Written by Ken Carman for professorgoodales.net
I woke up at 12 midnight, Nashville time. I knew we had a long drive ahead and I had old-man-itis: no sleep syndrome. So by the time I gently prodded the angry bear; um, “wife,” awake without getting bit… too much, we were off to Starkville, Mississippi. The shortest route looked like down I-65 to Huntsville and over.
Don’t ever do that! Long, winding, poorly paved roads with absolutely nothing but fog to look at doth not serve a beer judge lacking sleep well. The sign above talks about “death to participant.” HA! Try driving mile after mile in dense fog between Starkville, Mississippi and Athens, Alabama. We did crash, briefly… at a gas station. Not “crash” literally, of course. But before that I was half expecting the GPS lady to send me down a partially paved road: we’d sink into a swamp, The roads were so bad, so much “middle of nowhere,” I imagined Rod Serling would announce a new episode where we’d finally find Amelia Earheart. She’d use her plane to pull us out of the swamp while Glen Miller played the music: dripping from the water that flooded his never found plane.
Arrival time was 8:30. We got there at 7:30 and they were already gathering. So we checked in with Josh Hartley, Competition Organizer and Richard Bryant, who was working with the judges.
As you can see from the pictures on top this was held at the Mississippi Homestead Center. People come here to plant gardens, relax, get back to nature, and learn about self sufficiency. If you see a link to their website on the site linked to the link in this paragraph, please note when I went there I clicked and got “page not found.”
As we entered the grounds we found solace, for sure.
Somehow it seemed appropriate that we were greeted by four party pigs: one named “Herbert,” in a rather large pen out front. Since this was a beer-related event I felt the designation appropriate. They were very friendly, though something about letting a unknown animal nibble on my fingertips made me nervous, so I didn’t.
On to judging.
We judged in the downstairs part of the nice, large, very home-like house on the property. Normally I find such rooms humid on a somewhat warm day, but it was very comfortable. I judged Spiced/Herb and Vegetable beers in the morning with Jason Bridges, who can be seen in the first picture of the judges, the picture to the left, with blond hair.
Specialty was where I was placed in the afternoon, which is where I met Ron and Sharon from Dothan, Alabama. More on that later.
Mini-BOS for both sessions.
I know many judges who don’t like judging either because they consider them more vague than other categories. I enjoy them because I tend to brew way off the stylistic reservation. I usually don’t request categories, however. I tend to let them decide where they need me the most.
Below you will find another picture of the room we judged with judges. The other picture is of a multi-purpose living room upstairs where we relaxed and talked during off times, held the award ceremony and ate our incredible meals.
Mention must be made we had some marvelous meals, and a lot of this is thanks to our incredible chef, I donned, “The Kitchen Lady.” With a smile and a pleasant wit… (Maybe due to 16a? You know, pleasing Witbiers that were being judged?) Di Wickham served us up gumbo, pasta salad, sandwich bar, breakfast with gravy and biscuits… this is the short list. There didn’t seem to be anything she couldn’t make, and make well.
There were 20 judges, 5 stewards and 157 entries.
I was so tired by the end we decided to stay, and I missed most of the nights events. Getting up at 12 midnight finally got to me. Millie did get to take a picture of the winners, however. Millie attended most the award ceremony as I snored. The ceremony featured club President, who was also in charge of awards, Jeremy Wickham.
In the morning we had a great breakfast and sat out on a back porch where we talked to Ron and Sharon, whom I met at the judging table the previous afternoon. This is one of the fun parts of judging: afterwards you get to share judging war stories, and Ron had plenty to share. Plus we both knew many pro-brewers like Wayne from Cigar City and Steve Fried from McGuires. A fascinating couple.
As I’m sure readers know, yours truly shared no stories with Ron and Sharon because he is the quite shy type.
Maybe in some alternate reality.
So, with a long way home… we had learned our lesson from the trip down. It may be slow, but it is beautiful: we took the Natchez Trace home.
A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman; a column that celebrates both homebrewers and professionalism in beer judging.