A Beer Judge’s Diary: Tasting Test

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 Years ago Millie, my wife, was the first of the two of us to judge with a BJCP Master: Judy. I won’t offer her last name because my point here is not to drag anyone into this unwillingly. Judy was one of the first BJCP Masters and Millie told me she said if she had to take the test today she’s not sure if she’d do as well. There’s little arguing that the test has gotten harder, the style guidelines more complex. Somewhere I have one of the Guidelines from the 90s. It’s a short pamphlet less than half the width and less than half the depth of the current one, the categories quite simple in comparison, the descriptions the same.
 Yes, it’s all gotten more complex, for obvious reasons. The tasting test: now given separate up to Certified, should be about proving your judging abilities, or if already ranked your judging skills.
 There’s a lot of advice out there that indicates how to raise your score that, if true, makes me question how we are using the tasting test when it comes to judging judges. A simple one was to use a pen. But wait, one thing I know is you’re NOT supposed to use a pen when judging. If we are judging the judges and they violate such a simple standard for competitions, why reward them?
 The answer I’ve read is that the test isn’t about how you judge in a competition, but to show your breadth of knowledge. I feel that’s a mistake. I think it should be about how you judge in a competition. Don’t we want the best score sheets possible? Isn’t one of the crucial arguments used when talking to judges before a competition that brewers spend a lot of time and money entering their beers they deserve the best feedback?
 Impressing the graders shouldn’t matter as much as solid scoresheets. If impressing graders with one’s depth of knowledge is so important why not put all that in the online test, or sit down? If necessary make Certified sit down too, or have a Certified 1 and 2 and 2 would be sit down.
 Seems to me the tasting test should be about, well, tasting.
One of the great online resources to improve tasting score: Andrew Luberto Webinar.
 One piece of advice I question, if you review the online resources on youtube, is to provide a lot of technical advice for improvement. Of course I think that a good idea, to some extent. But if you’re doing it just to impress the grader, not so much. I can see this becoming more like a dog and pony show put on for the graders rather than judging.
 I admit this is a question of how much is too much, over the top. There’s a LOT of room for opinions on all sides here.
 I suspect the next question may vary according to the graders you get. There was a question asked by a good friend of mine (Hi, John!) during a seminar about increasing tasting score: what if one of the judges taking the test writes there is diacetyl in an entry and there actually IS according to how that entry was prepared, but none of the proctors or other judges note it? The answer to this was points would be deducted because probably the other judges were right. Maybe the thought here is the sample wasn’t doctored well enough?
 This makes an assumption I feel is unfair. Judges miss things, even multiple judges. Yes, maybe the sample wasn’t doctored well enough, but there are super tasters out there and they should be punished? I certainly don’t think they should be rewarded with points, but deducting points seems wrong to me too. We want highly tuned palates even if very, very sensitive.
 Usually consensus judging takes care of any severe drop in the score that may not be as warranted due to overly sensitive palates or under sensitive. But obviously consensus judging would be counterproductive in any tasting test.
 Do all the graders get or see information on how the samples are doctored? Boy, I see a lot of pros and cons here that, if some don’t, blow this question right off of the froth. And how closely do you grade to what was said the beer was supposed to be like? Seems there could be a lot of leeway here.
 The test is excellent: I wouldn’t have taken it so many times if I felt it wasn’t helping. It does help me review and improve my skills. However, am concerned with becoming a serial test taker, so this may be my last time for quite a while. We need more judges more than we need to take a chance on clogging up the grading process. These folks do it for free and there’s a whole complicated method for grading they have to follow. For that, check this out.
Courtesy All About Beer Magazine

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 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 once upon a time thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast in the 60s. Thus the adventure began.

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