Monday, July 31, 2006
First-off, man I had a riot on Sunday. My first competition as a judge was an amazing experience. There were 570 entries and over 40 judges. We all crammed into King Brewery in Pontiac from about 11:30 Sunday morning until around 7:30 in the evening. This event was the largest in Michigan homebrew competition history, passing the previous record holder by about 30 entries. It also put Michigan on the map as one of the largest in the country. This was truly a sight to behold, and took an amazing amount of organization and patience. Given that, for hat it's worth on my blog, I would really like to ofer congratulations to the contest organizer Phil Kitkowski who worked amazingly hard n getting this put together and making sure it ran smoothly. For what I could tell, there were no glitches that were obvious. Also, a big congratulations to Rex Halfpenny, editor of the Michigan Beer Guide and all-around nationally-recognized beer judge for his hand in this as well.
For my part, I judged 12 porters (robust and baltic) and 9 stouts (oatmeal, American, foreign extra, Russian Imperial). As always, there is a range of complexity and quality, but in the interest of the promotion of home brewing, it really takes a lot of guts to enter a product you have worried and slaved over for a long period of time. You are entering a part of your creativity, and it means a lot. It's why there is a special program to train judges: as a judge, you have to separate your personal tastes ("I like a thicker stout") from what the guidelines require ("This beer requires a hop presence that yours didn't have"). That way, everyone is judged fairly and less subjectively, rather than on taste preferences which are totally subjective.
I was paired with Janice, an experienced judge, for the round of porters. Janice has actually won first place in porters in the past, so I was lucky to be paired with someone of her epxerience and taste. Of course, she did not enter a porter this year, because you can't judge what you have entered. You inspect the bottle for a "ring" around the inside of the neck (which there shouldn't be), and for the "pfft" when you open it. You also deduct points for a "gusher," which are always a laugh riot, especially for the dude judging stouts with white shorts on. You pour about a 4 oz. sample, and judge it based on each beer's guidelines for aroma (12 pts possible), appearance (3), taste (20), mouthfeel(5) and overall impression (10) for a total of 50 points. There are, of course, hardly any scores of 50, with most heavy-hitters probably getting 45 or slightly higher. We're all perfectionists and are constatntly in search of the elusive "perfect beer."
There were some overall decent entries in the porter category, with the best examples rising very clearly above the rest. Porters (and stouts) are pretty tough, because they are so easy to overdo and the differences in styles are slight, so it is easy to enter a Baltic porter that really should have been a Robust and so on.
I was paried with another very experienced judge for the stout round, named Bob, from Kalamazoo. Bob is also a huge fan of stouts and really helped open my eyes to the minutia of difference between styles.
Of note, one of the others in the porter "foursome" of judges was one of the brewers/owners of Dragonmead brewery, a great brewery in Michigan (brewer of the famous Final Absolution Trippel). Great guy, and true appreciator of excellent beer.
In order to "place" for the best of show competition at the actual State Fair at the end of August (the 26th), a beer had to reach a certain score. It is tough at times, but a judge again has to keep to the guidelines for a fair critique of a beer. Since the judging is "blind," it will be interesting to see who actually brewed the winning beers.
This was a truly awesome experience, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to judge. The judges as a whole were really great folks, unpretentious, and enthusiastic about great beer and brewing beer. They're from all walks: lawyers, business owners, professional brewers, construction workers; you name it. Eclectic, happy and personable.