A Beer Judge’s Diary, Re: Urban Wheat 312 by Goose Island

Courtesy brewpublic.com
Courtesy brewpublic.com

Written by Ken Carman for The Professor

bjd-265x300  At Music City Brew Off I judged the Wheat/Rye category. A brewer contacted me back, claiming his entry was listed as a perfect clone of “Urban Wheat 312,” all of which, of course, did not end up in the description of the beer. To be honest I don’t remember being told whether it was wheat or rye, though my fellow judge believes he was told, so when I judged the beer, being perfectly clear and no wheat protein sense I thought it was rye. But there was no sense of rye either, which I commented on.
 What I sensed was a nice APA that fit neither rye or wheat.
  It bugged me a tad at first, and I answered the brewer’s questions as best I could. After solid judging for 2 weeks: every other day then 2 days in a row, I was surprised I remembered as much as I did. So, after we discussed the entry between me, the organizer, the other judge and the brewer, we settled the issue.
 Well… not “settled” for me.
  Never having had 312 I decided to try it. My palate told me I needed to look closer at the other judge’s assessment after trying it. I needed to reassess what happened. It may have not have simply been being told it was rye, which seems unlikely now, or just that I missed any description if it had been read.
 (Judges do go to the bathroom, right?)
  More speculation will follow after giving my review of 312.
  Here’s what I found…
  Beautiful, very slightly off white, head: thick with very tiny bubbles. Slightly hazy, as expected with a wheat. Straw yellow.
  Nose is light wheat and a hint of citrus hops. The citrus is orange/tangerine-ish. But it is indeed quite light. The citrus, I’m guessing, is hop driven, but hops are background at best.
  Mouthfeel is wheat protein-y and, again, a hint of orange and tangerine. Leaves a citrus tingle in the mouth after swallow.
  Taste: again, wheat and citrus. There’s some malt but way in the background, almost Miller Ultra quantity of malt. In other words: damn near none. The focus here is the wheat, and wheat proteins. But not a lot in any sense, just a bit of a skew towards a white bready wheat sense.
  Overall, to be honest, there’s not a lot here to hide behind: tis quite a delicate quaff. Very good for the very light side of the style in a style that’s light to begin with. I would score it, on the PGA scale, at 4 out of 5 for it truly is to style. I would have scored it higher at a competition but obviously using BJCP scoring: probably high 30s… even though, on a personal level only, I prefer a tad more aggressive.
  Back to how I started this review: this is nothing like what I remember judging that day. What I judged was perfectly clear with a decent hopping for, say, an APA. Unlike this there were no wheat proteins, and I don’t mean just in the haze one usually has with wheat. There was no wheat in the mouthfeel or to taste.
  Looking over the judging sheet from the other judge I tend to wonder if we had two bottles on the table and my pour was different from my fellow judge’s. I have no idea what we judged before that entry, or after, but it’s as if we judged two different beers. I have judged many wheat beers, and as made obvious above, I know wheat proteins when they’re there. I use a special flashlight to double check clarity. The clarity issue here makes me wonder if something like that may have happened. I assess clarity first: I even have an aroma glass I seal so I don’t have to worry about losing aroma while I assess appearance. I assess with light coming up through the bottom of the sample glass, and without the light.
 Confusing an APA with a wheat like 312 is about as likely as confusing Old Rasputin Russian Imperial with Bud.
  Entries that have been already judged are supposed to be cleared, but considering the pace of judging one brew after another, such things happen. Many times I have judged where the previous entry is still on the table, maybe even the one before that. Then we were judging next to another team and I have no idea what they were judging. My guess is there was another bottle on the table and most of my pours came from that.
  Let’s just say something contributed to the difference between what I was assessing and my fellow judge was assessing.
  I have enjoyed my pursuit of this. Mistakes do happen at the judging table and, whatever else happened, I am convinced now this was not the same beer my fellow judge was assessing. I would not have missed the wheat proteins and clarity would not have been excellent. Also the APA hopping I sensed would not have been there.
  I find these conflicts interesting. They certainly help shine a light on any defects I may have as a judge, which I still think was not the case for the reasons I gave, and possible mistakes that can happen at the judging table simply because there’s a lot of entries being judged. For example: one simply can’t find a reason why clarity would have been great in one sample vs. another if poured from the same bottle, one right after another: we were nowhere near the bottom of the bottle. I don’t claim I couldn’t have been at fault here, I just simply think with the differences between the sheets indicates we may have been accidentally assessing different entries.
 Now I am in search of the Pale Ale version of 312. I’d be curious how much this matches what I did judge that day. Stay tuned for a 312 Pale Profile here at PGA, one with with few extra comments.

                                                           -30-

“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.
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