A Beer Judge’s Diary: Jackalope’s Let’s Get WEIRD

Our Winners
         1st – Keith Baker, Toledo, OH – Coffee Blonde
         2nd – Brent Fagan, Jeff Bellamy, Nowell Robbins, Murfreesboro, TN – Hint-O-Mint Chocolate Milk Stout
         3rd – Aaron McDonald, Nashville, TN – Pad ThaI.P.A.

Our Judges
         Bailey Spaulding
         Steve Wright
          Kat Schermerhorn
         Joe Kane
         Millie Carman
         Will Hadley
         George Talley
         Ken Carman
         Grant Ferris

Competition Organizer and Steward

       Kristen Westerbeck

Judge Coordinator

       Ken Carman

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 The members of Music City Brewers were contacted a few months ago by the fine folks at Jackalope Brewing here in Nashville about having our National Homebrew Day at their brewery. Here’s the problem: alcohol in the parking lot? Nicht. Music City Brewers putting up our tents on a slant; taking up their parking lot so many members can brew bjd-265x300on the premises? Non. Brewing inside wouldn’t have worked: we take up a lot of space and would have gotten in the way of production; especially on certain days when they package. We would have been in the way so much someone might have gotten…canned. On his busy way to brew Steve might have stumbled into a mash tun. Bailey might have been baffled when she felt even more roasty, toasty because so many pots were on boil.
 Oh, and then there’s the fact we delight in bringing in all kinds of beer to sample and make hot scotchies. Perhaps a metro policeman named Scotty might have put the kibosh on that as his kilt tilted in the wind as a few of us wished someone had beamed HIM up.
 High alcohol, even distilled spirits, brought into a facility licensed for lower gravity beer? I knew from the start, legally, we’d be troublemakers. So I suggested to Justin Martineau, our president and a magical, mystical bass player, that I offer them a small BJCP competition like I run in Old Forge, NY… and it took flight.
 I worked the details out with Jackalope’s Kristin Westerbeck and what we came up with was a competition limited to 100 entries, called “Let’s Get WEIRD!” …experimental brews only. Kristen would be competition organizer and I would be judge coordinator.
IMG_2767 I have to give Kristin full credit here. Right after we started this I had to have a serious operation… an operation that screwed up. So while I was fighting all that, and I still am to a lesser extent, Kristen was quietly behind the scenes setting the gears in motion with occasional input from me. Kristen did so much: constant contact with the brewers, logging in and organizing entries, creating a website and a Facebook page. Oh, and she was our steward.
 This was the short list: Kristin is a multi-talented employee that Jackalope is lucky to have. Kristen and I also share a music industry past, her at ASCAP, me at two record companies then as an entertainer.
 It took a while to settle on actual judging dates but we finally came down to May 8th at the brewery. We didn’t realize that was Mother’s Day, which lost us at least one judge.
 So, after a lot of back and forth; both on line and stopping by to discuss options, we walked in Sunday morning. I recited my beer prayer and then we started judging: pro-brewer Bailey Spaulding, me, Millie Carman, (Who is this beer judge who ripped off my last name? Oh… my wife. Never mind.) George Talley, Grant Ferris and… Joe Kane showed up thinking he’d just be a steward. Foolish Joe. We put him right to work as a judge.
 Bailey and Grant had to go back to work so we went down to two teams: Millie and Joe, me and George. Grant came back latter so judges and teams were shifted again. Eventually we were joined by Jackalope employee Kat Schermerhorn. It was akin to juggling, and made paperwork confusing, but it worked. It also worked well with my system of judge teams deciding what to forward, or not, no matter what the score.
 As expected the entries were interesting: Grodziskie with maple syrup and bacon, what might be called a pale ale, or even a gruit, with peppers, basil, cocoa nibs and lots more. Another entry had marshmallow.
 This is innovation.
 This is experimentation.
 This is where all styles came from. Someone creative, someone brave, said, “But what if we…”
 Big BOS was set for a few days later after Millie and I finished off the last nine. As we finished those entries, despite the late arrival, we also judged an entry that had just come in. This is the kind of thing I imagine can’t happen as much in big competitions.
 BTW, if you entered Let’s Get Weird, let me recommend Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition. Not only is it free, but there are three top prizes: best big, best odd and People’s Choice. While I judge big competitions I find small competitions give talented new brewers a better chance to win. Thus new brewers are encouraged when they’re on the right path. Otherwise they often get lost in a deep sea filled with hundreds of entries.IMG_1760
 Big BOS was crazy. We had 11 to consider between me, Millie, Bailey Spaulding, Will Hadley, Steve Wright and Joe Kane. Plus we had a secondary consideration, just how weird it was. At first I thought Big BOS might wind up a tussle between BJCP judges wanting entries more “to style” and Jackalope folk arguing for what they wanted to brew. Foolish me. In the end I wound up suggesting one entry for the top 3 because, ”If you want a ‘unique’ entry to brew this one is incredible, just a weak example of the base style.
 Discussion was quite animated with at least one of our winners considered for tossing out, then… rescued by Will Hadley. Yup, he paddled right out into the rapids of debate and, like some very smart, human version, of Lassie, saved that entry. No treats were offered for his heroism except… beer!
 I have commented in other columns that when I first started judging around 2000, or 99, there were a lot more defective entries. That number has gone down, sometimes to nada. Competitions are becoming a battle between great brewers and even better brewers. Another indication of that was though LGW was a small affair: only 46 entries, the judge teams forwarded so many.
 Awards and announcements were made on the 15th, after another reading of my Beer Church Prayer by moi’, sans Father Sarducci. Most of the winners were present. Some of them had just started brewing. What a grand way to start down the adventurous path called homebrewing!
 Congrats to all. It was enjoyable, especially because small competitions can do so much to encourage and help the next generation of homebrewers. I think all can say “AMEN” to that…


Beer Church Prayer


Dear Lord, God, Allah, Ninkasi (Nin-cos-see), Dionysus (Die-ah-nigh-see-us) or To Whom It May Concern,

  May your pre-blessed, fully fermented, brew waters wash over our palates. (Do I hear a hallelujah?)

  May the holy hops be perfect. (Hallelujah!)

  May the best malted barley essence tickle our tongues. (Hallelujah!)

  May all the interesting yeasties be well… floc’d. (Hallelujah!)

  And, today, for our Beer Church, may we enter unto the most heavenly of brew weird nirvanas. In your names…
(AMEN)

  And that is all.

Courtesy brewstravelers365.com
Courtesy brewstravelers365.com

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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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