In their books, accomplished homebrewers often advise the reader to keep notes on how the character of a brew evolves over time. A brewer who has insight into how flavors and aromas lent by malt, hops, and yeast evolve over time can adjust the recipes and technique to make a beer ready for consumption sooner or improve its longevity by trying to achieve stable characteristics. With this in mind, I’ve waited over a month to review my session ale, but I’ve found that over that month the only thing that’s changed are my perceptions and opinions of the beer, while the characteristics of the beer itself have not.
I first sampled this beer less than two weeks after the brew day. I felt the body and acidity was improved over the first version, and credited the Vienna base malt and an increased portion of acid malt. While I found the hop character relatively monotone compared to the previous year, I still enjoyed the beer as a crisp and dry refresher, if a little light on the carbonation due to its short time in the bottle.
A few days later I entered it into a competition held by the NYCHG, who challenged its members to brew the perfect summer beer. I didn’t feel confident about my chances of winning with such a rushed brew, but I was curious to get my first BJCP scorecard, which I hoped would provide more detailed and actionable feedback than I would get when just pouring and chatting. Few people dare an honest critique in a social setting. Imagine my surprise when it was announced that Lazy Day Ale took first place!
But when I reviewed the scorecards, I was surprised to find that the beer didn’t score very well (28 out of 50, which is the “Good” category, free of technical flaws but not particularly appealing). In fact, the final section of the scorecard asks the judge whether they would like to drink a pint, buy a bottle, or get the recipe for the brew. All three judges merely marked that they would finish the sample and no more. All the judges were impressed with the hop aroma, but felt that the beer wasn’t dry or bitter enough, and came across a bit insipid and sweet. Along with the low carbonation they felt it didn’t live up to its aspiration as a refreshing summer session beer. It remains a bit of a mystery to me as how it took first prize.
I thought these shortcomings would largely be addressed by more conditioning – the carbonation should increase and with it the perception of crispness and a more snappy bitterness. But when I served it to my roommates a week later, the first remark anyone made was, “It’s sweet.” And once it had warmed up a bit, I had to admit that he was right. What’s more, the carbonation was at the same level as the first bottle I opened, though at least the yeast was beginning to drop clear. I’ve lost a lot of excitement for this beer since that first bottle that produced such satisfaction. But there’s always the next year, the next beer.
Appearance: Decently clear and a pleasant gold hue. A vigorous pour is required to build any head, and the bubbles are large and collapse fairly rapidly. A little lacing hangs around.
Aroma: Big hoppy aroma skewing heavily towards grapefruit. The orange zest that was prominent in the earlier version is absent in this one. I feel like I can even smell the acidity of the fruit.
Flavor: Grapefruit dominates the flavor as well. The beer seems juicy to me, with noticeable acidity and slight pithy bitterness. Any malt flavor is very muted. As the beer warmed I noticed some sweetness.
Mouthfeel: The carbonation is way too low. I actually aimed for a slightly lower level of carbonation than I used to (only 2.3 volumes), because I thought the usual level of carbonation might seem jarring to me after so many pints of real ale in England, but this seems under carbonated. In fact, I wonder if the sweetness isn’t residual priming sugar that wasn’t metabolized by the yeast, and that’s why the carbonation is so low (I wouldn’t think 2.3 volumes would be as flat as this). I’m not sure what would’ve caused the yeast to give up so easily in a low alcohol beer with readily fermentable sucrose available. Beyond that, the beer seems to have somewhat more body than my memory of the previous version.
Overall: Unfortunately I feel like my view of this beer is somewhat tainted. I don’t enjoy it as much as I did the first version, but is that because of faults in the beer or because of my heightened sensitivity to possible sweetness and the obvious lack of carbonation? Nonetheless, I remain hopeful for further improvement with this beer next summer.