A Beer Judge’s Diary: Pensacola Battle of the Brews and New Breweries

Blue Wahoos Stadium
By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 I won’t be able to do as complete a job as I would like on this competition because it all came down pretty fast, so I’m adding a brief report on three new Pensacola breweries: more profiles than anything else.
 It started out as the trip from hell: blown tire, nuts for the spare didn’t fit quite right, no new tire until the next day and the dog was sick all weekend long. This was the first year for Brewery Battle in the Square: a pro brewer competition somewhat based around Irish beer. We had three categories: Irish Stout, Irish Red and Pilsner. It was done in tandem with a competition of area offerings from chefs. We have no comments about the food competition because we got there late: the BJCP competition was after the food was judged. We did have a Boston Butt from one of the competitors after the competition and it was excellent. The food trucks obviously arrived in a swarm earlier, stinging visitor’s palates with pleasure.
 The competition was held under the stage while acts performed and they announced winners of the other competition. You can see the stage at the top of the page: access in back. You would think it would be noisy under there but it actually wasn’t bad. Those who have judged with me back in the Nashville Boscos days KNOW I’d be quick to mutter about acoustics when judging. It’s called “not hearing each other” and “distractions.”
 There were four judges, including Millie and Moi’, and two stewards. I talked with Roger Meyer after and suggested I help organize the entries next year. Problem being we needed a better, more consistent, numbering system, and complicating the numbering was some entries were bottled and some were brought in in pitchers from brewers who were serving attendees. Also what judges shouldn’t know proved problematic because the same brewery couldn’t win twice… like both first and second. To judge blindly we can’t know who brewed what. Nothing that can’t be solved. As I well know from running several competitions it takes at least a first run through to realize what some of the issues might be.
 Millie judged with Andrew McMichael who we knew from Music City Brewers and Nationals. I judged with Matt Hamilton. The stewards were Eric Johnson and Terry Anderson.
 The judging went well and Roger was as helpful as he could, being the proverbial chicken with his head cut off. (Why is it when us writers refer to being busy we use THAT metaphor? More like a cat on catnip maybe, or a beagle on a scent, perhaps?) A man with tons of tasks and little time who reminds me of myself sometimes: taking on too much. Right now I have 5 Word programs open for editing: an easy day.
 Prizes were interesting. When Roger attached a picture in an E to me on the web, well, due to web resolution they weren’t
Strange woman who has been stalking me over 40 years stands in way of me taking picture of Goat Lips entrance. Everyone say, “Hi, Millie!”
appealing. Once I saw them in person I was impressed. Probably about 2 feet high, carved out of wood with what the award was for, was the image of a pelican. If this were a homebrew competition I wouldn’t recommend them. (“Where do I put that?”) For the commercial competition that was this the essence of this fest we found them unique and impressive. They look a LOT better in person than the second picture above to the right.
 In the end, once the judging was done, we got together with the stewards and decided who won if the same brewer won two prizes. And then we had the meal I mentioned.
 The event was closed down by the time we were done and left for our motel.
A Little Madness serving bar
 The next day we went to three new breweries. The brew-rabbits have been busy in Pensacola. For years you had McGuires, or McGuires. We always stop, for the atmosphere and great food and the beer brewed in their rather unique, small, brewery. Their taps, unfortunately, don’t rotate much. We could only stop at three: there are a lot more, some we went to last year. We went to A Little Madness, Goat Lips Chew and Brewhouse and Big Top: a small chain out of Sarasota. And, yes, they do brew on the premises in Pensacola too. I asked.
 We had swung by A Little Madness last year before they
Very small Goat Lips serving area.
were open just to check out what they were building. The others are new to us. A Little Madness is on the very end of Davis (9838 N. Davis Hwy) right after it merges with 9 Mile Road and turns into Alt 90. Kind of confusing for those less familiar with the area. The best was their Blonde: what a Blonde should be.
 We didn’t take notes, unfortunately.
 Winning the award for most unique atmosphere was Goat Lips. I had some hesitation entering a small, somewhat scruffy, abode, but I’ve had some great experiences doing just that. In some ways it reminds me of a very tiny multi-tap joint I went to with Drew Patterson in Louisville, KY about 2009: Sergio’s World Beers. Small, tight, yet the selection incredible, Goat Lips offers their own brews, many bottle selections and taps from other breweries.
 To be honest we felt the best of the three was Big Top: 21 West Romana, right downtown, not far from well known Seville Quarter. Most brews were spot on,
Big Top entrance
though not knock my socks off good. It doesn’t seem to suffer from chain it-tis where the brews are somewhat extract-y. I think we liked the Peach Milkshake best: what it’s supposed to be, except more a pale than an IPA in our opinion.
 I start touring the Emerald Coast in 1989 and Millie would visit. Many breweries we went to have now come and gone. We especially miss Buckhead Brewery in Tallahassee with exotic wild game and brewer Wayne Wambles who has since moved on to Cigar City. One of my many interviews over the years.
 For a while all that was left was Pop McGuires and Grandpa Abita Springs, Louisiana. Homebrew competitions on a BJCP scale have been few over the years, mostly in-house club affairs.
 So Pensacola and the Emerald Coast have been needing a beer competition for a long time, both pro and homebrewer. It has also needed to take a long dip in the deep brewery boom pool the rest of the nation has been enjoying swimming in. Seems they are now headed that way after a few false starts, then one here, one there.
 We see good things for Pensacola ahead in our magical psychic brew beerball.

                             -30-

 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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