hist-brewing: Harrison's Beer AHA class

Scott Mills Scott_mills at hp.com
Thu Dec 4 23:46:06 PST 1997

At 10:19 PM 11/24/97 -0800, you wrote:
>What modern day AHA class would be most proper to enter with Harrison's
>Beer? It doesn't have the herbs for an herb beer, and I don't think a
>Belgian Pale is right either.
>Specialty Beer is too broad for a good showing.

I am not sure what Harrisons Beer is but I would love to see a recipe.
However, with many traditional or historical beers you might have a couple
of choices.

First, let me comment of the remark another gentle made about the AHA styles
being screwed up.  I agree that they aren't perfect but they do give us a
place to start and a common frame of reference.  I personally prefer the
BJCP styles but I think that they need work also.  

Keep in mind that the AHA style guidelines are just a "Guideline"  a
competition organizer is perfectly free to create his own style guidelines.
The problem with creating your own styles is that you can't find judges that
are comfortable or qualified to judge a style that they are unfamiliar with.
It takes quite a while to really get good at judging and many great judges
have a couple of styles that they specialize in.

As far as styles for a historical recipe, unless it fits one of the defined
styles very closely you don't have a chance in really winning.  You two
choices are really just Herb and Spice  or Specialty.  Something with
Bayberry and Orris I think would definitely be a Herb and Spice Beer.

The KEY is to make sure that you properly document any and all special
ingredients and procedures used for the judges AND to make sure that you
have a responsible competition organizer that presents that information to
the judges.  As a competition organizer I will call and entrant and ask them
about their entry if I think it is in the wrong category or get more
information if they didn't document it well.

As a judge and competition organizer here is how I make the distinction
between the Odd styles.  This is just my opinion but it how I run my
competitions.  I do brew a lot of odd beers and I have won a number of
medals in these styles

Fruit Beer      Should have FRUIT AS A FERMENTABLE.  This fruit also adds 
                flavor but if all it does is add flavor then it is herb/spice.
                For instance a brewer that adds chilies to a beer isn't really
                getting fermentables he is getting flavor.  The same is true
                for things like orange peel, lemon peel juniper berry, 
                bayberry, etc.  Lemon or orange peel can give a strong lemon
                or orange flavor but in MY OPINION those are spices and not

Herb and Spice  Special ingredients are used to add flavor but little or no
                extra fermentables are really added.  The herbs and spices
                should have a definite contribution to the flavor profile.
                Examples are almost anything you find in the spice/flavoring
                section of a grocery as well as flowers, chilies, etc.

Specialty       Unusual fermentables of unusual techniques.
                Adjuncts such as maple syrup, molasses, honey, etc.
                Keep in mind that if the end result of special ingredients
                is a very fruity, herbal, or spice character then it belongs
                in one of the above styles.  However, even if it is fruity
                or herbal then you might still decide to place it here IF
                you wanted it judges on the basis of special techniques.
                If you are brewing using historical techniques  or equipment
                then this might also be the place for you.  In the case of
                special techniques/equipment it is doubly important that it 
                be communicated properly to the judges.

The problem with your BayBerry/Orris beer getting criticized for not having
enough herb is not with the category but with the judges.  If there is a
distinct bayberry flavor then that is where it belongs.  It is a shame that
many judges simply cant appreciate subtlety.  Although since you said that
you did win a ribbon I think the judges must have been somewhat on track.
However, it is possible that you might have benefitted from more experienced

It is a sad matter of fact that BIG BEERS USUALLY WIN.  If stouts and
porters are judged in a combined category the porters will almost never win.
A good belgian trippel will almost always beat a dubbel if they are in a
combined category, a dopplebock will always beat a bock, a sweet mead will
almost always win over a medium or dry mead.

Lastly, keep in mind that really unusual ingredients or something that
judges have trouble identifying might no do well.  It is very hard to get a
panel of judges that know what Bog Myrtle, Orris, Woodruff, etc. taste like.
Therefore, it is difficult for them to really judge the beer based on those
ingredients.  They must resort to simply judging the brew on the presence of
any detectable flaws and then on just their overall impression.  In these
cases a good beer made with cinnamon, and clove will probably win over a
good beer made with Orris and Bayberry simply because the judges know what
cinnamon and cloves taste like.

If the Orris doesn't add any detectable flavor and just adds color then
don't write in on the sheet to be presented to the judges.  It will just
confuse them.  If you use Cassia then tell the judges it is cinnamon.  If
you use fennel then add the comment "for licorice flavor".  Make VERY sure
that your intent is communicated as clearly as possible.

Lastly, let me say that most of the beers that I brew for my own enjoyment
don't fit cleanly into any style guidelines.  I tend to brew dopplebock with
too much roast character, porters with too little chocolate character, wheat
beers without using a wheat yeast.  I wind up with just the beers that I
wanted but ones that wont ever win a competition and i am overjoyed that I
have just the beer that I wanted and could care less about the ribbons.  

For people like me that just brew good beer I have a "Just Beer" category in
my competition.  The category is judges on lack of perceivable flaws and
overall drinkability.  I ask that any special ingredients be listed so the
judge has something to work with.  It is a tough category to judge but I
like the idea that these beers have a place to go.

Have Fun,

Scott Mills
scott_mills at hp.com


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