A Beer Judge’s Diary: Should We Be Eliminating Styles?

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 Millie and I love to stop by McGuire’s in both Pensacola and Destin, especially years ago when Steve Fried had his barleywine; known as I’ll Have what the Gentleman on the Floor is Having. Long but funny name. It actually had a low enough level of bittering to make it finish somewhat sweet, really no hop flavor and the SRM was at least mid to high 20s. Slight bitter: enough to balance.
 All of which would mean I’d be scoring it lower these days if someone entered something like that. Most likely it wouldn’t win in a barleywine only competition. In the 90s I remember a lot of barelywines were like this; the few brewpubs that served them and the few bottled examples on the shelf. Not all. However the profile has been shifted, from what I remember when I first started judging in the 90s, to reflect the higher hop usage/ibus trend.
 Are we so significantly changing profiles sometimes we eliminate older, still worthy, subcategories?
 I have absolutely no problem with having highly hopped barleywine-like quaffs, although I have found more than a few I have judged are astringent to the point of un-drinkability. Yet I should score those higher?
 I suppose Gentleman might fall into American Strong, but there were differences that might make me have to score lower too. Plus the hop level can be high there too: same as barleywine. So no room under 50 ibus for a great barleywine? One of the “classic examples” for American Barleywine is Avery’s Hog Heaven, but I have had that many times and it seems more a Double/Imperial IPA. The difference being the malt complexity is more than what they prefer for Guideline changes too.
 When we’re changing profiles what about room for both?
 Going back to my original example: point being Gentleman was more like what barleywines WERE. I understand quite well the guidelines, reflect more what is happening NOW. I get that. But essentially we eliminated a version of a subcategory in favor of something more hoppy using the same name. Why not room for both?
 I’m not quite sure what the answer here is. There is no perfect answer to ANYTHING, no matter what partisans try to tell you. Maybe this is the best we can do. Perhaps the sweeter, more malt focused, barleywines could go into Historical? Perhaps what I’m suggesting might make the Guidelines too cumbersome, therefore competitions. However we expanded IPAs, why not others or Historical?
 I LIKE variety, so personally I would enjoy judging expanded Historical or an expanded Strong category with an added Barleywine profile. But I understand some judges don’t care for categories with subcategories that jump around stylistically. These are judges who feel being assigned Experimental or Spice, Herb or Vegetable is akin to punishment. Many are great judges. Personally I think we need both kinds of judges.
 My only concern here is how much we’re contributing to killing an older, or newer, variation of a subcategory simply to respond to trends. Trends are exactly that: TRENDS. Tomorrow that may shift again. Are we to be stuck following the industry like a puppy running around sniffing a hyperactive dog’s posterior? Or should we honor both the change and what was? No need in simply killing a style as it was when it is still being brewed.
 I write this only to encourage discussion on the topic. When changing guidelines how trendy should we be, should we shift to limit or expand? I don’t think there’s any perfect answer, I’m just not sure “whatever the current trend is” is the best answer.

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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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