A Beer Judge’s Diary: War of the Wort 2015

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Written by Ken Carman

The Topic: Of Homebrew Competition Conversations and The War of the Wort 2015


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  This is at least the third time we’ve driven to Starkville, Mississippi to judge at the War of the Worts. It’s certainly not convenient distance-wise. WOW is almost 300 miles away, and there’s no direct way there.
  Part of the reason we keep going is obviously amenities. Judges, and stewards, who drive long distances often have to pay for pricey motel rooms, maybe even drive when they probably shouldn’t. At the War of the Worts they have free, on the property, rooms.
  But that’s not our favorite. It’s a small competition, which we seem to prefer, and time at breakfast, dinner, lunch, then breakfast again where judges from many areas compare notes. And we have been getting to know each other over the years.
  They don’t have a big party after with multiple clubs offering taps, or tours of the brewpubs. It’s all in-house with a raffle. People bring brews to sample, some pro, some their own. This year two young brewers asked for advice concerning some brews they did that had a phenolic sense, others did not. I pulled fellow judge Richard Heath over for a second opinion and we talked for a long time.
  Some people may think, “You’ve been judging beer all day long, aren’t you sick of it?” Those folks probably wouldn’t make great judges. It was the highlight of my evening. I retired early, but Millie stayed up. Some years, some competitions, it’s me that seems to keep burning through most of the night.
  Hey, old folks are like that!
  Of course we talk about what we sense, what we think is more to style, or less so and any defects we may think are there. We consider, and reconsider, scores and whatever comments we have made. All that’s part of our, usually, unpaid job as judges. We do it for the love of it.
  But then we have discussions like one over weird entry bottle selections. Picture at the top of this column. A soda bottle? Really? Or comments that seem to catch on and make everyone laugh when repeated, like, “BIG cascade!” …referring to the hopping of one entry. Said loudly every once in a while in what otherwise was a very quiet contemplative atmosphere.
  Guess you had to be there.
  This all started with the very first official, BJCP/AHA, competition that was at Brad Lovejoy’s house. The camaraderie, the sharing and mutual respect was, and still is, obvious. One year we came back and discovered they had taken a cue from me and got press lights to put samples of the entries on. This year one judge told me he felt my aroma sampling “glass” had a plastic smell, so now I have two tiny glass ones.
  The best judges bring out the best in other great judges.
  Of course we shared notes, like about the check off sheet used at Nationals (Most don’t like, but a few do.), other competitions, oddities that happened during a flight and, overall, if the entries were phenomenal or ode du rotted goat.(No, not the Belgian tables, where “goat,” maybe, “yes…” rotted, uh, “NO.” Though some day, since visiting judges often end up on Specialty, I expect an entry that might be called Ode Du Road Vulture’s Last Meal. The big question, what will the base category be? Some version of roadkill Kolsch?)
  This year I helped with big BOS. The thing I like about smaller competitions is, while I may not get specifics about each possible winner as much as some, when it comes to the final 1,2,3, and honorable mention, my mind seems to quickly organize them that way. There was one entry, Specialty, I was sad to see go. Millie actually helped judge that one. So many declared, odd, additions, but one was hardly there, if at all.
  Usually by the time you get to big BOS they’re all great brews, it’s a matter of sorting through to the best.
  There are competitions we have judged at we don’t go back. Nothing seriously wrong, like one we had to get up very early to drive over 200 miles and there’s no place sensible to stay, and nothing going on after. Not their fault: just inconvenient for us. Another has a big bonanza after, but it’s about 500 miles away, the hotel is extremely expensive and they charge for internet. (REALLY? I’ve stayed at $29 motels with free internet.) It’s a huge competition. We love to judge, but again: not practical, and huge competitions just seem to lack that personal touch we like.
  But War of the Worts is just right, despite the 300 mile distance, and more than anything: the camaraderie, comparing notes, the sharing, is always appreciated.
  This, to me, is what it’s all about. We learn from each other, we adapt and adopt… or not, and hopefully judge better.
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Ken A Beer Judge’s Diary is one of many columns by Ken Carman: Certified BJCP beer judge, homebrewer since 1979 and seeker of both simple and complex quaffs who, until the very early 70s, thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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