Competition Corner: Curt Stock

March 16, 2004 at 10:00pm

Author(s): Al Boyce

Welcome to Competition Corner! In this feature, we seek out award-winning brewers from around the country and ask them their strategies and techniques for brewing great beer and winning contests with them.

The third brewer in our series is Curt Stock - a member of the St. Paul Homebrewer's Club. Curt recently won the High Plains Brewer of the Year award, for winning the most awards in a series of six regional competitions.

Where do you live?
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Are you married? Do you have children?
My wife’s name is Kathy (she takes over the duties when I'm gone). No kids, just one spoiled rotten dog, Grace (a registered member of the AHA.)

What is your occupation?
Senior Air Quality Scientist - okay, a fancy title for a stack sampler. And what the heck is that? Climb smoke stacks and take samples of the emissions. The rest is too boring to get into. Except, I travel extensively which allows me to pick up different beers and honey for making meads.

How long have you been home-brewing?
Since 1996.

Do you belong to a beer club?
Yes, I'm a member and co-founder of the St. Paul Homebrewers Club. I also belong to the Minnesota Homebrewers Association and the Prairie Homebrewing Companions (Fargo, ND)

Why did you start home brewing?
I've always loved beer. Real beer, not the "TV Beers". Some friends of mine said they had brewed beer at home. I was astonished that I had not done this myself or even heard of homebrewing. After moving into our house in July of 1996 we brewed our first batch, Aardvark Pale Ale. It was the best beer I'd ever tasted, likely not reality but it seemed like it at the time. The hobby soon grew into a passion. Since that time the brewery and tasting room (bar) has taken over the basement with just enough room left for some household storage and a corner laundry area. 3 natural gas burners, 2 dedicated laundary tubs, lab grade cabinets, lager fridge, serving fridge (w/ 6 taps), fermentation rack, grain storage shelves, 25 kegs and an 8' bar make the basement a pleasant place to be. I couldn't stop brewing now even if I wanted to.

What do you call your “brewery”?
Stock House Brewing, doesn't sound original, but I haven't seen one with the same name!

Do you do extract, partial-mash, all-grain, or some combination?
I started with extract, some partial-mash, but have been all grain brewing for about the last 5 years.

Do you think one brewing style has an advantage in competitions?
I don't think any brewing style has an advantage over another in competitions. I think it has less to do with brewing style than it does with GBP (Good Brewing Practice). I do mostly all grain because it is more involved and fun for me to do.

How big is your average batch?
10 US Gallons.

What are your favorite styles to brew?
BJCP Categories 1-26! But if I had to narrow it down I like to brew/drink Porters and Stouts. A few other favorites are IPA, Imperial Stouts, Wee Heavy, Browns, and my new found favorite/addiction MEADS. Okay, anything with an OG higher than 1.060!

How long have you been a BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) judge, and Which Certification? ...additionally, how do you think being a judge has influenced the your brewing?
I’ve been a BJCP Certified judgefor one year. Learning more about the beer styles has helped me brew better beers. Since I started judging in competitions I have discovered more beer styles that I enjoy drinking. I brew more styles now than I did a few years ago.

Why do you enter competitions?
I love the competition. It's an exciting way to measure what a brewer can do in his/her/their brewery. The score sheets I get back also help with fine tuning recipes and technique. The score sheets are worth the investment of entry fees. Prizes are also nice, and of course the medals.

On average, how many competitions do you enter per year?
Average 7, but the last couple years have brought that average
up. I now enter about 10 competitions a year.

On average, how many beers do you enter in any single competition? Eight, but if the competition is part of a series for a specific award (i.e.. High Plains) I've been known to enter a few more than 8 entries.

What are some of the competitions you've won, and which are you most proud of?
If by "won" you mean Best of Show, I have none except for Best of Show Mead in the 2004 KCBM competition. I have won over 100 medals in competitions around the country. E.T Barnett in Alaska, Sunshine Challenge in Florida, Dixie Cup and Bluebonnet in Texas, KCBM, SNAFU in Las Vegas, FOAM Cup in Oklahoma, Mashout and others in Minnesota. Part of my motivation is to get score sheets from competitions around the country and see if there are any recognizable geographical differences in judging. I once took first place with a Porter in the Dixie Cup. The Porter category had 49 entries. I recently started making meads, so this year's KCBM competition was exciting for us.

Which are your favorite competitions? Why?
I really enjoy the Dixie Cup. It is a lot of fun and I've met many great people. But, any competition I attend could be considered my favorite. Judging and talking with homebrewers is always fun and entertaining. I learn the most about brewing by talking with other brewers.

How do you develop winning recipes?
First I research the style, then find a few recipes. I look at the malts and specialty grains and make a grain bill that will give the desired results for the style. Enter the beer and follow the comments on score sheets. It sometimes takes a couple tries to get a good recipe.

Which brewing techniques are most important in making award-winning beers?
The most important is sanitation, without good sanitation you don't stand a chance. Fermentation temperature is probably the second most important. That's where you can get a lot of off flavors. Consistency, if you can brew the same recipe with similar results, then you can make adjustments and see what affect it has on the final beer.

How important are ingredient choices in making award-winning beers?
Choosing the correct malt, hops and yeast for a certain style will help. Ingredient freshness is as important. Make sure you get you supplies from a busy store. Their inventory will be fresher. Water - probably more important than anything. If your tap water is soft, you can make it anything you want with addition of salts and minerals. If your water is hard, you have a tougher battle.

How important are primary and secondary fermentation times and temperatures in making award-winning beers
Temperatures are important to reduce the off flavors obtained when fermented too warm. Should try to get the beer off the primary byproducts as soon as fermentation slows. When fermentation is complete, cold condition (even ales) when possible. It will help the character of your beer.

How important are lagering times and temperatures?
Primary ferment - temperature should be in the range specified by the yeast. Secondary should be as cold as you can get it and as long as it takes to clear. The biggest flaw I see in lagers is diacetyl. So a 60 degF, 2-4 day rest after primary is very important.

How closely do you attempt to adhere to BJCP styles in brewing your award-winning beers?
Flavor, color and hop character have to be close. But I've found that sticking to the original gravity as directed by the guidelines can hurt your chances. I typically overshoot the OG by 4 to 8 gravity points. Not sure why, it's just what I do.

Do you make changes in your recipes or techniques based on the feedback you get from competitions, what feedback helps you? What kind helps you the least?
Yes, if the feedback is in line with what I think. I think all my beer can use improvement. So any help I can get from other people and judges goes into my brewing in one way or another. Comments about mouthfeel and body help me the most. The rest of the comments are usually in line with what I think about my entry. The one word entries on a score sheet help the least. It's hard to get anything out of a score sheet if it is incomplete. I'm probably guilty of that at times when I'm judging. We all try to do our best.

How do you choose which competitions you enter?
I like to enter competitions that I can attend or that have a regional award associated with it. If I'm looking for a new competition to enter I like to pick a state I've never entered in before. Part of that geographical study I mentioned earlier.

Do you find that some competitions are easier to win than others?
My theory on winning: it's 50% entering a decent beer and 50% luck. I don't think it's as much what competition but, who's entering and the experience level of the judges. Experienced judges tend to be more consistent. Although I have received great comments from inexperienced judges. The 50% luck has many factors. Too numerous to mention all of them (as I see them). A few, flight position (especially in the IPA and high gravity beers), condition of the judging panel (fatigue, palate, what was for lunch), are the judges familiar with the style, were the beers handled properly, served properly, combined categories. I know all competitions try to do their best in these areas but sometimes they are factors.

What characteristics of a competition make it easier to win?
Obviously smaller competitions increase your chances by the numbers, but this is usually countered by combining categories. It still comes down to entering a good beer and getting some luck.

What characteristics of a competition make it harder to win?
Large competitions with many entries means you are up against more good brewers. But, the challenge makes it for fun and rewarding.

What's your "secret" to winning homebrew competitions?
No secret, just take the chance and enter a beer. The worst thing that can happen is you might learn something.

What other tips or advice would you offer to a brewer who would like to win competitions?
If you really want to increase your chances, enter in a less popular style. Scottish ales typically have less entries. Or look at the results from a competition and see what category had the least entries (sometime the number of entries are listed in the results), then brew a good beer and enter it next year. A sure fire way to win, flawlessly brew a style that is difficult to master (light ales and lagers) and enter it. But if you can do that, you likely don't need my advice. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING - HAVE FUN WITH IT AND PARTICIPATE.

Would you please share with us one of your most successful recipes from the competitions you've won?This recipe has won about 15 medals and was formulated in memory of my late dog Porter.

Curt Stock's Gatekeeper Memorial Porter
By Curt Stock
BJCP Style Guidelines: 15-A Porter, Robust Porter
OG:: 1.050-1.065
FG:: 1.012-1.016
IBU: 25-45
SRM: 30+ Lovibond
ABV:: 4.8-6.0%

Recipe Specifics:
Batch Size (US Gal): 5; Wort Size (US Gal): 7.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 13.00
Actual OG: 1.064 ; FG: 1.015
Anticipated SRM: 50
Anticipated IBU: 37.9
Brewhouse Efficiency: 72 %
Wort Boiling Time: 60 Minutes

8.00 lbs. Maris Otter Pale Malt
2.00 lbs. Mild Malt
1.00 lbs. Chocolate Malt
0.75 lbs. Crystal 55 Malt
0.25 lbs. Crystal 90 Malt
0.25 lbs. Aromatic Malt
0.25 lbs. Debittered Black Malt
0.13 lbs. Special B Malt
0.13 lbs. Biscuit Malt
0.13 lbs. Roasted Barley
0.13 lbs. Special Roast Malt

1.00 oz. E.K. Goldings (Pellet) 5.70% AA [60 Min]
1.00 oz. Fuggles (Pellet) 4.40% AA [30 Min]
1.00 oz. Fuggles (Pellet) 4.40% AA [5 Min]


Wyeast #1318 London Ale III

Mash Schedule:
Single Infusion Mash - 1 hour

*All temperature measurements are degrees Fahrenheit.

Previous Competition Corner interviews
Jamil Zainasheff- August 2004
Curt Stock - March 2004
Jeff Swearengin - May 2003
Steve Piatz - January 2003