Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup

Sunday, July 15, 2007

As I indicated in an earlier post, I judged on Saturday at the Indiana State Fair Brewers Cup competition. This is a huge competition, with over 600 entries from both homebrewers and professional brewers (though their beers were judged separately). It is also acknowledged as one of the best-run competitions. It was both a pleasure and an honor to judge at this competition. I don't have the stats on how many judges there were, I counted aroud 60.

In the morning I judged Brown Ales (category 11 for the other beer geeks). There were 2 groups of judges doing this flight because there were so many entries for this category. When this happens (more than 1 group doing a category), you do what is called a "Mini Best of Show" in which one judge from each group then compares the top 1 or 2 beers from their own individual group to select a winner for the category. Of the 10 entries in my particular flight, 7 were Mild Brown Ales (11-A for the geeks) and 3 were Southern English Brown Ales (11-B). I was paired with two extremely experienced judges Dave and Chris (left to right in the picture...the guy in the middle was Doug, our Steward).
Dave came from Huntington, WV and Chris from Louisville, KY (by way of showing you how major this competition is).

Ultimately the winner in the category was one of the Southern English Brown Ales. This is actually an exceedingly rare type of beer to brew beause it is eqasier for a brewer to add just a tad more than necessary and end up with a Sweet Stout (which one of our entries should have been and it would have done much better). The beer that won was very specific to the guidelines and was an extremely enjoyable beer.

After a hardy lunch (and very tasty), my afternoon flight was the Stout category. There were so many stouts that they were actually split into 2 subcategories and then again into two group each. I judged category 13-A; Dry Stout (think Guinness, Murphy's and Beamish). Here's the catch: I judged with Gordon Strong. For the non-massive-beer-geeks, he is the guy who wrote the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines that all beer judges and all competitions use to judge beer. He did it. He chaired that committee. So he, um, kinda knows the guidelines.

So, I had all these visions in my head of Mr. Strong scoring a beer at like a 19 or below ("significantly flawed") while I simultaneously proclaimed that it was the best beer I ever had EVAH! But as luck would have it, I was within 2 points at most in terms of differences between my score and his on a beer. Reputation saved!

In all actuality, Gordon Strong was a very gracious, funny and accepting guy and helped me in my process of evaluating beers less conservatively than I had been.

To explain the process a little, judges evalute in pairs (or sometimes 3s). Thus my group of 2 judges will evaluate 8 or so beers together. Each judge in a pair will individually evaluate a beer. As it is apparent that each one has finished, you compare scores. The scores are acceptable if they are within 5 points of one another. If not, the judges discuss the differences in their scores according to the guidelines and adjustments are made to bring the cores closer together. Again, this is why style guidelines are so important; it helps judges evaluate based on accepted criteria rather than on tastes they like personally. Then, the scores between the judges are averaged and that becomes the beer's final score. Here's a score sheet.

From there, all of the winners from each category were matched up against one another for a single "best of show" beer. Stouts versus Weizens versus Browns versus Pales etc to find the competition's best offering. The winner will be announced when the Indiana Sate Fair actually begins (at the beginning of August).

Again, this was a true pleasure and honor to judge this competition.
It was very well-run. And at the end, there were kegs and kegs of home-brewed beer for the drinking, including last year's Homebrew winner and Pro-brew winner.

And today? I can't taste a damn thing. But it was well worth it.


George 1:09 PM  

That sure sounds like a blast. Congrats, Smitty.

Smitty 2:08 PM  

It was, guys. Believe me. This was my third competition to judge and was bar far the best-run.

I will (hopefully) be doing the MI State Fair competition later in August again this year.

B Mac,  10:47 AM  

I couldn't help but notice on the score sheet that there is a box you can check if the beer has a "blood-like" taste.

I'm not sure you're giving us the full story on what really happens at these brewers contests...

Bob "Chief Beer Advocate" 3:46 PM  

"...the beer has a "blood-like" taste."

The sheet really said, this "blood had a beer-like taste."

Smitty actually attended a vampires convention.

Smitty: "This pint tastes a little rich in iron. This is definitely not the proper flavor for the blood of a Scotsman over 20 years with O-negative."

In all seriousness, this sounded like a good time. The more I try to find some of the scents and flavors that Smitty can detect, the more I realize that beer reviewing and judging is a talent I don't posses. I just cannot detect some of "scents of fresh cut hay" or "chocolate" or "hand-shorn been sprouts". OK, I made that last one up, but you get the idea.

Smitty 3:56 PM  

They're there, bob. I used to not be able to either. But I realized that you can detect this stuff. It's there, in your brain. All you have to do is attach the scent to something you know. Put words to a smell.

Mike 12:04 PM  

Sounds like a helluva time. Wow.

Andy 8:47 PM  

Awesome job. How come you didn't get one of the cool blue beer judge-type shirts? Were they hazing you or something?


(nice to be back reading the blog!)

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