Add a Beer Add a Commercial Beer Judge a Beer View a Scoresheet My Activity About Blog

The Perfect Competition American Pale Ale

Posted on February 7th, 2014 by in "Award Winning Beer Recipes"

Share This:

I want to brew the perfect competition American Pale Ale and I’m always up for a challenge. I really enjoy focusing and doing things until I perfect them. My goal here is to compile and analyze National Homebrew Competition award winning American Pale Ale recipes to determine, based on the research and numbers, the perfect competition pale ale recipe. I’ll analyze base malts, yeast, dry hopping, specialty malt usage, original and final gravities, ABV, etc.

In most competitions, the two most entered categories are usually American Ale and India Pale Ale – with American Pale Ale and American IPA being the top beers. Stouts are usually a close third, with Russian Imperial Stout being the leader there.

Here is a quick breakdown the NHC2013 top categories. Belgian Specialty (16E) has been left out on purpose because it’s one of the “catch-all categories” and trying to come up with what works consistently in a catch-all category would be like trying to herd cats.


NHC gold medal wins from 2004 – 2013

  1. American Ale (10) – 589
    1. American Pale Ale (10A) – 341
    2. American Amber Ale (10B) – 126
    3. American Brown Ale (10C) – 122
  2. India Pale Ale (14) – 581
    1. English IPA (14A) – 24
    2. American IPA (14B) – 391
    3. Double IPA (14C) – 166
  3. Stout (13) – 546
    1. Dry Stout (13A) – 62
    2. Sweet Stout (13B) – 71
    3. Oatmeal Stout (13C) – 97
    4. Foreign Extra Stout (13D) – 49
    5. American Stout (13E) – 71
    6. Russian Imperial Stout (13F) – 196

I’ve managed to squeeze out a 3rd place with one of Jamil’s APA recipes in my first competition that I entered a couple of years ago. A 3rd place with someone else’s recipe isn’t enough, which is what prompted this research.

Some Quick Anecdotal Observations

American Pale Ale, or the whole American Ale category for that matter, in my experience, is usually judged by less experienced judges. Or they have several teams of judges with one or two more experienced or BJCP ranked judges to kind of “oversee” the less experienced or inexperienced judges. This is probably because it’s a “gateway” craft beer. This also means people have a preconceived notion about what their perfect APA should be. Is it a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that’s 4 months old? A Dale’s Pale Ale with its Columbus, Centennial and Cascade goodness?  Or maybe it’s a fresh Firestone Walker Pale 31? Not saying that any of this is a bad thing or a good thing, just merely an observation and something to keep in mind as I start down the path to create the perfect competition APA.

Brief History of What Has Not Worked

Since that 3rd place win in April of 2012 I’ve brewed somewhere in the neighborhood for 20 different APA recipes. A couple Sierra Nevada APA clone and inspired recipes, several Firestone Walker Pale 31 clone and inspired beers, a Russian River Row 2 Hill 56 inspired recipe and a Dale’s Pale Ale clone. I’ve only submitted about 5-6 of those recipes to competition, but nothing scored higher than a 35 or so, with the Dale’s Pale Ale clone scoring a 25. The professional brewer judge mistook the crystal 40 and crystal 80 for diacetyl and convinced the judge with no experience to go along with what he tasted and agree to his score. I say this because I had several other judges, ranging from recognized to master, judge the beer outside of competition and diacetyl was never mentioned. Lesson learned and I’ll move on.

To Sum up the Research

I used American Pale Ale gold medal winning recipes from 2004 – 2013 as my research base.

Based on this research, if you want to win a gold medal in the American Ale category at the NHC you should brew an American Pale Ale that is 5.51% ABV, with an OG of 1.054 and a FG of 1.012. It should have about 40 IBUs and it should be dry-hopped. You should use American 2-Row as your base malt and American Ale yeast – although it was pretty close between American and English ale yeast. You should use a little crystal malt, but keep it on the lighter side, and don’t use too much.

Charts & Graphs

And Finally… the Recipe
The Perfect Country n’ Western… I Mean Competition American Pale Ale

It might not say anything at all about trains, or trucks, or mama, or gettin’ drunk, but hopefully it will win some medals.

Batch Size: 6 gallons
Est Original Gravity:
1.054 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 5.5 %
Bitterness: 47.1 IBUs
Est Color: 7.3 SRM

Measured Original Gravity: 1.054 SG
Measured Final Gravity: 1.012 SG
Actual Alcohol by Vol: 5.5 %

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
9 lbs Brewers Malt 2-Row (CMC) (1.8 SRM) Grain 3 67.9 %
2 lbs Munich I (Weyermann) (7.1 SRM) Grain 4 15.1 %
1 lbs Wheat, Flaked (MoreBeer!) (1.6 SRM) Grain 5 7.5 %
12.0 oz Biscuit malt (Castle Malting) (30.5 SRM) Grain 6 5.7 %
8.0 oz Caramel/Crystal Malt – 20L (20.0 SRM) Grain 7 3.8 %
0.80 oz Chinook [12.70 %] – Boil 45.0 min Hop 8 30 IBUs
1.00 Items Whirlfloc Tablet (Boil 10.0 mins) Fining 9 -
1.00 oz Cascade [6.70 %] – Boil 10.0 min Hop 10 7.5 IBUs
2.00 oz Cascade [7.10 %] – Boil 5.0 min Hop 11 8.8 IBUs
1.00 oz Amarillo [9.20 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 12 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Simcoe [13.00 %] – Boil 0.0 min Hop 13 0.0 IBUs
1.0 pkg Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05) Yeast 14 -
1.00 oz Amarillo [9.20 %] – Dry Hop 3.0 Days Hop 15 0.0 IBUs
1.00 oz Cascade [5.50 %] – Dry Hop 3.0 Days Hop 16 0.0 IBUs


Here are some scoresheets for this American Pale Ale from people in our BJCP study group.

So based on this feedback, it seems like using Chinook as the bittering hop is causing some light harshness. On the rebrew I’ll be switching

Share This Post:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Recommended Links