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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sitting in Judgement

I've been judging beer about twenty years now. I don't remember exactly, but I think February of 1996 the first time I volunteered to steward and got drafted to judge. Judged meads, which I honestly knew little about at that time, but the other two judges that made of the panel balanced me out: Steve Ford and Jackie Rager. Essentially they were teaching me how to judge.

So here I was judging the Kansas City Bier Meister's 34th annual homebrew competition, and I'm judging with a first time judge. If I hadn't been late getting there from work, so there could have been introductions, I might have gotten it off to a better start. I think the second entry we judged, (we were doing herb, spice & vegetable beers), I finished my initial evaluation and looked up and he hadn't written anything down. At all. He was like, I don't know how to judge this.

It wasn't that bewildering, but for a first time judge I can see it. I'm like, okay, here are the specialty ingredients they're claiming and they say it's an Old Ale. So read the style guidelines for an 8C, that's your base style and go through the score sheet making notes about what you're smelling, seeing and tasting as it relates to the style. Then go through and describe what your'e perceiving in terms of the special ingredients, and then think about whether they work well together, because a jalapeño Cream Ale needs to be both obviously a Cream Ale and obviously laced with jalapeños, and it needs to be something a person wold want to drink.

It's a lot less about personal preferences than you'd think. The winners in that herb, spice & vegetable flight included two jalapeño beers. I generally think chili beers are a mistake, but these were both excellent (and yes, one was a Cream Ale, which got edged out by of all things an IPA with jalapeño, which to me sounds more like a dare than a winner, but this one was done with finesse).

I really need to study up myself, actually. I've been saying this for a few years, but I took my BJCP exam in 1999. The style guidelines have been rewritten a few times since then, with some of them becoming huge targets that cover an incredibly wide range of expressions, and others becoming extremely specific. The bifurcations of IPA styles in the American craft beer movement, not to mention the profusion of sour ales and whatnot, I haven't done a great job of keeping up with this stuff. Plus, if I can re-test and get a 90, I have enough experience points to move up to Master rank (I'm National now). You're pretty deep in the Dork Forest when you're either one of those ranks, but I enjoy judging and it's a chance to improve myself and learn new things. They've added a mead certification, too, and given how much my own homebrewing activities have migrated to the mead side, that's something I should pursue as well.

Actually, speaking of sour ales, Crane Brewing that hosted us this year, that's one of their specialties and there was a panel on sour beer with a brewer from The Bruery in California, a couple of Crane's brewers and I think his name was Ryan from Milk the Funk.

I'm not sure I'm brave enough to set up brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus in my brewhouse. Though the failed Belgian Quad I brewed last spring that's impossibly sweet would benefit from a souring I'll bet. Maybe I'll rack it back out of the kegs and experiment with the bugs I normally leave to the pickle/kraut crock.

I didn't do the banquet, I usually don't. They feed us like Hobbits all weekend long and by Saturday night I'm usually too full to really enjoy such a thing. I'm always partly tempted because I love the people, the scene, but I was still digesting Second Breakfast and Elevensies when I lit out for home.

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