Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Labels: Everything is better in threes

Look at those labels.
Last year, when I began working on the JD Project, I had the idea to develop a label for the beer. I knew that I was going to eventually tell my mother and JD's kids about the project, and having a label on the beer would connect with them more than all the little things I did with the JDP recipe.
And then the Sam Adams competition came along. The top eight entries would move on to the final judging at an event where the public could taste the beer, too. Although beer submitted for judging wouldn't be labeled, the beer for the public tasting could be. Since I was entering Lil' Savannah's Big I.P.A., why not take the opportunity to show off my daughter and my beer? They're nearly the same, right?
So I made a label for that beer, too. Well, I didn't. My buddy Matt did. And what a job he did. (The company, My Own Labels, which printed the labels, also did a bang up job.)
The third label, for ZEE German, was a last minute idea for my German IPA. It was less personal, but Matt did just as good a job on that one as the others.

The labels for JD and Lil' Savannah's are based on photos (ZEE German was an image pulled off the Internet). The picture of JD on the label was probably taken during World War II (as opposed to Korea), while he was serving on the carrier Shangri La. It's a great photo, because although it was taken during war time, he has such a casual air about him. That photo really sums him up.

A few weeks ago, I entered JD into a local homebrew competition sponsored by Brewers United for Real Potables (BURP), which followed the national BJCP rules and guidelines. I knew I wouldn't win, but I was looking for some objective feedback on the beer. Although JD didn't place, it did pretty well. The judges liked the beer and their negative comments were mostly what I expected (thin body, minimum head). But the Scotch ale was more or less to style, the whiskey came though (quite a lot, evidently, which did surprise me) and they liked the addition of the rye. So with the second batch of JD bottled and aging, I think I've already addressed some of their comments.

Matt actually took the photo I used for Lil' Savannah's Big I.P.A. He shot the picture during Savannah's first birthday party back in December. When I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for the label. And, of course, it's a "big" IPA because it's a 8.1% double IPA with a truckload of hops, which is acknowledged on the neck label (hop is also lil' Savannah's favorite word because it means bunny). Again, Matt did a nice job.

I also entered Lil' Savannah into the BURP competition. It didn't do as well as JD, but better than I expected. Going in, I knew its biggest problem was the over carbonation. The judges had nice things to say, most importantly that it was too style, but I was surprised when they noted the first scent they got was malt. I certainly use a lot of malt in the beer, but there are A LOT of hops. I can smell the beer from six feet away. I'm assuming that the beer's thick head smothered the hop aroma, but who knows. I've tweaked the recipe a little, but I think it's pretty close to right.
As I said, I also entered it into the Sam Adams competition. Despite Matt's efforts, the beer didn't make it past the first round. I'm still waiting on the judges' notes, so I don't know what they thought or why it didn't advance. However, a local bar, Meridian Pint, hosts a homebrew competition every few months in which the public are the sole voters. And unlike traditional competitions, these beers can include labels. So the beer and baby will have their public debut one way or another.

Finally, there's ZEE German. It's either a German IPA or a very hoppy Koelsch-style beer. I made it for the DC Homebrewers' June IPA meeting, so I guess it's a German IPA. In addition to using a good amount of hops in the German style beer, I dry hopped it. Turns out, that was a complete waste of time. German varieties of hops have very little aromatics. So I've tweaked the recipe to cut back on the hops in the beer and cut out the dry hops all together. According to Jamil Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles, Koelsch-style beers need only an ounce or two of hops for bittering, flavor and aroma. I used six ounces.

I also experimented with cold crashing on this beer. The beer is still a bit cloudy, but the cold crash helped remove almost all of the trub. So now I'm considering cold crashing every beer I make. Trub is my biggest frustration with my homebrew, so if I can eliminate that, I'll be a very happy guy.

Hop Update!

My hops are going crazy. I've been feeding them weekly, watering them regularly, and they're growing very well. So now I just need to see some hops.