Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Written by Ken Carman

Beer Judging Dynamics

For someone who only occasionally enters a beer in competition, oh, how I love to judge. I suppose a comment fellow judge Ben Cowan made during NHC: National Homebrew Competition, pretty much sums it up…

“Oh, how I love to judge. Every time I judge I learn more about beer and styles of beer.”

And I would add…

“…and the more I learn about people.”


There are many different kinds of judges, many different styles of judging. Two of the many types of judging, the ones the BJCP mention frequently, is top down vs. bottom up. No that doesn’t mean who gets to be bottom and who gets to be top. That’s the sex competition, next door down.

What it means is you either score per mouthfeel or aroma, for example, and tally then adjust, or guess where you want it to place and then try to get the scores to match, then adjust.

I know of no judge that uses just one. Every judge I know uses a mix. And many do what I do: adjust to the group I’m judging with as I go along, often to be in sync, but sometimes to counter what I think are misconceptions regarding a beer we have been discussing. That means I intentionally go just enough higher or lower to make my point and not be more than 7, or 5, or whatever the spread is they want in scores during any specific competition.

But beer judging goes a lot deeper. This last competition had several perfect examples. One judge tasted a beer and had his opinions. Discussing was pretty much beyond the point. I did find it ironic that this was a judge who had never judged before, to my knowledge, and had never taken the BJCP test. Usually I find most of these kinds of judges are highly ranked… and obnoxious… and frequently wrong. They will take a taste and then lecture the room, or at least their fellow judges, on what they should say.

Unprofessional, even for the one Grand Master who did this. “Grand Master” status doth not make you God, and yes, sir, you too could be wrong. Luckily this judge, this time, just softly stated his case, but no adjustment was going to happen unless I did it to my own score as much as I could.

I did, but I wasn’t happy.

Then you have the opposite. One judge I judged with was my worst enemy, and I use that in the kindest way cause I loved the flight we shared together. We talked about the beer, made jokes about the beer, and things escalated. It was as if we were trying to outdo each other with the beer related jokes.

Damn that was fun, but really not what we should have been doing. Or at least not as much.

I love to judge with those who will listen to what I have to say about a beer and try to find the defects, problems, or superb qualities I find in any given entry. I try to do the same. If we don’t find common ground, we don’t. But we still try to adjust to each other either way.

That is a real learning experience.

Now another of my least favorite kind of judges I met last year at Blue Bonnet in Texas. I had many fine flights, but at one we were judging a Wee Heavy. I thought it a grand Scottish entry but simply didn’t have enough body for a Wee. Unable to convince me otherwise both judges at the table agreed that they thought they knew who the brewer was and he’s “always on the mark.”

Well, we agreed to disagree, but agreed to place it second when the other two wanted it first. So that was good. But, ah guys?

If you think you know the brewer you really shouldn’t judge the beer.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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