A Beer Judge’s Diary: The Bluegrass Cup

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Written by Ken Carman

 The first Bluegrass Cup where we judged was at a horse track. That sounds bad, but no: it was fun. And the horses didn’t even ask to share in the bubbly. They were too busy hoofing it, or being the “mane” attraction: depending on which version of “bad joke” you prefer.
 Lexington is one of the main, and most famous, horse capitals of beerjudge-258x300 (1)logothe country. Indeed it known as “the horse capital of the world” and “Thoroughbred City.” So it wasn’t surprising that’s where we judged this competition the first time. While it was a pleasant place to judge, I think we prefer where they hold it now: Shrewsbury Hall… part of Alltech; a local craft brewery.
   I remember there being many breweries pouring their beer on another level at the track, and a wide open judging area. In many ways, similar to some competitions we attended during those years, the fare’ that surrounded it was a bit party-like.
  But is that what beer competition is really about?
 Increasingly, I have observed, competitions are getting away from that model and more towards what The Bluegrass Cup has become.
 A wide open judging space with hard walls, like what I remember at the horse track, can make for a noisy environment: despite the natural contemplative nature of judging beer. Well, “natural” until there’s a gusher, or some entry stands out in a really good way… or not so grand, to be polite. And I have noticed: at a rare competition, the high gravity tables can tend to be a bit more noisy… only the lampshade hat wearing beer gods know why.
 So nicely half paneled walls, soft carpet and fine restaurant tablecloths, like at Shrewsbury Hall, really make for a better judging atmosphere overall.
  Is the other interesting? Sure, but despite beer deity jokes, whatever organizers need to do to keep a competition from being perceived as too much like Beerfest, the movie, is good thing. That means the quiet, peaceful, nature of Shrewsbury Hall provides more focus on judging: which is where it should be.
 And the company we do keep, as we judge: in a more quiet way, is still quite festive…

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 Dwelling in the castle-like banquet hall are the Knight of Shimmering Beer Bubbles and his noble (hops) stead. They watch-eth over us. They demand no beer. They don’t hassle the ever busy stewards.
  That’s our job: the judges. And they harass back. Nah, it’s all professional: like when we were judging Blondes, which can have spices in them. We really needed to know if they declared any spices, otherwise that could affect judging. Our steward was off and back with answers in a snap!
 Which is better than in a Peppermint Schnapps. I hear that tastes terrible in beer.
  A well run competition, like The Cup, is nothing like Beerfest. Stewards and judges work in tandem to provide the best assessment several judges can provide for homebrewer’s entries. Homebrewers: who pay good money to have their hand crafted beer presented, and then judged, well: with all the extra information needed to judge them well.
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 Let’s say they added coriander to the recipe. That’s important to know. I have noticed that kind of crucial information missing, occasionally, at some competitions. I have entered myself and found out that my underlined comments about the style a recipe was based on never made it to the judges. I didn’t notice those kinds of snafus at The Bluegrass Cup.
 So kudos to our morning stewards: Joni Kling and Matt Kilcoyne, and our afternoon steward: Lynn Schentrup. In the morning I judged with Danis Kilcoyne, in the afternoon Mark Schentrup. Both were a pleasure to work with.
 And compliments go to Tony Aiken: registration coordinator and head judge, Emily Camp as competition coordinator, John Spicer as head steward and Joel Damron as cellar master. 412 entries, 44 judges and 14 stewards can be quite a handful.
 The day was more exhausting for us than some. Originally we had planned on staying in Louisville, visiting a brewery we hadn’t been to yet, then arriving at 9, judging starting at 10am. But Millie couldn’t get time off, so the plan was: get up at 3, leave at 4, and arrive at 9.
 Yes, that was the plan until our 14 year old collie, Frankincense, decided to wake us up at 1:30am.
 By the time we arrived at Alltech we needed to check in with Tony Aiken and Emily. The nice thing is there was no need to stop for breakfast: donuts and coffee provided, all in the same room where they do BOS, have taps for between times and we eat lunch.
   This year lunch was chicken or pork barbeque. I’m usually no fan of southern barbeque. I guess, living in Tennessee, my palate really doesn’t like cooked beyond flavor with a sauce that’s mostly just hot. That’s not ALL Tennessee barbeque, but a lot of it, in my opinion. But this was quite tasty: so much so I didn’t bother putting any extra sauce on it.
  Of course between the pork, the chicken, the taps and breakfast we have our morning judging session… then the afternoon judging. In the morning I was on Amber Hybrids, in the afternoon I was on Traditional Meads. Millie was on Stouts in the morning, Porters in the afternoon. .
   After having written two columns on judging mead, and one on my current love: brewing braggots, I tend to find myself at the DSCN0301DSCN0580mead table more often. Is someone actually reading what I write? Should I feel honored, or maybe more like the Emperor parades about sans clothes?
 Maybe both?
  Inquiring naked feeling writer would like to know.
 We’ve judged every year, but one, of The Bluegrass Cup, and every year but one it was here in the magnificent Shrewsbury Hall.
 Now for a personal appeal to the folks at BOCK: Brewers of Central Kentucky, who run this grand competition…
 You run a great: professional, competition. There’s only one thing missing. You see that chair between the knight and his noble stead, nickname “HoptoWitte?”
 Now THAT’S a chair fit for a king! And a great throne for every judge. Any chance we can put this in some industrial size Trek duplicator, or 3D printer, for all the judges?
  Um, maybe not?
  Then you have the even quieter affair: big BOS, before the awards. Space is limited, so three judges is a wise approach. One year I was on big BOS with the same amount of space and I think we had five judges. Beers we had excluded went to the side, behind me, wherever I could find a small amount of space.
 I missed the raffle, dozing outside in our 03 Element. Up early and the drive finally got to me. Millie, who had more sleep on the way up, did watch the raffle.
  We had a long drive and a couple of places to stop before that, plus an aging collie to get back to. So we missed the award ceremony. But the bounty looked plentiful.
  On to 2014.
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 A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman, that celebrates homebrewers and professionalism in beer judging.
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©Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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