A Beer Judge’s Diary: Savannah

Picture judging glasses courtesy Sandy Cockerham
By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 I have headed a few mead tables. The fact I have headed every mead table I’ve been at up until now says something important: we need more actual mead judges in the BJCP. In fact at the first few I headed, well over ten years ago; closer to twenty, I got the sense mead was, like Harry Potter, the poor stepchild of BJCP world: living under the stairs; only because the favored son (beer) was the star of the family. Not cruel, as in Harry Potter, more an anomaly in an organization started around beer.
 There were reasons for so few mead judges. Back in the legacy days you had to find a sit down write test for beer that included tasting. I drove to Knoxville for my second legacy test out of Nashville, beer-wise. Tests local enough to drive to were tough to find, sometimes. Mead was worse. Has that improved? Yes. But even now finding a mead tasting test in the southeast is tough. Thankfully, like beer, they went online with the questions. Tasting, so far, has been long drive to out of Nashville, and there are so few… in comparison.
 I certainly would love to give mead tests, but first I need endorsement, obviously.
 As I started to study again for an upcoming test, I decided judging a mead only competition might be helpful. I chose Domras because I entered a Dunkelwiezen Braggot a while back and the comments I got back were quite interesting and helpful. The fact it did well was secondary, at best.
 Run by Savannah Brewers: judge coordinator was Chris Stovall. John Wilson was the competition organizer. They had 194 entries, 120 participants, 39 judges and 22 stewards. Started in 1999, the competition was named after Chuck Domras; who passed on shortly after the Cup started filling judge’s glasses, and has been running for 22 years. And, to make me feel at home, including me they had 3 Ken judges. Judging needs more Kens, as does the universe. Soon we vil b takin uber die world!
John W. Stevens Wetland Center
 This was held at the John W. Stevens Wetland Center in Richmond Hill, Georgia: a grand little park with beautiful magnolias. While the room was a little echo-y it was perfect otherwise: room for many tables, side rooms for organizing entries, pre-pouring them, cooking. They had a back building for a big tap system.
 The room for pouring was important since the meads entered came in many different types of bottles and having judges know who entered entries is the antithesis of good competition practices. Recognizing who made what is easier with mead because bottle types can vary a lot more. Stewards did a great job bringing pre-poured long stem glasses to us, though we did mention at first pour we needed less. We might have been quite happy midway otherwise!
 Unfortunately the lights I brought to highlight each entry were useless: when I put the first sample on the light it insisted it wanted to slide off. Uh, NO! Next time I’ll know better.
 I was very surprised. Apparently they do a lot of prejudging because there was only one flight in the morning. We had two teams on fruit mead. I sat there with my laminated mead cheat seat, the purpose of which was to use more of the right terms and expand upon what I commented on. I find judging in itself can tend to rush one through commentary, so having a sheet reminding me what I should be commenting on helped. That “rush” has NOTHING to do with alcohol, of course!
 At the judging table we had Chris and Justin. Summer was also at the table: mead judging support as she brightened up the table with her incredibly pleasing smiles. We were very close 90% of the time, and only really far apart once. As with all judging different judges noticed different things, but actually were were close many times when it came to that.
 I enjoyed a quote I culled from Chris about berry mead. I’ll be paraphrasing since I didn’t write it down. Essentially it goes like this: a fruit mead shouldn’t taste like almost all fruit with the honey as a distant after thought. It is, after all, “mead.” I assume that guideline would also work for what I like to brew a lot: braggots. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a braggot, it would be beer with a little honey. And it would be a different category, different guidelines: as in “beer.”
Picture judging room courtesy Sandy Cockerham
  Afterward, while big BOS went on, some of the food was brought out, but I appreciated that a lot was held back until big BOS was over. More than a few times I have sat at big BOS and found a lot of the food gone by the time we finished. Doubt that would have happened. I was told no one would go hungry. Of that I have no doubt because of all the of food I saw: pizzas, subs, morning breakfast burritos, quiche, donuts. And they had more coming when I left.
 In a separate building they had taps for beer using a different style of judging. One dollar bills went into separate envelopes as ‘votes.’ Considered a “beauty pageant.” The money raised by this and some of the raffle went to a good cause: The Ronald McDonald House of the Coastal Empire (or Savannah RM House).
 Entertainment was provided as we did the raffle. The winners were announced. 1st place was Kristopher Pruit (along with Karen Pruit) with a pyment called Dew of Yggdrasil. The rest can be found here.
 Being from out of town, meeting new people, was fun. But I REALLY didn’t need to eat or drink more. Unfortunately I missed the cuisine being brought from a local Irish restaurant. But the area has changed a lot since I was here in the 80s, I thought any more food or drink would complicate things. Best go back to the motel.
 Hope to bring the boss: Millie, next year. Also Certified.
 After I got home the next day E-mails with Chris Stovall were helpful, he said soon they’d doing a discussion group about what went wrong and right. GREAT idea! While researching this column I noticed they’re planning for a Limoncello competition, and will be designing their own guidelines. Known as the guy who has created a few “weird brew” competitions this touches my sense of love for odd and unique. Excellent!
 I loved their long stem glasses, even though the lights I brought were useless to highlight the quaff, to improve visual assessment. Domras logo etched into the glass. I loved how easy it was to slip into mead judging, but come well prepared if you haven’t before: even if you have. Like beer judging what you need to know, need to comment on, has specific terms, specifics more like wine than beer that need to be addressed, and everything mead related has gotten more complex that last time I studied for the test. I did a lot of studying before, and Chris Stovall sent judges pirate’s bounty worth of information on mead judging, and how Domras differs from other competition.
 Even after all that, and about a month of starting to work on taking the test, I feel I definitely could have done better.
 That is the continued adventure, and one of the reasons I started this column. Thanks Domras for the opportunity. I always learn, but at this competition even more so.

                             -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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