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Got my Beer Reviewed by a Pro - it was a Disaster

Posted by homebrewdad on 5/27/2014 at 03:15:00 PM


About two months ago, /u/lukestauntaun on reddit started promoting a new idea for his broadcast, Behind the Craft.  Behind the Craft bills itself as "drinks with those who craft them"; as you may have guessed, the podcast travels to various breweries and such and has conversation with their brewers. 

The new idea was that the show was now soliciting homebrewers to submit their beers to the show.  They would then share the beer with the pro brewer being interviewed, and would get the pro's feedback right there during the podcast.  I thought that this would be a great idea, and so, I contacted the host.  After considering the beers that I had on hand, I settled on sending in a couple of bottles of my Royal Goblin (an English brown ale with more hop flavor than is normal), as I have had four different people tell me that this is the best beer I have made.  It was alarming how quickly the first case disappeared.

Aside: the last several beers I have brewed have come out really well.  I've been asked about brewing beer for a company event.  I've been offered money for sixers of my beer (I've declined).  I've been asked if I've considered opening a brewery, and told that someone needs to give me the money to do so.  As a result, I've started buying into the idea that I'm getting pretty good at this. 

As it is written: pride goeth before a fall.

About a month later, I was informed that my beer would be reviewed by the guys at a famous brewery in the Philadelphia area.  I was nervous, I was excited.  I had never entered a competition before, so this would be the first time that my beer would be tasted by someone that I hadn't personally met.  I didn't know if I should worry that the pros there would not put much effort into a review (hey, they're pros, why should they care?) or if they would instead be very tough on me, but I was really hoping for some good feedback.

Instead of getting feedback, however, I got complete radio silence.  No mention of anything, nothing up on the site.  I began to wonder if the whole "have the pros review homebrew" idea had fallen through, when I saw a new post... for someone else's beer.  Frustrated, I emailed the host again.

Yesterday, I finally got a response.


I've been putting this email off because I really am still not sure how to handle this.  Homebrew is something you guys are passionate about and I really hope you can take this okay.  So, we tried your beer on two different shows and I don't know if there was an issue in shipping, but both beers came out...soapy.  I have the audio available from the first tasting if you want to hear it, but I didn't put it in the show.  It's was a bit awkward. 

The beer itself was more of a sour red ale than a brown ale and we lost about a 1/4 of the bottle from it exploding when we opened it. In each instance, the guys drinking it commented on the beer being soapy as well. 

I'm so sorry dude.  I tried on both bottles and each brewer really couldn't even get past the soapy taste to even be able to describe what may have gone wrong.  In the second one where the audio is gone, he said that it was almost as if you had washed the bottle and not rinsed it and then filled it. 

I would still like to extend a hand to you as we're going to be posting a links we like page and I'd like to include your homebrew blog among them. 

Please understand that I feel horrible writing this email and mean no ill will or harm at all.  


Brendan Kelleher
Behind The Craft

Well, rats.  To call me disappointed would be an understatement.  That being said, I'm a big boy - I sent my beer in for an honest review; if it's crap, they should tell me that it's crap.  Even so, I was having a tough time reconciling what had arguably been the best beer I'd ever brewed with their description of a sour, soapy mess. 

I put together the following response.


While bad news is never fun, I have to say that this email surprises me.  I don't drink a ton of beer myself (typically, 4-5 bottles per week), so I end up giving a ton of it away.  I've had four different people tell me that the beer I sent to you was the best I've ever brewed (and one tried really hard to buy more from me).  Granted, only one of those people was a fellow home brewer, but we're very honest with one another - I had another beer with too much roasted malt, and he didn't hesitate to tell me that it tasted like a campfire. 

So, I've become "that guy" - the one who sends an obviously bad beer to a competition/review. 

The only thing I can think of would be some sort of bottle infection; I use a very "assembly line" like process in bottle prep and bottling, so I am quite certain that there was no detergent residue in the bottles (I wash my bottles with very hot water when I first drink from them, then starsan via vinator prior to bottling).  Since I haven't noticed carbonation issues on this end (certainly no loss of volume due to carb), that make me worry about this further.  I haven't personally had this beer in three weeks; I'll drop a bottle in the fridge now and see tonight if my experience matches yours.

I have had some issues in the past with bottle infections.  Before I bottle anything else, I will boil my silicone tubing, and I'll treat the rest of my bottling gear to a scorched earth approach - PBW soak, multiple rinses, bleach soak, multiple rinses, starsan soak.

I'm truly sorry to send you bad beer.  Thanks for the feedback.

As for the link swapping and such?  Well, I'll make a blog entry about this disappointment and link you up there.  We'll go from there.


After further contemplation - the guy seemed genuinely concerned about my feelings - I sent a followup email.


Also - please don't feel bad.  If the beer was bad, the beer was bad.  If I couldn't handle bad news, then I should have done a better job, no? 

I don't take this as any sort of malicious intent on your part.  Honestly, if you want to post the audio (in the hopes of getting the rubbernecker type clicks of those looking at disaster)... well, I asked for it by sending the beer, didn't I?

Again, I'm suspecting a bottle infection... some sort of wild yeast or the like.  I just hate that you didn't get good beer to review.


True to my word, I did put a bottle the in the fridge, and last night, I opened it.  My experience follows.

Very typical hiss - not overpowering in a way to suggest overcarb.  Less forceful that typical high carb beer (i.e. Belgians) would be.

Poured the glass, got perhaps a little more foam than normal.  Had to wait a minute or two to get the very last bit of beer from the bottle into the glass... but had no foaming over whatsoever (let alone loss of beer due to gushing).  Beautiful, pillowy foam.  Great lacing.  Great color.  The remaining beer in the bottle retained a minimal cap of foam prior to being poured, but it did not expand a bit (when I had a bottle infection in the past, the bottle continued to fill with foam, no matter how little beer was left in it).

Taste was exactly what I remembered; malt, caramel hints, more hop presence then you get in a typical British brown... not a hint of soap.  A little bit of astringency at the finish from the hops... the beer has always had this.  Again, not one bit of any soapiness.

So, I had my daughter try it.  She went so far as to swish the mouthful around like some sort of wine connoisseur.  Note that she is no craft beer person; as a matter of fact, she actively dislikes beer.  She reported hop flavors, but told me that she couldn't perceive any soap, either.

So what I'd love to know is what the heck happened?  I could see a one-off bottle infection; maybe something fell into a bottle, or there was some crud that I didn't notice in the bottom.  But two bad bottles - and no more - in the entire batch?  That doesn't seem very plausible.

Is it possible for beer to get hot enough in shipping to spoil and give foaming and a soapy, sour flavor?  I wouldn't think so.

This just seems bizarre.  I wasn't looking forward to dumping out nearly a full case of what I thought was my best beer to date, but if the bottle I tried had been bad, I'd have at least had an answer.  Now, I just don't know what to think.

Tags for this post: beer, review, homebrew, pro, brown ale, gusher, infection, overcarb

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Makes you wonder if they had soapy glasses (they obviously weren't drinking from a bottle conditioned bottle).

the two tries at the beer would rule it out, but sounds bizzare... unless shaking up the sediment and the heat of travel changed the composition.

that's a bummber man

posted by AJ on 5/27/2014 at 12:11:20 PM

Send me a bottle. I will confirm the quality.

posted by Sean on 5/27/2014 at 12:35:36 PM

Try putting one out in the heat for a day or two and see if the heat brings out an infection that you have not seen in the cooled ones yet.

posted by Cory Mathews on 5/27/2014 at 12:36:50 PM

If this was like the other reviews they have done, the "glasses" were actually plastic Solo cups... and even soapy glasses would not explain the gushing.

I'm going to put a bottle into a cardboard box, stick it in my car, and drive around for a few days in the Alabama heat. If there is some trace of a bottle infection, the heat and the agitation should wake it up, and I would get the same result they did.

I won't be happy, but at least the mystery will be solved.

posted by homebrewadad on 1/10/2015 at 10:11:18 PM

If you have to give someone bad news, DO NOT do it like this Behind the Craft guy. Instead of just saying the beer tasted soapy and suggesting what could have been the cause he breaks off contact, then finally writes an overly dramatic email that sounds like he's telling the OP his grandma died. He doesn't know the OP personally and the OP isn't financially dependent on the review which he himself requested. The Behind the Craft guy wasn't even the one who did the review! He makes it all about himself to the point where OP actually comforts him, when at the end of the day it's homebrewing and this type of criticism is valuable for makings improvement.

posted by Dan on 5/27/2014 at 12:50:58 PM

Yeah, like Sean said I'd be more than happy to confirm the quality. I'll even send you a couple I made back. It's always nice to have neutral opinions no matter how honest your friends will be.

posted by Joshua on 5/27/2014 at 03:27:00 PM

Sorry to hear about your experience. If you'd like, myself and several other members of my club are BJCP and/or Cicerone certified and would be happy to properly judge and score your beer according to standard contest procedure. If your interested shoot me an email. Best of luck and remember to RDWHAHB!

posted by Chris on 5/27/2014 at 05:28:35 PM

Different strokes for different folks, my man. All that matters is that you have people who want to drink your beer and believe in you. I have no ideas who these guys are, so I have no frame of reference. If you can honestly answer yes to the following question, you are probably fine: Would you buy your beer if it was sitting on the shelf somewhere?

posted by Doug on 5/27/2014 at 06:19:19 PM

Maybe let me try an explanation as I had this happen to me once. Any chance the host mixed up the bottles with a different submission? I had a beer reviewed once and the bottles given back to me only to find out they mixed them up.

posted by Grant on 5/27/2014 at 09:01:06 PM

Shipping beer to comps seems to be a crap shoot.

I brewed what I thought was an excellent Kolsch this spring. I liked it so much, I entered it in three homebrew competitions: one in NY's Hudson Valley, one in Boston and the first round of this year's National Homebrewer's Competition. For the first two comps I was able to hand deliver my beer to a drop off location. For this year's NHC, I had to ship my beer to the judging location.

I bottled the Kolsch from a keg for all three competitions, all at the same time.

My non-NHC entries both scored in the high 30's and medaled in competition (1st and 2nd place). My NHC entry was eviscerated by the judges and scored a 17.

Needless to say, I'm not anxious to ship to a competition again.

posted by Buck Stallion on 5/27/2014 at 09:11:43 PM