U.S. Open: Charlotte

Reported by Ken Carman for Professor Goodales

Many thanks to Tom Henderson for most of these photos

Millie and I hadn’t been in Charlotte since 1986. Millie’s brother, and his wife, moved to Charlotte quite a few years back and, more important, they’re both beer lovers. Chris would have been in high school back when we visited in 86. Thought it about time we took the plunge and climbed the mountains between North Carolina and Tennessee for a visit.

“Hey, Millie, there’s a homebrew competition in Charlotte! Let’s go visit! Everyone loves it when the relatives visit, right?”

Gulp.

So Chris, Colleen and their sons Ryan, Sean had visitors last weekend, as “Uncle Buck” Ken and Auntie Millie pulled into Charlotte late Friday afternoon. Early the next morning we headed off to the competition. The kind folks at Carolina BrewMasters, which included Bill Lynch: organizer and Richard Lane: head judge… amongst many… agreed to let our two competition virgins judge and steward. Actually it was by my request that we keep Chris and Colleen under our wings and one judge with us, one steward.

I think they found the experience interesting, educational and… fun!

First came the instructions for the judges and the stewards…

Then we walked through the brewery to the judging tables. Past where we registered…

A total of 415 entries, about 40 judges, total. Nine entries for Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Rein Stein Pale Ale competition; GABF Pro-Am entries including a chance to get your beer brewed at Meck.

“Meck? Yes, the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, a German-style brewery near downtown Charlotte. In the pictures below you see a tour that went through while we were judging. I snapped the picture while headed to the bathroom. These are not great pictures: my camera tends to be spastic, unlike the great Tom Henderson pictures. Thanks, Tom!

I must admit. I’m more of an exotic, Belgian or English kinda guy than a lager, German purity law fellow, and I was hoping to show Chris and Colleen just how varied beer styles can be. So I was glad all four of us were on Belgian and French Ale, and the Sour Ales in the afternoon. It provided an interesting experience for two virgin beer lovers; virgin in the sense of “have never explored styles quite that far.”

Below you see the judging area before we arrived.

And after…

Wow, Tom. Didn’t know you had bat like powers and could hang from the ceiling while you snapped pictures. But before we consider your other name might be Bruce Wayne, let’s give credit where credit is due. Being a professional photographer I’m sure you know how to find those special perches. No bat powers required.

But your secret is safe with me. Can I take the Bat car, the Bat sub or the Bat bike for a spin?

Lunch time we had brats provided by Meck, also beer from their tasting room at the brewery. All part of the perks for being part of the competition that day.

Back to judging in the afternoon…

Now a word about judging at the Charlotte US Open and the care taken by the club. Not only did we get stick on labels, stick on name tags, but we also had calculators and flashlights we could use. I have never, ever, judged in a competition where all judges were offered both of those last two, important, items. Never.

Kudos.

I love the expressions at homebrew competitions. Verbal and otherwise. This judge offered up a not so nice “what the… was that?” I tend to be too verbal, perhaps. At least once one of the judges at the other ends of the table said in response to some reaction I had: “That didn’t sound good.”

Usually all it means is I go from aroma, to appearance, and then while, on my way through mouthfeel and flavor, I suddenly realize the first two are nothing like the taste, or what lingers on my palate. That can be good… or not. Often more of a, “Huh? What the…”

But then you have those fascinating moments when you find something you simply love to analyze, or a beatific YUM! moment. When I find something amazing I tend to tilt my head and melt into the moment. That doesn’t happen a lot, but I wait breathlessly for those moments… even though I find it hard to judge those kind of beers. I tend to wonder, “Is it really that close to perfection, or am I missing something?”

Through with the final flight we headed off to the brewery’s tasting room. Sat in the room next door waiting for the raffle and the awards. I must admit I found the awards a bit odd in one sense: they gave an award for the worst beer and then read some of the comments. Funny, sometime during the 20 plus years of the Charlotte US Open, apparently this became a tradition.

I gather the picture of the logo on the shirt was one of the past winners?

Yup! I E-mailed Richard Lane, head judge and he explained it this way: “We have a member that is the butt of many jokes, so the past two years he has won with his Defecator Dopplebock and this year was his Urinator Maibock.”

Now, such awards can be fun, but what about the perps who crashed the party? Ah, here are the criminals, the ugly blond guy and the lady are from Nashville. The innocent looking guy was kidnapped to be a beer judge and steward second flight. His wife, Colleen, who took the picture, was hijacked to do the same, only in reverse. Her husband probably doesn’t even know she has that gear in her transmission. Though she probably tells him, occasionally, to “get it in gear,” especially early in the morning, heading off to the US Open.

Meanwhile other judges were off doing BOS: best of show…

Award time!

You have awards for brewing a winning beer, and schwag for the judges…

But, other than the beer, isn’t this next picture a bit much of an award for a great judge?

Brewer Award Ceremony

Richard Lane, head judge, told me that their aim each year is to break even. Unlike their big fundraiser, Charlotte Octoberfest, where they raise about $50,000 annually for charity.

We had planned on leaving early: for various reasons like dogs waiting for us, theirs and ours. I swear our collie, Frankincense, showed up at the door making noises like a concerned mother whose daughter stayed out later than we told him we’d be home. That’s because, after a bit of discussion, we decided to wait for the award ceremony.

We enjoyed it all.

As we all pondered judging again in 2012.