Brewing my first competition beer – NEIIPA

I have come to be a little obsessed with the New England “styles”. So much so that I really want to keep one on tap at all times. Recently I’ve brewed a pale ale and two iterations of an IPA, so it only made sense to brew a Double IPA next. The timing of this brew lined up closely to a home brew competition that was reasonably close for me to enter, the Big Spruce Home Brew Challenge.

As the title of this post mentions, I had never entered a competition before. Not because I didn’t want to, but because over the last few years the local competition styles haven’t been of interest to me. I’m not one to brew a style I wouldn’t normally just to enter a competition. I mean if I haven’t brewed it before or don’t really plan to brew and work on that style then what’s the point? Between family time and shift work my brew days can be difficult to fit in and so I’d rather use that time accordingly.

Image sourced from

I’ve been fairly picky about the way I brew DIPA’s for the last couple of years. I generally want to keep the ABV between 7.5-8%. Once they start creeping towards the 9% range I find that malt sweetness is nearly unavoidable. Or at least it has been when I’ve brewed them in the past and that’s something I don’t enjoy at all. So I tend to keep the grain bill simple and the percentages fairly consistent with my IPA recipes. But push the OG just barely into the IIPA range. The downside to this approach is that if your OG is low at all you’re likely to fall out of the IIPA category if you like to stick by the BJCP guidelines. Normally I don’t concern myself with those guidelines (not that you should ignore them) when brewing hop forward styles. At this point I know what I like in a Pale Ale, IPA, IIPA and so I brew to those preferences.

Planning this recipe was fairly easy, use hops that I love, in this case Mosaic, Equinox, Simcoe and Amarillo. Keep the grain bill simple, mainly 2-row, Maris Otter and flaked oats which would make this more of a NEIIPA I guess. Use LAIII, my go to for New England styles and that’s it.

I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail describing these hops and what they bring to a beer. I love all of them, especially the Mosaic and Equinox. My only concern was that Mosaic, Simcoe and Amarillo have the potential to be dank. Which I love but combining all three had the potential to push the level of dank into a range some might not enjoy (understandably). More on that later. As usual almost all of the hops used in this recipe were late, steep and dry hop additions. With the latter being split, half on day 3 the other half on day 7 with plans to keg on day 11 or 12.

Brew day and fermentation went as planned and this turned out really well. The first week it was especially juicy and dank and delicious. Here’s the catch. Beer tasting can be completely subjective. Different people pick up on different characteristics in each beer based on their palate and preferences. I gave this beer out to my fellow beer geeks (including two who now brew professionally) and they loved it. I got nothing but great feed back, even from those I knew would be completely honest with me.

The score sheets I received back from the competition however were a different story altogether. The beer was evaluated by three judges, two BJCP certified, the other a Cicerone. They described the beer as astringent and sweaty with onion and garlic in both aroma and flavor. To be honest I was completely surprised and my confidence took a huge hit. Not because I was personally hurt. I have never taken offence to comments about my beer, I want nothing else but brutal and honest feed back. I believe it’s critical to improving your beer. I was surprised because I couldn’t pick up on any of those characteristics in this beer. When I relayed the comments to my fellow beer geeks they seemed equally surprised. I poured this beer day after day, analyzing and attempting to detect the slightest amount of astringency. I never could. Same for the onion and garlic aroma and flavor. I did find the level of dank pushed towards being sweaty once when I let the beer warm for twenty minutes before tasting. Unfortunately those score sheets took away from this beer quite a bit for me as I spent so much time picking the beer apart instead of just enjoying it. That’s a mistake I won’t make again.

As a result of the competition feed back it’s difficult for me to recommend this recipe. I do plan to brew it again with a different hop bill just to see how it turns out. As I mentioned I was really enjoying this beer up until the time the sheets came back.


Recipe Targets: 5 Gallons, OG 1.069, FG 1.012, ABV 7.5%, SRM 4.4, IBU 71


2.60 kg     2-row (41.9%)

1.50 kg     Maris Otter (24.2%)

1.40 kg     Flaked Oats (22.5%)

0.26 kg     Acid Malt (4.2%)


6 g     Polaris (21%)          @60min

28 g   Amarillo (9.8%)      @5min

28 g   Equinox (15%)         @5min

28 g    Mosaic (12.25%)     @5min

28 g    Simcoe (12.7%)       Steep 15mins

28 g    Mosaic (12.25%)     Steep 15mins

28 g    Equinox (15%)        Steep 15mins

28 g    Amarillo (9.8%)     Chiller (temp <180F)

28 g    Equinox (15%)        Chiller (temp <180F)

28 g    Mosaic (12.25%)     Chiller (temp <180F)

56 g    Amarillo (9.8%)      Dry Hop (half on day 3, half on day 7)

56 g    Equinox (15%)         Dry Hop (half on day 3, half on day 7)

56 g    Simcoe (12.7%)        Dry Hop (half on day 3, half on day 7)


1 tsp     Yeast Nutrient


LAIII – Wyeast 1318

Brewed October 30th. Mashed in with 15L 160F water, mashed out with 9L of 205F water. Drained mash tun and batch sparged with 165F water. 60 minute boil. Fermentation temp capped at 72F. OG 1.067. FG 1.010. ABV 7.5%

Apologies for the crappy cell phone picture.

I completely forgot to take a picture of this beer so here’s an image of an awesome beer by Foundation. Epiphany, a “Maine” IPA. Image sourced from:


Appearance: Pours with a 1/2″ white head, dissipates to a thin ring withing a few minutes. Light orange in color, moderate haze.

Aroma: Intensely hoppy, quite dank with some fruit and tropical notes.

Taste: Follows from the aroma, dank followed by fruity and tropical hops.

Mouthfeel: Moderate mouth feel, medium carbonation, finishes dry.

Overall: As I mentioned earlier I really enjoyed this early on. Very juicy and dank, everything I look for in a IIPA. I’m interested to brew this with a different hop bill and get feed back again.


8 thoughts on “Brewing my first competition beer – NEIIPA”

  1. The fact that someone detects various odor compounds and also perceives them differently than you is quite normal, but I am surprised that all three judges detected that same garlic and onion compound while all your friends didn’t. I don’t know how the tasting was done by the judges, but I could suspect the power of suggestion here… one judge picked up the smell and verbalised it to the others, then they couldn’t smell anything beyond the garlic and onion.


    1. I should have specified. Two out of the three detected the onion and garlic while the third (the Cicerone) only commented that he found it to be sweaty.


  2. I had a similar experience when I entered my first homebrew competition last year. I entered three beers and what I got back were inconsistent findings between judges and documented off flavors that I couldn’t detect. After picking the beers apart after I got the scoresheets, I started to believe I was tasting what the judges were describing. But not sure if that was what I was in fact tasting or what I thought was supposed to be there.


  3. I’ve had some very questionable feed back from competitions especially so called “BJCP Certified” I’m to the point now that I rarely enter competitions anymore and when I do I read the comments just for a laugh…
    If it’s the one I tried at Jordan’s place I couldn’t detect any sweaty onion or garlic…


  4. Indeed I find it quite unbelievable that garlic or onion flavor is even remotely associated with that beer. Perhaps there was a mix up in the entries, but who knows. As well I’ve noticed people “detecting” an “astringency” character to beers with noticeable acid malt content – I wonder if that could have contributed to the feedback? I surely don’t make that connection (acit malt != astringency). I most definitely didnt find your beer astringent – at all, although my pallet is less “refined” than some…


    1. I just stumbled across this blog in a google search and ironically I was one of the judges at the Big Spruce contest… As such, I can speak to your concerns first hand. The double IPAs were split among two different tables, and based on your description, I believe I was judging at the other table (assuming the cicerone’s last name started with an N).

      First of all, I’m sorry to hear that you were disheartened by the feedback. One of the things that has always been preached to me from more senior judges is to provide constructive feedback while not being too harsh, and also always making and effort to point out the good things. I can say I am often guilty of being a bit to the point and perhaps not stopping to share the good. Sounds like that may be the case here with your beer. That’s not to say the flaws found with your beer may not be completely valid, but from what you’ve said here, I’m guessing you scored in the mid to low 30s… which is a good score!

      So I’m going to write a bunch of random things below here to try and shed some light on the whole judging process, but before I do I want to say my #1 message: if you think BJCP judges are full of shit and that the whole thing is a joke, get involved first. Seriously – become a judge. I dare you! I guarantee that you will have a different opinion and become a better brewer as a result. Here goes:

      -judging is not easy. Yes, it is fun, but it’s not at all the same as sitting around the pub tossing back beers with your pals. Read over the information on the BJCP website and try to digest it all. There’s a lot of things to know!

      -not all contests are created equally. This particular one was well run, but the fact remains, the ratio of entries to judges is always too high. I’ve often read that ideally you should judge no more than 8-12 beers in a single session, with a maximum of 2 spaced out sessions per judge per day. I can’t remember precisely, but I believe I judged roughly double or triple that amount, plus some mini best of shows, over the course of 2-3 hours. Drink that many different IPAs in a row and try to deconstruct them without knowing anything about the recipe! So see above – we need more judges! The organizers are doing the best they can!

      -I’ve judged numerous contests where the style is pre-defined. Do you know how many people enter a beer that is outside the guidelines for the style, thinking that they’ve done something unique to stand out? I’ll be blunt – that’s straight up the best way to get shitty feedback on a great beer. Just looking at your recipe, I can say without a doubt it would not do well as an IIPA. I literally stumbled across this blog trying to find some suggestions on what the ideal NEIPA category would be (I’m about to enter a contest with one of my own)… the new guidelines filled in a ton of loop holes, but I don’t see an obvious slot and will continue my research after I finish blabbing on here! Entering your beer in the right category is half the battle, or in this case, brewing to that specified style.

      -in a good contest (which this one was), judges will quietly fill out the score sheet top to bottom without uttering a word to each other. After each judge has had time to finish their sheet, they then discuss the beer and possibly tweak scores if they are further than 5 points apart. So all that is to say, they picked up on those flavours independently!

      -Simoce is notorious for having onion/garlic/sweaty flavours (so is Summit), and you have a lot in your beer. Furthermore, most of the ‘good’ simcoe ends up at commercial brewers. Not to say this is what happened with your beer, but there’s a good chance.

      -there were a lot of ‘sweaty’ beers in this particular contest for some reason. Sale on simcoe at Noble Grape? But I will say, once you get one beer that is high in these flavours/aromas, you can become hyper sensitive to them. Another reason to limit the number of beers in a session… But all that is to say, if your beer was the first beer of the day, they may have detected those flavours still, but maybe not in as much of an overpowering way.

      -friends, or even random people, that are drinking your beer right in front of you cannot be trusted. Seriously. For one, they’re drinking your beer in the wrong context to give analytical feedback. Judging is done blind, and I have judged beer from my friends negatively that I cannot recall ever trying a ‘bad’ beer from before. Secondly, I’ve also had friend’s that brew good but not great beer that are simply too proud to acknowledge my constructive feedback. One time in particular, a friend nearly tore my head off when I suggested his beer had the start of an infection and needed to improve on his sanitation. He screamed, “Impossible! Everyone loves this beer, I have perfect sanitation, and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I do my best to be honest with people when they ask for feedback, but sometimes you seriously need to take a step back and take all the comments in context and be humble. If it makes you feel any better, MANY commercial craft beers do terribly in contests.

      -when judging, as mentioned before, it’s blind. Often times contests ask you to submit your recipe – I can honestly say that I do not know why… I’ve been judging in this province for almost 4 years now, and I’ve never once been able to check out the numbers while judging a beer (nor after for that matter). The exception would be if you used a ‘specialty’ ingredient, that can be divulged. So while I can suggest on a judging sheet that you review your hop bill because on the hops expressed nasty flavours, I could give you far more pointed advice. Ideally I’d be given the beer to try blind, take notes, and then review the recipe afterward to provide suggestions for improvement. Anyway, it’s just part of the game – you as a brewer need to learn how to properly interpret results. Best way to learn that is to become a judge!

      Anyway, sorry for the rant. Bottom line is chin up, I’m sure you’re brewing decent beer. I’m also sure there is room for improvement – literally no one brews 50/50 beers 100% of the time. Winning contests is also another entirely new set of skills to perfect that is independent to brewing good beer!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow, thanks for the reply. I appreciate you putting the time in to address so much from my post.

        My beer scored a 30 and I was not disheartened about the feedback. Or the score. I was bothered by the fact that I could not pick up on what the judges found, specifically the onion/garlic bomb issue. It was my inability to pick up on what seemed like an obvious issue to them that bothered me. I never take criticism personally because tasting and judging a beer is not personal, I believe in giving honest feedback when asked, good or bad, and I wish more people would do the same. Perhaps I didn’t explain that well in my post.

        First and foremost, I on no way believe BJCP judges are full of shit. I have a couple of friends that are BJCP and I have a great deal of respect for their knowledge and opinion. It is in no way a joke. I have thought about doing the BJCP recently and I may indeed depending on my time constraints in the coming months.

        Recently I took part in the Trailway homebrew competition as a judge. I expected it to be hard, but I had no idea it would be that hard. I certainly had even more respect for the BJCP judges at the end of the night.

        As I mentioned in my post I knew this was way outside the guidelines for a IIPA, I simply had brewed something close enough that I decided to enter on a whim. I in no way expected to win or even do well for that matter. I expected comments about bitterness and color as I was way out of style in IBU and SRM.

        I completely see where you’re coming from about getting honest feed back from friends. After this many years I know those that will say it’s good when it’s not and those who don’t want to say anything negative. However I do have a few reliable fellow beer geeks I know will give me honest feed back. Ones that pick out every issue and tell me up front, these few people are ones that have told me a beer is horrible, infected, had diacetyl, bland etc. These are the people I really rely on for criticism and none of them could pick up on the onion/garlic. Not to say it wasn’t there, it just lead to further confusion and frustration on my part.

        Finally, I am my own worst critic, anyone that knows me knows how much I pick apart my beer and look for any conceivable issue. I’m not one that thinks my beers is awesome or even good and I believe I am very humble about my brewing. I have never said that one of my beer is great, and you hit the nail on the head, I believe my beer is decent. It can be a little better than decent but those beer are few and far between.

        I do hope none of this came across as defensive, it certainly wasn’t meant to be, sentiment is so difficult over text. Thank you again for your thoughtful reply and for explaining the judging process I do appreciate it. If you have any advice regarding the BJCP I’d love to hear it. Cheers!


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