A Beer Judge’s Diary: Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition

 I stole the pictures for this edition from my own articles because I was too busy judging, organizing and freaking out from time to time, to take pictures… as you shall soon read, hopefully laugh about, and wonder, “How did he get himself into THIS mess?” Story of my life. It’s a good story… mostly.


Justin: master brewer from Fulton Chain
Justin: master brewer from Fulton Chain
 No way, not even on the planet Gorforbia: the only place in the known universe where things as weird as what’s happened in my own life, can this year’s competition have gotten more “Odd.” Match name of the competition I created, much? Well, I admit, last year’s was weird too. I mean, almost eaten by a bear? Come on! Thank Modort, the jelly based deity worshiped on Gorforbia, I hadn’t had any Gorfrorbian mustard in my tent. I hear Adirondack bears can’t resist that spicy condiment. Makes it smell like Taylor Swift-look alike, a well known Adirondack bear delicacy.
Richard Mathy's on the left
Richard Mathy’s on the left
 Anywhosie, the great thing about the 2015 OFBB, compared to the 2014 Old Forge Old Ale (last year’s name), is I have a lot of organizing advice and notes to pass on to those interested in running very small competitions. “Why?” Because, I swear, everything went wrong. And, being a big believer in small, specialized, competitions, as well as big ones, I’m sure someone out there might be able to use my experience to help run theirs.
 Last year our entries were about 25: depends on how you count the extra bottle someone sent us that was packed, and entered, as if it were as different entry. Yet it had the same name, same brewer and, when sampled, we determined had to be the same entry… a judgement call the brewer never disputed after post competition contact. I haven’t counted this years yet: all the information I need is about 10 miles away and my place has no roads going to it. I believe we had about 40. We almost doubled the entry level.
 This was one of the first problems. Even though entering was free, from the start getting entries seemed tough. So I offered $50 for each of the two top winners, and 25 for 2nd place. That solved that. As soon as I dig myself out of my isolated perch here at Beaver River, sans post office and award making businesses, will do.
 Being a weird beer/big beer competition, that has two first places to award, the initial problem was how to make sure brewers told us which was entered for odd, which was for big, which was for both. Last year I developed a self logging in system for drop off points that worked well… last year. Brewers wrote style based on and anything unusual into the judge’s book, and then personal info into an entry book. Problem is, this year, I picked up the books and pretty much no one did that.
 Luckily I had plenty of gremlins and helpful trolls to assist me with that. I entered into the judge’s book while they
Tim Belczak and family
Tim Belczak and family, minus one “gremlin”
entered into the entry books. These helpers will remain mostly unnamed because, well, several asked me not to tell.
 Second problem is I had drop off points as far away as 400 miles. I arranged to pick up Erie, PA and judge a competition. Problem was: no entries, but I was told there were three in Buffalo. So I had to go out there. But my friend I was going to stay with couldn’t do that.
 Now I’ve got to sleep in my car, or take a room, about three days while I drive all the way to Erie for only three entries? All at my own expense? Did I mention I pay for everything that has to do with this competition? Well, this year, and last year. More on that latter.
  Luckily Tim Belczak agreed to let me crash on his couch.
 I got to my Buffalo drop off and, “We have no entries.” Apparently they thought I was coming on Saturday, not Friday, but since I would be in Erie all day: no way. Some kind of communication problem. The owner’s son said he could enter one of his but since I might have to judge it, I told him thanks, but not a good idea.
Brent Blanchard across the table from some weird guy who looks like a hippie, but never was one.
Brent Blanchard across the table from some weird guy who looks like a hippie, but never was one.
 Last year all this mechanical side to the competition worked like a fine timepiece. Brent Blanchard and his wife, Melinda, worked the competition with me and we pulled judges from elsewhere. Small competitions are great for training people interested in judging, but with little experience. All you need is BJCP judges willing, and able, to train said judges. Brent was great, and I think I do a pretty good job because I approach it like training someone to play a card game. The first few entries you put all you “cards” on the table and show them how it’s done, then slip into regular judging. I have seen no problems with this because I insist they don’t let any comments/opinions I state influence any strong feelings they have about what they sense.
 This year Brent found out a few weeks before the competition that the time for the Blanchard’s trip to Germany was going to fall during OFBB.
 Come on Brent, couldn’t you stay? What do the Germans know about brewing beer? NOTHING. Absolutely…
 Oh, wait.
 Never mind.
 That left me as the one and only BJCP judge, except Millie, my wife, who would be up about a week later. Panic time. On several homebrew club Facebook pages I offered a free (over $100) motel room, and even to pay for a tank of gas. Nothing. I went to the meeting for a homebrew club, but the one BJCP judge, who said he was interested, found out he had something that day, and one never got back to me.
 What to do? What to do?
 So I hatched this plan… (Why do we “hatch” plans when we can’t we make omelets out of them?) …using prejudging to cut down on entries October 3rd. Tim and I would judge Friday night and Saturday before and after Erie at his place. (A National? Yes!) Brent and I would judge at The Nail Pub and Brewery in Utica. I tried to find a second judge because there were 5 entries I couldn’t judge.
 What do you do when a friend gives you entries and, many miles away, you notice, “OK, I know only one brewer who bottles that way?”
 You don’t judge them. You get someone else to judge them.
md  We got to the Nail and I had brought Maria Devan up from Ithaca to steward. She writes for The Professor and has a great palate. To your right you should see a picture of Maria.
 Quick shift of plans when our other judge was late: Maria and Brent started judging, then Mike McNamara, the actual judge, showed up. He’s a bartender at a multitap pub, the Nail, and has also brewed for them. Suddenly Ken realizes we can have two teams, and stewarding should be easy, except Ken is not one who is great at doing 10 things at one time.
  I suppose it didn’t help that it rained like hell, the side porch we judged on had a leaky roof and poor lighting. Considering, I’m surprised how well it turned out. We got though more than double the number of entries we would have. Maria and Mike both proved more than worthy.
Mike Kuhla
Mike Kuhla
 This also saved me bringing Maria up to Old Forge and the cost of a second motel room, then driving her back to Ithaca the next day.
  That was Tuesday. On Wednesday Maria was the steward, and I judged with the brewer at Bandwagon, Mike Kuhla.
 Another concern was we had several teams of judges judging the same rather broad, collapsed, categories. So I had each group of judges forward any brews they wanted to, or I looked at the scores and either did a thumbs up, or down. An example of one that got knocked out of big BOS was a brew that was very much like a fruit cake. Interesting brew, but drinkability was somewhat of an issue according to both judges.
The Honorable John Lee
The Honorable John Lee
 I had two judges: pro brewers, to judge with on Saturday. You do need to know there may be an option here if things really screwed up. At one point I thought I had a few entries I couldn’t judge, and no BJCP judge to sit at that table. Via several Es to Dave Houseman I asked if a pro-brewer could head a table, and he said yes, and that all you need to have was one BJCP judge at the table. Then he said, “You do what you have to do.” Not sure if this was his intent, but if I had been in big trouble I would have sat at the table, guided them, tried not to influence them, but have them judge the entries I couldn’t judge. I admit: somewhat of a liberal interpretation of “one BJCP judge at the table,” and “you do what you have to do.”
 Luckily that didn’t happen.
 Justin Staskiewicz and Richard Mathy from Fulton Chain Craft Brewery showed up and did a grand job, one taking the am shift, and the master brewer: Justin, and I did big Best of Show. We were done early.
 Whew! Talk about, “Have beer to judge, will travel!”
 The only other snafu we had was one entry had been entered wrong, as our grand steward: John Lee, that day pointed out. I would think whomever entered into the entry book for me either looked at the wrong listing for the style, or just skipped onto the next when listing a Fruit Beer ans a Russian Imperial. Ei! I also just saw the label that was on the bottle today and the category number may have been wrong. Will double check.
 So glad we caught that, and when my fellow judge and I compared notes I don’t think it changed the judging. Almost all the other entries seemed to match as described, though missing style differences were noted. We did have two that were obviously way off, but Millie entered and shipped those, and when I called to check she said, “I know why your calling, yes they entered those as listed, and I can’t tell you anything else.” Neither were high grav or odd. My guess? Looking for feedback.
Albert Kiss
Albert Kiss
 Kudos to John: he drove all the way from Saratoga area to steward and didn’t even take me up on my offer for a motel room.
 One snafu everyone needs to be familiar with is make sure you can get into your own entry/registration page. Here’s how to screw that up: have someone else install it on site because you don’t know how to do it. This was my net guru, David Allyn. Then try to get in when you suddenly get cancellations for judges you didn’t even know were coming. John Lee had registered as a steward.
 You see I had only had put “register your entries” on site with the link, forgetting judges and stewards could register there too. I had no password, no way in. Millie tried and Dave had no idea. So he hacked into it. Yes, whomever created this
Tom Greco
Tom Greco
standard entry form, you’ve been hacked!
 I wish to thank Tim Belczak, Brent Blanchard, John Lee, Maria Devan, Mike McNamara, Mike Kuhla the brewer at Bandwagon, Justin and Rich from Fulton Chain Craft Brewery, my cousin Joyce for putting up with me for almost a week and, obviously Albert and Tommy at The Back Door for hosting us again.
 Next year The View, local arts council, is going to combine this with their beer fest their doing weekend after next. This is a relief: obviously one person, with help, trying to do all this and also remain able to judge, is hair raising and expensive.
 On to 2016!
Courtesy http://weeklyadk.com
Courtesy http://weeklyadk.com

 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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