A Beer Judge’s Diary: Taking the Mead Tasting Test, Bay Shore, Long Island, NY


Andrew Luberto: BJCP Grand Master, mead, Advanced Cicerone

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
Note: Readers will be wondering, “You took a test on Long Island when you live in Nashville?” So this edition will provide a lot of context. Hence why it reads even more like a diary than previous editions.

 This is the 3rd test I have taken since I became Certified BJCP back in the 2000’s. Usually my main purpose is using tests as a self teaching tool. They inspire me to go out of my way and study more, learn more. I don’t want to be a judge who just passes the test, gets his rank, and never does anything to improve, to challenge myself. For me the pressure of an upcoming test is perfect.
 Though these tests can be like an advanced refresher course, with this test I had as strong an incentive to achieve a mead endorsement.

Mead judging at Austin, NHC. Courtesy Beer and Wine Journal
 I have tried to spread the beer tasting tests apart, time-wise, because I understand more new judges is important.
 Bringing at least one more mead judge to the mid-South competitions matters to me. The mid-South is somewhat of a mead judging desert, in my opinion.
 Since we don’t have the mead judges we need there are few (to no) mead entries. Far less than I hope for. So if I pass, dare I hope, dare I dream, dare I imagine, as a mead judge I might become Johnny Apple Mead? (Did that weak attempt at a joke make you Cy… Sir?)
 I will start by reporting the basics of how my beer journey, that started in the 70s, had me arriving at Bay Shore, Long Island, for a mead tasting test all the way from Nashville, TN. Then… specifics of the test itself; as much as I can offer. Third… observations, especially personal analysis. I WILL be quite critical of myself. Last… the big wave goodbye as I headed north, with some personal notes.
 I started brewing in the 70s. Then in the 2000’s I began brewing braggots: kind of a back door to mead at the time. The style appealed to me because I enjoy complex quaffs. When I told fellow brewers at the time what I was brewing I’d get, “What is THAT?” This was when online wasn’t a thing yet and legacy mead tests were even harder to find than Sinclair brand dinosaur era-based fuel on my main route.
 I had to rely on Thruway Sunoco to get here instead.
 Yes, I have a history of doing idiotic things like driving long distances to take BJCP tests. My second Legacy was in Knoxville. My other two, post Certified, were in Atlanta. This year I almost drove to Pittsburgh area from Nashville for a mead test, but it was canceled.
 I took my online mead test just before COVID really hit. Because of COVID the tasting portion of several regular BJCP tests have been canceled for obvious reasons, and I only have a year to get this done. That has been difficult: tasting tests for mead have been even harder to find. There are close to none in the mid-South.
Knickerbocker 2014. Courtesy Chad’z Beer Reviews
 I started judging beer around 1998, became BJCP in the 2000’s, I find it unfortunate; except one mead only competition in Savannah this year, that I always end up head of the table when there is a mead table. There just doesn’t seem to be enough mead judges; especially in the mid-South. And not just the South. One of the first mead tables that I became the head judge for was at Knickerbocker, back when the competition was in Albany. I wanted to learn so I told the organizer if he had a mead judge coming I would love to judge with them so I could learn more. Never guess who had to cancel?
 Through this column I have become an advocate for more mead judges.
 So many tests have been caught in the COVID viral trap: canceled, and that’s just beer I’m referring to. Mead tests? About as depopulated as the planet in the movie On the Beach. In other words: close to nada.
 One of the reasons I was excited was that Andrew Luberto was doing one in Bay Shore, NY. (Long Island) Having seen his online presence I knew he would do it right, and from the start he assured me distancing and masks would be involved. And when it comes to judging I have found his advice sound. Check out this one.
 Luckily my wife Millie, and I, own two places in the western Adirondacks, where I’m partially from. Still I had to get up at stupid o-clock to get there. I woke up even earlier and decided to go anyway. I’ve NEVER trusted what I knew was between me and Bay Shore: NYC traffic. I partially grew up in Nyack, NY, and went into the City with Dad many times. He worked on Park Ave. I have driven through NYC as well, so I knew too early up, too early out; not a bad plan. Things happen in a city that makes sardines in a can jealous that they can’t get that close together.
 The Brewer’s Collective: love the sign and tongue in cheek historical context to it, is in a deceptive old industrial building. You’d hardly know it’s there. The door: pictured at the bottom, opens into a large room. The size difference reminded me of Doctor Who‘s Tardis. Small, seemingly insignificant, door… open and enter a huge interior. Though it was dressed up nothing like the British phone booth-ish Tardis. (Not necessarily a design suggestion. But it would be great concept for a Brit brewery tasting room, eh?)
Like the Collective: small but big inside

 I got there early so I had time to talk with Eric, who was going to be a proctor, and Sarah, who along with her husband, is one of the owners. Sorry, Sarah and Eric, your pictures didn’t come out. But it was great I got to do that. Otherwise I knew I had to leave early: old friend I promised to meet and a long drive back.
 I have been a proctor before. (That table is in the picture to your right) It is enjoyable, interesting; and absolutely an honor to be asked.
 Here are the meads we judged, according to my hastily written notes…
1. Traditional Semi Sweet with Orange Blossom honey
2. Experimental, Orange Blossom, Chouffe yeast. (It was hard to hear some of these details due to how spread out we were and the room.)
3. Spiced, Herb, Vegetable. Sorry, I didn’t write more specifics down: too busy taking test.
4. Melomel/Blueberry (Lost my note on this one.)
5. Spice/Fruits, blackberry and black pepper
6. Spiced: clover honey, South Dakota dark Muscavado (brown) sugar
 We were all spread out with proctors close to the door, those being tested staggered through the room at picnic tables, at the serving bar and a high table with stools.
 Kudos to Andrew and the rest. I have been saying for a long time competitions and tests CAN be done in the time of COVID, and this was done right. Masks when possible, social distancing, one person table to table; two if they came together. Pouring glasses set up to facilitate a semi-sort of BOS style.
 Self criticism…
 I don’t know how well I did judging against the proctors. I may have messed up one. It started like this: cups in front of me to be poured. I hadn’t quite finished #3. When the server poured I said, “Oops! I still had some mead from the last one in there.” He said he’d be back with more. He came back and poured another.
 If that’s the one (#4) from Andrew’s notes he sent me: what he told the others after I had to leave, that would make sense. I was getting excessively sour. However I now have 3 cups that pretty much look the same as #5. (#4, #4 again and #5) #5 was supposed to be an incredible, prize winning, mead. One of those got a low score from me. I had to pour it out, and anyone who has judged with me knows I tend not to do that. It was so sour it came across as borderline vinegar to me.
 Uh, oh.
 I understand: this is all up to me. Did I somehow sabotage myself? I did try to keep the cups in order, but having two 4’s in front of me next to 5 could possibly lead to confusion. When I heard (post test) someone comment, “That’s at least a 45! Love the pepper!” (#5) I had to mutter, “Oh God, hope that wasn’t that one I scored so poorly!”
 Another problem: one messy sheet: I wrote so much it became problematic. With just a little extra time I tried to fix it then; realizing that was going to make a bigger mess, I tried to rewrite it instead.

 ”Pencils down!”

 Sigh.
 I know my handwriting has never been good though I think, through hard work previous to the test, I did far better than before. Except that one.
 The samples arrived quickly. I think the BOS style, while it had its advantages, may have cut back on time per judging. That depends on when the stop watch was started. I started mine right after mine was poured all but one time, and the time on my timer got increasingly shorter. Perspective, perhaps? I was quite busy so I can’t be absolutely be positive when I started my timer.
 Yes, Dear Reader, I admit. I tend to obsess. After all the hard work, the driving, the attention to scoresheet detail, did I sabotage myself? I know with these tests the best advice is to move on. So I’ll move on.

Dell
 Had to leave early: long drive. Old friend to meet. I couldn’t wait for Andrew to tell us what we had judged. I had pre-promised to visit my first best friend in Nyack, where I was born. Despite the fact he doesn’t drink, doesn’t like alcohol-based beverages, we always have plenty to talk about. Probably because our families were neighbors and I played pretty much exclusively with Dell, probably stared at each other as our mother’s held us and chatted. Our conversation went on for 2 hours and I hated when I had to bow out for a long drive. 2 hours? I usually I can’t stand more than 5 minutes on these feet!
 I wanted to spend as much time as possible: we almost never see each other anymore.
 Drove by the house I partially grew up in and visited my mother’s grave too, but I’ll spare you that last picture. Since she died in 68 too much of a dead issue.
 My wife tells me I’m always looking for the joke. Do you think she’s right?
 Chuckle.
 Is it worth taking tests with, at best, mixed results? Yes, when it comes to what I learn, helping me improve. As with every test I discover my weaknesses as a judge, discover style nuances, and judging considerations I didn’t appreciate as much as I had before.
 But are the distances I drive worth it?
 I have mixed feelings.
 I want to take the cider exams too but, considering even greater distances and availability…
 I have mixed feelings.
 On the plus side my sheets were very full. I think I mostly covered almost everything, other than matching the proctors. Maybe. You never know: I have seen where the proctors have strong differences.
 This test was well run. The room and the masks did create some acoustical problems: Andrew had to repeat a few times. Not sure if I caught everything. Again: I highly recommend his information rich videos online for anyone wanting to take ANY BJCP test.
 Here’s to a good result for all.
Dr. Who. Are you in there? Maybe a timelord could have saved me?

                             -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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