Some people ask why Primetime Brewers seems so judgy about beer. Short answer? Because competition fosters improvement. Long answer? I knew you wanted to hear me pontificate on the matter. Here we go.
PTB has long been associated with some very competitive brewers. For example, we have John Applegarth. The man has more medals than he has walls to hang them on. That is not just because he has being making good beer since he came over on the Mayflower. He didn’t start Brewing with earnest until he retired. It’s because he always wants to make better beer. Collectively the club has thousands of awards for fermented products. So why do we have so many award winning zymurgists? Because they all wanted to know how good their product was, and how to make it better.
Back in the day, the American Homebrew Association used to have a monthly club competition. This meant that any AHA registered club could send in a beer to represent them in a defined monthly style. This was an opportunity to get neutral blind feedback on a beer on a regular basis. PTB decided to hold a club only comp tied to the AHA schedule to pick the best beer to send and represent the club. As the hobby expanded, this system got to be too cumbersome and difficult for the AHA so they cancelled it. Primetimers were used to these monthly critiques and decided to carry on with the monthlies. Now we are free to pick the schedule. There is your history lesson.
Every good beer competition is designed to be as fair and neutral as possible. These comps are about getting good, factual, neutral critiques from trained and refined palates. You can then take this information and further develop your recipe and process to make a better beer. Grow your own experience. Many people do this very thing. Some people do get worked up about their beer scores. One big word of advice, to quote Charlie Papazian, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Remember this is a hobby. Have fun.
Unfortunately, the very nature of a beer competition is flawed. The way that beer tastes is very subjective. Every palate is different and perceives things differently. Any well designed and operated comp will do everything they can to mitigate this inherent problem. But there are always failings. Remember what Charlie says, RDWHAH.
There are efforts to correct for this issue of palate differences. Namely style guidelines, and judge education. There are a couple examples of both of these. The one that effects homebrewers the most is the Beer Judge Certification Program. Check out their webpage from 1990, www.bjcp.org. The BJCP is the gold standard in both beer style guidelines, and judge certification. This is what any decent Beer Comp uses.
The Style Guidelines. These are an ever-expanding list of recognized beer styles and guides to discern the styles. These are exactly what they say, guidelines. Not that a good the American Pale Ale style absolutely MUST taste exactly like the guideline reads, but that this is generally accepted as to how a good example should smell, look, taste, and feel. When a beer is entered in a comp under any particular style, it is telling the judges what to look for and what to judge against. Beers are not judged against each other initially. They are judged against an unattainable ideal.
The Judge Certification Program. This is national program to train palates. They do not tell people what to taste. They train people to learn how their own palate perceives things and work with the tools given to give constructive feedback and valuable notes to the brewers. The program uses instruction on base styles and experience tasting them to help judges understand their own tongue and brain. There are several levels to this program with testing to progress through it. Every competition needs qualified judges to offer better information, make better decisions, and lend more credibility to the comp results.
Locally, we seem to be short on these judges. There are many fine palates out there, but many of them need guidance to better discern between many fantastic beers. The entrants to our competitions (Siciliano’s, O’Connor’s, Kent County, KDAle, Pro-Am, Michigan Beer Cup, etc.) crave solid, credible information to better themselves. So now that I have spent 800 words to say we compete to become better, here is one more thing.
This brings me to an announcement. Your Primetime Brewer Leadership (me) has been talking with James Lewis to organize a BJCP Class. James is a Chicago transplant, regularly award winning local brewer, and Certified BJCP Judge. He has offered his services to shepherd a group of locals through the BJCP certification process. Yes, he has done this before in the Chicago area. The preparation and testing can be an involved and intense process. I’ll let him explain it in March at the meeting. James will give us the rundown on the class. He will also give us a mini class to sample what to expect. Then we will have sign-ups for the upcoming class.
In a final thought, please consider training yourself to be an objective beer judge. You can dip your toes in the competition scene at our meetings. Every Club meeting has a beer competition immediately before the meeting. We will help you learn about the judging process. For other news, it’s on the webpage.--DT