess.  Balance is slightly wet, but not overly cloying.  No diacetyl slickness. 5/5

Overall Impression:  Outstanding.  The perfect beer for a winter's night. 9/10

That puts it at a 46/50 in my book.  While I don't know if there are any perfect beers in the world, the only thing I can criticize about this one is that I don't have a case of it standing by to age.

Bayou Teche Loup Garou Review

From the Bayou Teche website: "Loup Garou is the Cajun French phase for a werewolf and is also Bayou Teche Brewing’s limited edition, Belgian inspired Imperial Stout.  Crafted with an insane amount of chocolate roasted Belgian malts, brown sugars and French hops, our stout is then aged on oak for several months.  Loup Garou is just around 8% ABV and will be released in 22 oz. Belgian-style bottles and a very limited number of kegs."

I'm going to consider this a Foreign Export Stout (category 13d) for review purposes.

Aroma:  Strong chocolate and coffee notes.  Touch of tobacco.  Warming alcohol aroma.  Slight woodiness.  No hop aroma to speak of.  Very slight dark cherry-like esters.  No diacetyl or other off aromas.  Dark malty breadiness starts to present itself as it warms. 10/12

Appearance:  Black as night.  Just like its prey, no light escapes the Loup Garou.  Opaque, but not hazy.  Thick initial brown head with good retention.  Texture  of a good espresso with fine creamy looking bubbles lining the surface. 3/3

Flavor:  Coffee and tabacco are prominent.  Chocolate follows close behind with a touch of wood.  Bitterness from roasted barley and hops are enough to balance the sweetness and lingers only slightly.  Slight pleasant alcohol warmth.  No off flavors detected. 17/20

Mouthfeel:  Full bodied with medium carbonation.  Slight alcohol warmth.  Slight creaminess.  Balance is slightly dry, but not astringent.  No diacetyl slickness. 5/5

Overall Impression:  An excellent beer.  My new favorite beer from Bayou Teche.  I don't get as much licorice flavor as I would have expected unless that's what contributed to the tobacco-like aroma and flavor.  Regardless, a very pleasing beer. 9/10

That puts it at a 44/50 in my book.  The only thing I can really fault them on is that I didn't get a whole lot of licorice character in the aroma.  That being said, it's only a slight ding and this is certainly a great beer in my world.

Aroma is the first section for a reason...

In preparing to judge beer based on style, it is important to know the styles.  The BJCP styles are available on their website (  There are downloadable formats as well as browseable online formats.  One that I find really handy for judging competitions is a printable PDF with a handy breakdown of expectations (  You can just pull up a single sheet for a style sub-category and have a quick reference to what levels are expected for a style for each of the judging criteria.

In some ways, Aroma is the most important aspect in judging a beer, despite flavor being worth more on a BJCP score sheet.  It is the first part of the score sheet for a reason.  When it is first poured, you should always check aroma.  There are some transient aromas which may only be there on the initial pour but dissipate quickly.  Some lagers will have an initial sulfury or skunky component which disappears.  That initial aroma is important to note especially if it is expected or horribly out of style.  Determining a score for aroma is based on whether it is supposed to be there or not and the level.  The clue words to consider are malt, hops, esters, and other aromatics.  As a general procedure, always evaluate aroma first.  Jot down all of your initial impressions.  In the case of a tasting exam, keep this under a minute.  Get all the initial aromatics described, and then move on to appearance.  After appearance, make a quick revisit to aroma and jot down any changes and assign a score based on how well it conforms to style.  Now, what are we generally looking for...

Malt aromas generally range from light sweet corn to bready to even burnt.  Generally the toasting level of the malt or type of malt will define the aroma and how much used will define the level.  Pilsner malt has almost no toast level and is high in the precursor chemicals to Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS).  Generally this is boiled off as long as the boil is long enough, vigorous enough, and uncovered.  However, there will still often be enough left behind to smell like sweet corn.  German lagers and some american lagers have a bit of this as part of their target profile.  Higher levels or those caused by a bacterial infection may smell like cooked cabbage.  This is almost universally a flaw.  Higher kilned malts will generally have aromas more in line with their darkness.  They may range from bready and biscuity to toffee to chocolate to coffee or even charcoal.  How appropriate they are depends on the style.  For example, an American Barleywine should have a high level of sweet, caramelly, bready malt aromas.  By way of comparison, a Light American Lager should have low grainy, sweet, corn-like aromas.  Some dark malts can even come off as somewhat fruity.  For example, some stouts can have dark cherry notes to them (although this can also be a yeast byproduct).

Hop aromas are typically most notable in certain styles.  IPAs are almost defined by their hop aromas.  In my opinion, hops in beer are the closest thing to the wine term 'terroir'.  In the wine world, the grapes pick up characteristics of the soil in which they're grown that comes through in the finished product.  In much the same way, hops grown in certain regions tend to have certain characteristics.  Pacific Northwest hops tend to have a lot of piney, resiny, and citrusy notes to them.  German hops tend to be more spicy and somewhat floral.  English hops tend to be earthy and sometimes floral.  Hop aromatics can also be quite delicate and fleeting which is why you should always evaluate aroma first.  On the negative side, some hop aromas can be negative (or perceived that way by some).  Sunlight can react negatively with hop oil compounds to produce a skunky aroma.  On the other side of the spectrum, some hops have aroma profiles which are expected but come off as negative to some people.  There is a variety of hop called Simcoe which some people describe as 'catty' or even worse, 'cat piss'.  Summit hops can also come off as 'oniony' when used for aroma.  Good, bad, or indifferent, the important thing is to note what you're sensing.

Esters are generally a byproduct of the yeast.  Certain yeast strains produce certain aromas.  Most ale strains produce fruity esters.  Kolsch strains produce apple or pear-like aromas.  Belgian strains may produce banana, clove, or even cherry-like aromas.  Saison strains may have lemony and spicy aromas.  Generally lager styles should not produce any fruity esters, but can produce other aromatics like burnt matches.  I even remember a California lager produced by a brewer in a club I used to belong to that smelled like spent gunpowder initially.  It dissipated quickly after opening, but it was like a day at the gun range upon first pouring.

Other aromatics is a catch-all for anything else.  There are check boxes on the left side of a score sheet for most of these with descriptions.  On a tasting exam, only the key word will be there with no description.  You should always check off the boxes when you sense the descriptor, regardless if it's to style or not.  Acetaldehyde is a green apple-like aroma which is rarely to style.  To get an idea of what it smells like, cut a fresh granny smith apple.  Or just open a bottle of Budweiser.  Their yeast produces an unusual amount of acetaldehyde which has become a part of its expected character.  Alcohol also has an aroma.  It can be warm, or even hot.  Barleywines and stronger beers would be expected to have a pleasing alcohol warm aroma to them.  However, sometimes alcohol aromas can be hot or solvent-like if produced by too warm of a fermentation.  Diacetyl is an aromatic that can smell like butter or butterscotch.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between diacetyl and the aroma of kettle caramelization.  In those instances, one can rely on mouthfeel to help make the determination since diacetyl also has a slick oily feel.  DMS we've already touched upon, but it should also be considered an 'other aromatic' in that it's often a flaw.  Grassiness is also a potential flaw.  While some hops have a grassy aroma, the aroma of a fresh mown lawn is not always appropriate.  Light-struck beer is that skunky character mentioned under hops.  Metallic is another potential aromatic.  Think of copper, iron, or even blood.  This is almost universally a flaw.  Musty would be akin to an old basement or storage shed.  Stale and moldy.  Oxidation is an aromatic which will come off like wet cardboard or sherry.  In general it's a bad thing, although in Old Ales it may be expected.  Phenolic can come off in good ways for some styles (clove or pepper), but can also be smoky, plastic-like, or even like band-aids.  Solvent is just what it sounds like.  Nail polish remover or paint thinner.  It can come from chemicals in plastic, infections, or even just fermenting too warm.  Sour or Acidic can come off pleasantly tart or harsh and vinegar-like.  Sulfury smells can be produced by yeast or infections and may range from rotten eggs to burnt matches (or spent gunpowder).  Vegetal aromatics like cabbage, onion, celery, asparagus, etc. may come from a variety of sources.  Finally, yeast itself has an aroma which should be noted if found (think of the smell of rising bread).

In summary, the important thing to remember about aroma when evaluating beer is to evaluate the beer in front of you.  Jot down everything you smell.  Note how prominent it is.  Only mention things you don't smell if they are missing or relevant (for example, if you don't get any malt aroma in a barleywine).  Aroma is not the place to start critiquing process.  Leave that for your Overall Impression feedback.  Score the beer out of 12 points based on how closely it hits the style target.  One thing to remember is that typically proctors are fairly lenient by design, so while you shouldn't give every beer a 12/12, don't give a beer 3/12 unless it's seriously flawed or infected.  Key points: remember to get initial aromatics right away, note them, go through the appearance section, and then come back to aromatics and assign your score.  In my next article, I'll go through appearance.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Odd Couple Reviews

Coming soon in the next month or two will be an amusing series of videos.  I'll be teaming up with a friend to record some video reviews from both a structured and, well, less-structured standpoint.  So, keep an eye out for collaborative reviews from and  Should be entertaining at the least. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Judging Criteria

There are five main criteria used when judging beer in competitions: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall impression.  The total possible score for a beer is 50 points.  Aroma is worth up to 12.  Appearance is worth up to 3.  Flavor is worth up to 20.  Mouthfeel is worth up to 5.  Finally Overall Impression is worth up to 10.  You should rank these relative to the style guidelines available on the BJCP Styles.  In other words, no matter how good the beer may be from a simple enjoyment perspective, the scores should reflect how close it adheres to the guidelines for that style.
For aroma, a beer in a hoppy style like IPA should have the aroma characteristics of an IPA, and moreso of the substyle of IPA in which it's entered.  If an English IPA smells like resiny pine or grapefruit, it is not to style, no matter how pleasant it may be.  There are four general components to aroma: malt, hops, esters, and other fermentation characteristics.  Each style will have expected levels of each, and levels which are considered out of style or off.  Malt may have aromatic characteristics described as bready, toasty, cookie-like (or biscuity in British terminology), molasses, coffee, chocolate, roasty, burnt, nutty, etc.  Hops can have aromas described as flowery, grassy, earthy, herbal, piney, resiny, minty, citrusy, pineapple, etc.  Yeast will generally have fruity characteristics in ales and may be described as apple, pear, plum, raisin, cherry, etc.  Bacteria or other characteristics may be described as sour, vinegar, horse blanket, etc.  All of these are evaluated on whether they belong.  For example, a lambic or Flanders Red should have a sour component to it, but a Strong Scotch Ale should not.  You would award the appropriate percentage of the 12 points based on how well it represents the style.
Appearance is a relatively smaller range of variables.  You're basically looking for whether the color, clarity, and head retention and texture correlate with expected guidelines.  A Light American Lager will look nothing like a Russian Imperial Stout.  Also, a Witbier and a Standard English Bitter will have a different expected amount of carbonation and head retention.  Since there are only 3 possible points, it's easier to assign a score.  3 is perfect for style, 2 is so-so, and 1 would be not appropriate for style.
Flavor as the largest percentage of total score is obviously the most important.  Only aroma (which is also a part of flavor) is close to the weight of flavor.  Again, malt, hops, yeast, and other characteristics make up this one.  Malt brings many of the same flavors as it brought in aroma with some sweetness characteristics.  Hops, in a similar vein, bring bitterness to the table.  Infections and poor handling can also bring new components such as cardboard or vinegar.  Additional comments should be made on the finish, balance, and any aftertastes.  You should also mention any flavors that are missing or present only when appropriate for style.
Mouthfeel is also a relatively small portion of total score.  You are basically looking for body, carbonation level, creaminess, astringency, or any other palate sensations such as slickness (which is a sign of diacetyl).
Overall Impression is the editorial piece.  In other sections, you are only supposed to report sensations and their level, presence, or absence.  Impressions is where you discuss intangibles and provide feedback on how the brewer might get closer to style.  When judging a competition, you should always address what they did well or at least offer some positive feedback before offering constructive criticism on improvement.  You should never be harsh or rude.  In most competitions, the entrants pay a fee to enter to get helpful feedback, so you should try to provide that.
In my next series of articles, I'll try to flesh out each of these sections and offer helpful tips on giving the best feedback you can.

I have been assimilated...

So 18 years ago when we first married, I thought the worst my husband would do would be to make me a beer snob. Today, I realize this relationship has far surpassed that initial thought...

So today I found myself involved in a discussion regarding my husband's recent BJCP exam. I won't tell you what my friends call this exam. He received a scan of his score sheets with his scoring accuracy results. So he forwards me the score sheets, his overview of his results, and the scoring guide to ask my "professional opinion." By "professional opinion" he meant as a former teacher. I can make a rubric and score with the best of 'em. I am toying with the idea of printing out his score sheets and grading them using the guidelines to give him a projected score, in my "professional opinion." If I'm accurate, maybe I can qualify as an exam scorer...

To prepare for the exam, he took an online course. It was interesting for me to see someone take an online course for fun, for a hobby. He was quite the serious student, with his headset, beers, plastic cups, water, and crackers. I would hear him in a serious tone discussing carbonation levels, light lacing on the glass, malty notes, caramel finishes, etc. I've only seen students take graduation required courses online, or educators complete professional development online, or college students complete course requirements online as part of a degree program. I had never seen someone take an online course for fun, although I probably have seen someone drink there way through completing an online class. But I digress...

The same is true for last October's foray to the 30th Annual Dixie Cup. I saw grown men that I know would not have made it through a single session of my high school chemistry course listening attentively to a 90 minute session from the guru of water chemistry followed by a 90 minute session from the guru of yeast production. Since I've been in administration for the last 12 years, its been a long time since I've seen chemical equations and molecular structure diagrams. I guarantee you my students worshiped the quicksand I walked on, but never paid quite that much attention. To think, if only I had given them free beer...I would have been fired, but they would have learned a good bit of organic chemistry.

I guess when you are married long enough, you either grow together or apart. We have grown together in unthinkable ways. His love of beer and my love of science have created an unexpected partnership on the food and beverage side of this relationship. I don't know of many other couples where the husband's friends joke with him, "Did you calibrate your pH meter yourself, or did you have Sheila do it?"