Every year the DC Homebrewers club holds a competition for cherry blossom season. The competition is BJCP sanctioned and structured, but also has a specialty category 40 for Cherry Blossom beers.
The BJCP specialty category (23) says that "If a base style is declared, the style should be recognizable. The beer should be judged by how well the special ingredient or process complements, enhances, and harmonizes with the underlying style." So the DC competition seems to follow that rule even for their cherry blossom category.
I will admit my beer had flaws when I entered it. It was experimental and young. I based the recipe off a blend of other beers I had on hand with my specialty ingredients. The prototype blend got rave reviews from friends, but there was only one bottle which was freshly blended and mostly flat. My entries were a bit young and didn't stay as clear as I had hoped when bottling. I think I will be kegging competition beers before bottling from here out, if and when I enter another.
My combined reviews were a less than stellar 23 out of 50.
To take a step back for a moment, I'd like to talk about cherry blossoms and their flavor. I studied abroad in Japan, and landed in the country just as cherry blossom season kicked off. American flavored cherry things are nothing close to cherry blossom flavored things from Japan. Cherry blossom in Japanese is "sakura". Especially in March and early April, sakura flavored everything can be found. From bread and mochi, to kit kats and McDonald's shakes. Sakura flavored things tend to be a pinkish color, where most American cherry flavored things are red. Cherry blossom stuff doesn't taste "red". Cherry Blossoms themselves aren't super fragrant to begin with. Most sakura things have a soft floral and sweet flavor to them, most of which are flavored with sakura extract.
I wanted to do some more research before making my beer for entry, so I ordered some sakura kit kats off amazon. They showed up a little beat up and melted, so they were probably a little on the old side. They lacked a lot of the floral character I remembered, instead had a cinnamon flavor to them.
Old Dominion Brewing company also makes a Cherry Blossom Lager every year. I have never been a fan of it. The previous two years were overly sweet and syrupy with a big unpleasant cherry flavor. This year was actually a little more balanced between lager and cherry flavoring, but it just isn't a cherry BLOSSOM beer. I consider this the only beer in my competition, regardless of the out come from the DC Hombrewers. I set out to make a floral lager with a cherry blossom sakura edge to it.
I did a clean lager primary that I flavored when I bottled. It was brewed January 25th and bottled February 24th. My specialty flavoring was from mixing bottling sugar with sakura tea and sakura extract. After two weeks of carbonating they had notes of cinnamon and cherry blossom in the nose. Nice floral cherry blossom flavor leading into a light sweet malt. Well balanced but cloudy from being room temperature and unlagered. The rest of the bottles were put in the fridge on March 3rd and my entries were dropped off on friday the 13th.
Judging was March 21st while we were in Boston. I tried another bottle before we left and it had lost a bit of that floral character I was after and the cinnamon had become more upfront. I am not sure if my bottles were kept cool through the week or not, either way with as cloudy as it was I knew it wasn't going to turn out the best in judged results.
As I write this, I cracked open a bottle for the first time since March. It has been in the keezer lagering, and turned out much clearer as the pictures show. When it's cold it smells a bit malty and tastes malty but a little sweet, with a full and slick mouthfeel. After checking my notes I see I mashed it a little high, the next go around I'm going to mash a little lower to try and dry it out. The beer I am drinking now is not the beer I entered in the competition.
Both judges knocked my beer for not being "lager-like" and exhibiting more belgian characteristics. They thought all the spice and other flavors came from the yeast, when it was the extract and tea. Since my lager didn't fit in the BJCP "box" it didn't score well. Most of my beers don't fit in a BJCP category, which is why I don't often enter into competitions. It is interesting to note the BJCP has 28 categories of beer, mead, and cider while the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has 89 categories and even more subcategories.
I will keep brewing the beer I like to brew, competition or not.
Cherry Blossom Lager
Note: 2 Gallon batch size
.5 flaked wheat
Mashed 148 for 35, 154 for 25
90 min boil
.1 apollo for 60
.2 mixed hersbucker and fuggle for 20
bavarian lager yeast 2206
cherry blossom extract at bottling
sakura tea with bottling sugar
3 weeks in primary around 50, one week at 68-70 for diacetyl rest, cold crash and bottle. Lager as needed.