Singing Boys Brewing Blog
I'm serving as the judging coordinator for the 2018 Charlie Orr Memorial Chicago Cup Challenge, the oldest competition in the Chicago-area. We've got 69 judges registered and helping evaluate nearly 450 beers over four rounds - Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday morning and afternoon. I met with four of those judges earlier this afternoon, to help them prepare for their first judging experience at a BJCP competition.
I'm co-teaching a class at Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, on brewing, I'll post more about that later. Last week, we brought the class out to Lo-Rez Brewing for a tour and conversation with Dave Dahl, one of the brewery's founders. The feedback from the class was that they really liked that Dave shared his personal story, how opening a new brewery is impacting his life, and Dave told me that this group was the most engaged to whom he's ever given a tour.
I like Bourbon County Stout as much as the next person - its a wonderful beer. But this current season of frenzied BCS hunting - waiting in lines, whispered sharing of the latest news of who has what variety now, stocking up to trade with others later - has me thinking about the really fantastic beers that our many local breweries make. These beers are unique, experimental, challenging and, because they are small batch beers, rare. I'll always appreciate the opportunity to enjoy a BCS, but I'm more interested in unique beers handcrafted at our small breweries.
Last night, Nancy and I celebrated our friend Bill Goetz's birthday at Hailstorm Brewing, in south suburban Chicago. We took the opportunity to enjoy some Prairie Madness, crowned last month at the Great American Beer Festival with the gold medal for American IPAs.
A fellow BJCP national judge, Kyle Nordquist, and I organized and presented an off-flavors in beer workshop earlier this week. We presented 12 off-flavors, using a Siebel off-flavor kit, to 18 workshop attendees in a very cool setting - Lo-Rez Brewing's taproom.
- Beer evaluation is neither totally objective or totally subjective. Human perceptions are not exact but judges can give you insights into your beer. Like a lot of things, you have to dig into it to get the most out of it.
- There are many variables at a competition that can impact perceptions - flight order, number of beers in a flight, shipping, how the beer is stored, the condition of the bottle, temperature served at, other aromas at the competition site, etc.
- There are two great advantages of beer competitions:
- The judging is anonymous - the feedback you get is honest and legitimate.
- There is a process for educating, testing and ranking judges.
- If both judges agree on a point, it’s probably good to look into it. Also, looking at a judge’s experience and ranking might also give you insight into her/his comments.
- Low level, slowly developing wild yeast or bacteria. When the brewer tried the beer at home, it was great. S/he shipped it off, it sat in a hot UPS truck for a few days, then in the organizer’s garage, and finally, four weeks later, the judge is evaluating it. Many wild yeast and bacteria are slow developing and relentless and start to be more perceptible in a beer as time passes. Reviewing all the sanitation practices is the best advice.
- Staling and/or oxidizing. See above. These can develop over time, also, becoming more prominent and perceptible, especially if the beer isn’t transported and stored well, or the beer style is better represented by a younger beer - hefeweisen, for example. Some advice is to watch post-fermentation oxygen exposure and, depending on the style, perhaps enter it younger.
- Fruity and estery. These are usually related to the yeast flavor profile. Brewers may be underpitching yeast, or fermenting at too warm a temperature, or have some other yeast management issue that is leading to the fruitiness and estery flavors in styles where a clean yeast profile is called for by the guidelines.