I mentioned in last Friday’s Round-Up that I was participating in a couple of firsts in my short homebrewing career. I was entering my beer for the first time into a competition and I was judging in a homebrew competition for the first time ever. I was a little nervous leading up to the competition. I mean, who am I to judge someone else’s beer? But I was reassured that it’s good practice and all judges had to start somewhere.
First a little background on how a homebrew competition works. Each brewer enters their beer into the competition based on Beer Judge Certification Program’s (BJCP) style guidelines. (The BJCP is kind of a controversial entity for some in the beer world, but that’s another topic all together.) The judges then use the style guideline to determine if the beer submitted fits into the category. Beers are awarded points via five different components: Aroma (12 points), Appearance (3 points), Taste (20 points), Mouth Feel (5 points) and Overall Impression (10 points.) Here’s the score sheet for my Southern English Brown to give you a look at the judging process.
I found out on Friday morning that I would be judging the Fruit Beer category. As a novice judge I was pretty excited about the opportunity to judge this category as it allows for a lot of flexibility within the style. You’re going to be judging beer ranging from light wheats to dark porters. Having such a wide variety helped me to concentrate on things like balance without worrying too much whether the beer fit into the specific category. As long as it’s a beer and it has fruit in it, it’s pretty much a fruit beer.
I arrived on Friday night to the Schlafly Tap Room as the judging was being held in the cellar. I was nice seeing familiar faces and getting to meet other members of the St. Louis Brews I hadn’t previous gotten a chance to talk to. We were asked to be seated at our tables and the stewards brought over the beers we were to judge. Our first order of business is to determine the order in which we were to judge. In a category like a fruit or spice beer you usually want to start with the more subtle and a lighter beers and work up to the stronger and darker beers.
In our case we began with a blueberry (cream?) ale and ended with a raspberry porter. Allow me to quickly say two things. One, if your beer was judged by me, please take everything I said with a grain of salt and remember I’m a novice at this. I think I did a pretty decent job, but I could be a taste moron and totally missed something. Most importantly, none of the beers we judged we by any means bad (including the pumpkin beer, which was just in the wrong category.) Most were good beers that just needed a bit of tweaking to make them great beers. We didn’t have a single gusher (usually caused by infections) or any really terrible off-flavors.
After we’ve discussed each beer and tallied the score sheets we then met with the other judges and determined which beers we would send to a “mini-Best of Show.” We choose the best beers from our flight and the other judges in the category chose their favorites. From there the beers are ranked and the best of the category is chosen. That beer is then sent to the Best of Show round where it’s judged against beers from all of the other categories.
As for how I did? I submitted 6 beers: Southern English Brown, Belgian Wit, Belgian Dark Strong, Scottish 80, Robust Porter and a Vanilla Robust Porter. My scores ranged from 21.5 (Belgian Wit, made before I overhauled some of my practices) to 36 for my Vanilla Robust Porter. In fact, my Vanilla Robust Porter took 3rd place in the Spiced Beer category. (If you want to see the score sheet for the Vanilla Porter, look right here.)
I’m already planning ahead for next year’s competition and I’m looking forward to developing my palate further to hopefully allow for a more experience judging process next year. That’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of research and a lot of beer drinking. I think I’m up for it.