A Beer Judge’s Diary: Preparing to Judge Using the 2015 Guidelines

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Courtesy mashbang.wordpress.com
Courtesy mashbang.wordpress.com
 I must admit: being off the grid, running a homebrew competition and work limiting my time to “get down” with the new 2015 BJCP guidelines, I never had much of a chance to comment. My fault. My loss.
  After all the vetting there’s not much I can say that would have much affect, but I know everyone at the BJCP has been turning blue, still holding their breath, thinking, “But, what does Ken think?”
  Yes, that sarcasm nugget was aimed at myself.
 So, like the white rabbit in Alice, since I’m beyond “late” for that review date, I think my commentary time would be best spent making suggestions on how to live with, how to view, how to use, and a valuable way to learn, the new guidelines.
  First, let me recommend a concept to homebrew clubs that the Clarksville (TN) Carboys are working on. Last Saturday (11/14/15), during the monthly meetings, we took examples of 2015 category 2 and sampled them while looking over the guidelines. memebeerdate Some categories may be tough to do this with, like category 3: Czech lagers. Finding examples may be tough, especially in more rural regions. I would say, ”brew it yourself then compare,” but considering the cost, the effort, and how tough some of these styles are to brew right, not sure how useful that advice might be.

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 Above you see James Visger, club president, with the brews to be compared to category 2 in the 2015 guidelines. Millie and I brought Devil’s Backbone Gold Leaf Lager. That’s category 2A. As a side note, we visited Devil’s Backbone this July. Quite the facility in rural Virgina.
  I found my focus on category 2 improved threefold just looking forward to this event, and I am going to propose a multi club effort to do this on a monthly basis.
 I don’t remember all the examples we had. I brought Devil’s Backbone Gold Leaf Lager, there was also Red Stripe and Heineken. I was kind of surprised with the reaction to Devil’s. Several of the other tasters picked up a “sour” sense, and really didn’t care for it. This came out of a can, to be clear, so light exposure and such shouldn’t be an issue. Neither Millie, nor I, picked up “sour,” and found it more interesting than the others. Others picked up some DMS, but with this style the question would be, “Too much?” I will admit the “grain malt character” brought it closer to the edge of “out of category,” in my opinion: probably why I preferred it, but most of us agreed Red Stripe was like carbonated water. Heineken, well that seemed pretty much right down the middle. I was grateful for this chance to reassess Heineken because the last one I had was “sour,” and worse: vegetal. I suspect contamination brought on by long term storage under poor conditions. It was at my sister-in-law’s house and being kept, long term, for her son-in-law to “savor.” It bloody well almost made me sick because I finished it out of a sense of being polite. I also made no barfing noises, always a wise thing when in polite family situations.
 Shiner Bock was on the table for 2C, and it did seem to fit the guidelines. As another club member put it, Shiner frequently makes beers I’m not all that fond of: but that’s not the point, here. It did seem well suited to category 2C.
 They also had an Octoberfest for comparison. Everyone but Millie and I thought closer to 2C than 2B. I thought it had a tad too much caramel sense for B, maybe even C. According to James we also had Yuengling Lager on the table.
  But here’s what’s important: motivation. I found one of the clubs I’m a member of doing this increased my focus well beyond category 2. Inspired by our educational portion of our meeting, even before Saturday, I kept going through the categories, but when I hit category 7C Millie heard a loud, “What the &^%$?”
  Let’s say upfront I enjoy the fact they have put Overall Impression first among the aspects of any style on the list, and also expanded Overall. That’s what clued me into they might, occasionally, veer away from this format a tad. It was a bit of a disappointment, at first, because having Overall upfront provides a great snapshot from which judges can start, though not in any way finalize, filling out a score sheet. But when you hit Kellerbier, 7C, the guidelines not only drop that format, but under aroma and such, it simply reads, ”Reflects base style.”
1114151523-00   What “base style?” Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be telling me about?
 My, my, Ken, how shallow your thoughts were at first.
 Reading on I discovered under 7C were various brews that could be Kellerbiers if poured cold, fresh, like from a lagering vessels. My only question left was, “‘Pale,’ ‘Amber,’ what, no ‘Dark?’” Considering how popular they are claimed to be I can’t imagine all the pubs in Germany, or elsewhere, stopped at Amber. Just not that frequent, perhaps?
  And another competition consideration… considering what would qualify as an accurate example of a Kellerbier, how likely are we to get them at most competitions? Maybe attempts to mimic, yet bottle 7C? Probably better than people shipping their lagering tanks to us, with gear to serve, or homebrew clubs investing in the kind of gear it would take simply to serve 7c properly? Proper serving temp is already an issue at some competitions I have judged at, so we are to ask organizers and stewards to make a special exception to serve one type of brew even colder, served in such a style-specific manner? Would “Kellerbier-like” have to apply here most of the time?
 In the end it seems Kellerbier might be best served as an appendix item to me, but as stated before: this is what we have, so brief rant over. Anyway, and as always, I could be wrong. As my grandfather said many times, “I was… once.”
  The new guidelines are so vast, so big. If you look at the appendix, beyond the usual categories, this was an amazing job. I am beyond impressed, and I’m not surprised questions linger. Questions like where one would put a Traditional Bock, more Genny Bock-like, are bound to continue arrive on our judging doorsteps like abandoned babies. Not because they are actually abandoned, but because all judges weren’t privy to any discussion regarding any of these possible snafus.
1114151523-01  As with all such questions I am sure, at most competitions, we will decide however we must decide, until told something different.
 In case you’re curious, on the BJCP judge Facebook page, we came to a general agreement that those Bock entries would probably be category 2: International Lagers… either 2B (Amber) or 2C (Dark), depending on the entry.
 My only other regret is that they didn’t expand braggots. Being a brewer of braggots I sincerely feel it’s a big mistake to have no braggot label-based accommodation for those with odd ingredients, instead of keeping them divorced from braggots. “Open” or Experimental” simply doesn’t work, in my opinion. A btaggot isn’t mead. It’s as bad, or worse, than putting Robust Porter under International Lager.
 Yeah, it’s beer, but…
 Yeah, it’s part mead, but…
  But I absolutely welcome the expansion. Another great addition to most categories: style comparison notes. I think these too could eventually start off each listing. I would recommend reviewing these when any entry arrives at the table; especially when training a new, non-BJCP, judge.
  Overall I believe there are many great improvements. Twice now I have been blessed to have a Piwo Grodziskie arrive at my table. The first time, at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, we all rushed off to our devices and the net to get info. By the second time: Mentor, Ohio, I think it was, I had 2015 guidelines with me. It’s inclusion, among many, is appreciated. Historical beer? Yes! Wild ale? About time.
  Oh, and as an aside? May you be blessed to have a Grodziskie arrive at you table. Fascinating brew.
  The guidelines have increased, and magnified, the adventure that is beer, mead and cider for me. For that I praise the BJCP and the beer god, wherever SHE may be.
Courtesy rappart.com
Courtesy rappart.com

                                                     -30-
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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