I started liking: really “liking,” beer in late 1972 when my first college friend, Dave, brought me to a bar with dark beer. It was probably mostly food coloring, but I think it was an ale. Or was it Dave sharing his love for Genny Bock? A lager, but more malt, and a hint more malt complexity. For the time? A lot. Remember this was a time when Bud-like beer really was king, and almost every brewer on the east coast was generally doing what now would be considered almost a clone of Bud, Miller, Schaefer… With recipe changes even Ballantine was fading into yet another, “So what?”
When I got married in my hometown at Big Moose Chapel my father-in-law had them bring in Heinekin Dark. For the Central Adirondacks: especially Big Moose, this was real exotic. By the time I went home again I found out the Big Moose bars had started stocking Heineken Dark. Even compared with the rest of the Adirondacks, the Central Adirondacks always seemed to have been a tad slow to bring in what we now call “craft beer.” And homebrew? Well, even these days I’ve had to go to Watertown or Syracuse for supplies.
So I decided to start a competition.
Location was problematic. I thought at first we’d do it in Beaver River: bring them down the reservoir in style on the Norridgewock Riverboat, stay at my cabin and the local hotel or motel. We’re a tiny community with no roads going to it on the eastern end of the Stillwater Reservoir. What an adventure!
But several attempts failed.
This year a friend of mine: Mark Franey from Number 4, NY (old train stop) and I had been working with The Back Door/The Front Door: located in the old Howard Johnsons, advising about craft beer. Old Forge is where I graduated in 72: before college, about 25 miles from Stillwater. Another friend and former classmate (2 years behind): Chip Kiefer, who owns Souvenir Village, has always been immensely supportive and put me together with another local: Mike Farmer.
And the adventure began…
I decide from the start to make it very small. Hey, I was funding everything and I will repeat what many Carmans have said over many generations: “I ain’t rich.” I designed Adirondack Old Ale Competition as a 100 entry and under, high gravity, competition so if I had to judge them over a few weeks with my wife Millie, or Mark Franey, we’d be able to handle it financially and sanely. High gravity can be: by it’s very nature, overwhelming. Oh, and to do this I’d have to miss Big Bob’s Barleywine Bash in Pensacola Beach, Florida. Having just been diagnosed as prediabetic I thought drinking beer all day long and then doing a 100 plus high grav big beer bash was a real bad idea. Real bad: especially since I’d have to drive close to 2,000 miles to do it. Hey, with this I could stay here… kind of, sort of.
While by no means “good” for me, I would have more control at a competition. You have to to judge.
I also decided to make the competition entry fee free. I wanted absolutely no sense I was in this for financial gain.
I registered the competition with the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program for those unfamiliar) after Tom Greco and Albert Kiss: owners of The Back Door/The Front Door, agreed to host us. I promised to offer schwag in a raffle after we were done: open up the event for the whole town.
For judges, originally, I had… Millie: my wife who is BJCP Recognized..
Me: Certified. (SO many people would agree, but let’s not talk about that.)
Mark Franey: a long time homebrewer, and well organized competition entrant, who has been working with The Back Door on beer related concepts.
Chip Kiefer who was interested in brewing, beer and also works closely with local businessmen and the CAA. I would call him a “mover and shaker,” only don’t ask him to dance.
I kid. He’s probably a better dancer than me, but I dance like a drunk moose, so not sure how much that says either way.
Then I found out Millie couldn’t come until late in the afternoon due to a new position with Nashville’s Metro government. Ouch. So I asked Chip and he suggested Mike Farmer with the Central Adirondack Association. The CAA? Oh, yeah! I readily agreed because I thought having someone else who could see how this might benefit my beloved Central Adirondacks would help possible future endeavors. But I also knew I needed another BJCP judge.
Brent Blanchard stepped up to the plate immediately and I have to thank Brent and Melinda Blanchard, who was out steward. They stuck with me through the whole process.
Then Mike found out he had to be in Syracuse, Albany and New York City that weekend. Yikes! Now I’m hunting another judge. Dennis Tofani stepped up the plate, a TOW bar bartender who knew craft beer, but Chip realized he couldn’t do PM. ARG!!!
You have to understand: most regular competition I’ve been to have 20 or more judges. But I had to have 4. I couldn’t lose one. What a bear this was becoming!
How little did I know how literal that statement might become.
Then a fellow judge who has become a good friend, Tim Belczak, E-d me, “Need a morning judge?” Certified? Oh, yeah!
I had drop off books at Ithaca Coffee in Ithaca, NY, EJ Wren in Syracuse, NY, Strange Brew in Marlborough, MA, Rebel Brewing: Nashville, The Winemaker in Watertown, NY and at Nail Creek Pub and Brewery in Utica, NY. Other sponsors were Saranac/Matt Brewing and Marcy Beverage. Oh: The Back Door/Front Door. Rooms provided by The Forge Motel.
Beaver River not being connected to the mainland by road, combined with heavy morning fog, meant I might be late on Saturday. Not even a consideration. So I planned to put up a tent at Moss Lake and go out Friday.
Then a local paper said they wanted to take pictures on Thursday. So Thursday it had to be.
No one else in the campground: or for miles. Friday night, hoping nothing would fall apart at the last moment, I woke up at midnight to heavy rain and something/someone stomping around my tent. Then the banging of the door on the outhouse door made me more nervous. Was this the start of a new “movie:” Blair Witch redux? Then there came the sound of of something being dragged across the campsite.
How does one keep blind judging in such a small competition? How do you keep blind judging and organize from such a long distance, like Nashville to Old Forge? How do you find so many blind judges? (I’m joking.)
And the more important questions…
Will Ken be eaten?
Is there a blood thirsty Moss Lake ghost loose?
If so, who is writing this… cough… masterpiece?
Well, here’s what Mr. Adirondack Black Bear says you should do…
”Stay tuned for part 2!”
A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman and his wife, Millie; a column that celebrates both homebrewers and professionalism in beer judging.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved