A Beer Judge’s Diary: 29?


“But hey, it’s not supposed to be dark but it IS American!?”

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 I can’t tell you where this happened, or the circumstances, or why more likely than not there HAD TO BE an out of style issue during this judging session. But none of that matters, really. What matters is what would be best, the right, score? I don’t care for exactness: we’re talking that scoring guide on the lower left side of the traditional judging form… Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Fair and Problematic. Since you are unable to assess this beer in person an exact score is obviously out of the question, though I will tell you the score I gave it.
 I have no interest in challenging those who judged this beer with me, or who ran the event. I was impressed with all of them: very professional. This, really, is a matter of perspective in the final analysis.
 The beer was listed as 21A: American IPA. I knew immediately there was, or I thought there was, a style issue: very hazy, almost milky. “Ah, ha!” I thought: the aroma was pure fruit, not the typical 21A, more like it was a fruit beer: less hop, more like actual fruit had been added. But I knew it wasn’t actually fruit. You know, fellow judges, where I’m going, right? When I tasted it: very little bitter: a Pale at best, lots of fruit. No clarity. No head, almost no carbonation in the solution, if I remember those last two right. HOWEVER, the taste was phenomenal! If I walked into a brewery tasting room and ordered a New England IPA this is exactly what I would hope for.
 I cringed as I gave it a 29. Why a “29?” Because I wouldn’t call it a combination of “generally within style parameters, minor flaws.” The 29 was as close as I could get to very good within the parameters set by the scoresheet. Afterwards I found out others: higher ranked, scored it in the 40s.
 What? Huh? Whatdatabout?
 So I carefully read the guidelines again and apparently 21B is usually American-related. Seems there’s at least a hint it should be judged that way. The only way, in my opinion, the 40s could be the right score is if its origin is more important than other factors I have mentioned. We invented the Black IPA. If I was given a Black IPA to judge; almost light straw, and it had absolutely no sense of dark malts of any kind, should that be scored in the 40s as long as it’s excellent otherwise? Being that far off, even a 35? What about no Belgian character in a Belgian IPA and close to Imperial IPA hopping? We invented both of those, right? (Uh, NO… stay tuned.) Or a black-ish Belgian IPA with absolutely no Belgian character entered as 21A? If a White IPA is midnight black and has no White sense, if it’s excellent otherwise, should it be in the 40s? How far do we carry this torch for America was the source of many of these variations?
 Note: If I remember right Belgian IPA was created by visiting Belgian brewers who were so impressed with our IPAs they decided when they went home to invent their own version. One of the first: Urthel’s Hop It. So not so “American.”
 I’m not saying ignore how great it is. I’m not saying only rely on how close to the style it is. I’ve had entries that fall within the Guidelines perfectly but they’re unremarkable. Somewhere in the 30s seems a good guess for those, depending on other factors. I’ve had a pale ale that poured midnight black and had low hop character. Great beer, but I feel I shouldn’t push the obvious contradictions to the style aside. If it’s on the edge but still falls within the Guidelines and impressive on the palate, the aroma, mouthfeel, I usually give it a better score than one that fits dead] center down those Guidelines but is boring, in no way remarkable. How much better? Well, I’d have to be there assessing to decide, not sitting at a computer typing.
 These are my personal generalizations only, by no means regimented or gospel: I judge beer by beer. And I am not speaking for the BJCP. I’m not speaking at all. Again: I’m typing! (Chuckle.)
 I suppose one might argue since there’s no guideline for NEIPA I should have gone with 21A, but besides the fact 21 intro clearly indicates something like this most likely falls within the parameters of 21B, I seem to remember seeing a supplemental guideline for NEIPA: 21B: as it should be. And this isn’t just about the letter: it’s about how different those styles under ‘B’ are. They aren’t even close to slight variations in many cases.
 If it had just been more of a pale, or had the haze I might have done 30s: probably low 30s with it this milky/hazy… depending on other factors. If my memory brain cells haven’t rotted too much since I judged this, and I’m right about it being closer to flat than not, that alone certainly wouldn’t have deserved a 29 if the rest fit 21A and it was phenomenal. And remember: 29 is as close as I could get it without compromising my stance here.
 And why is who created it: Americans, so bloody important that a B might be scored like A? Seems to contradict most judging standards I’m familiar with. Should a Stout get a 40 when it’s more like a Red since there’s Irish heritage there?
 Even a Black IPA that’s straw in color to me smacks of more than a “minor flaw,” yet it wasn’t just any single thing was that brought forth a 29. Those who have judged with me know I can be rather strict sometimes, depending on the circumstances, but in my opinion here “strict” would have been much less than 29. There were so many factors off from 21A that over 29 seemed problematic, yet much under too harsh: it was that wonderful.
 So there’s my conundrum.
 What do you think?

NEIPA, courtesy Paste Magazine.

                             -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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