The Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman

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

The Topic: Judging Mead Part II

Greetings from the beer judge who likes to challenge how things are being done, perhaps a bit too much. If you remember, a few weeks ago, in another edition of BB, I suggested that we streamline the process of taking the Mead exam with a provisional Mead judge status and an online exam. The response I got back was intriguing, and logical. Considering the response I wanted to write just a little more on the topic.

Before I do that, I must state that I am happy that the BJCP responds so well, so quickly, to its members. As with any organizations there are certainly those who don’t always do this well… and admittedly there are those who challenge who think their “challenge” is more important than the organization itself. I am not one of those folks.

In addition I will add that anything I say could be wrong headed, or misguided. I do understand that I am not directly involved in designing and implementing these programs. Having been an entertainer who designs and sells my own shows for children since 1984, I very well understand there’s a big gap between conceptualizing, then designing something, and even more so: implementing something. Sometimes people suggest ways of doing things and they really don’t understand because they aren’t actually involved in “making it happen,” that it simply won’t work that way. Things rarely work when put to use exactly as one expects them to when you put them into practice.

Now, to address some of the concerns raised about my last proposal…


1. I understand the BJCP is a volunteer organization, including all the benefits, and problems, that incurs. As a member of three homebrew clubs, and other organizations/churches in the past, that’s obviously a concern.
2. I understand that instituting anything does take a lot of time, and volunteer effort… whether it be a cider designation and test, or an online mead test. No solution, or change, in such situations is either perfect or instantaneous.
3. I understand the BJCP’s present direction is towards creating a separate judge category for cider, like they did with mead, rather than finding ways to increase the number of mead judges.

That last one going to be the focus of this edition of The Brew Biz.

I do believe it wise to have a separate designation for mead, and eventually for cider, however, one must wonder: wouldn’t it be better to have a good foundation of mead judges, who can also judge cider, first? Especially since it takes so long? Having regular judges do this is fine, but wouldn’t more in-depth training via studying and testing be better?

If we have few mead judges, even fewer cider judges, perhaps we are doing this a bit backwards. As of now we have few tests for just mead. I know from my main homebrew club: Music City Brewers in Nashville, Tennessee, getting everyone together to do just the BJCP beer-judge regular test is tough. Since my wife and I joined in 1998 there have been two tests I know of and at least one that was cancelled. This is not counting the recent tasting exam: not counting the tasting because that should count on my side of the argument. However there is an good indicator of which direction might be the best: not long at all after the new online exam was started the club was motivated to do the tasting portion of the test.

Why?

I’m sure because, due to the online exam, we had several provisional judges eagerly waiting to be called just “judges.”

Isn’t that the kind of motivation we need to get better judges for mead, and eventually cider?

This is what I would like to see nationwide. Yes, you don’t have to have mead judges to proctor a mead exam, but if it’s tough getting a club together to do the old legacy exam, how tough is it to enough folks together for a sit down mead exam? Not to mention study and tasting sessions, pre-exam. Before my first BJCP exam we had online education with a pro-brewer, and getting folks motivated to set aside their busy lives and do that was tough. I “hung with” because my own professional life is far more adjustable, and able to accommodate, such things.

Getting folks together to study, work on tasting, then do the regular test takes quite a bit. Certainly mead is tougher, and cider as hard, or harder. Why? Look at the “B” in “BJCP.” We are “beer.”

While any exam should be “tough, but fair,” I would think making it easier to be able to take the exam might be in the interest of the BJCP. You start with mead, which that includes cider, for now, then move on to cider. Just seems logical to me, but again… I admit I’m not in the trenches with those implementing the new cider designation, cider test.

When I took my second BJCP beer exam I drove to Knoxville, getting up at 2 am in Nashville. Getting to, and finding, or getting folks together for the legacy test, was always tough: but doable, even if you have to drive a few hundred miles.

Let’s look at the available mead exams right now. I would need to drive to, or fly to and take a motel room in, Sacramento in February? Milwaukee in March? St. Paul in May?

So why not just bring a test to Nashville? For the very same reason I had to drive 180 miles to take mine: getting folks together.

The situation at my club in Nashville is not unique from discussions I’ve sat in on at meetings of clubs in, say, Saratoga, NY or the Mississippi Coast. One of my other memberships is in Pensacola, Florida. We have yet to hold an official BJCP/AHA beer competition there. I have been pushing for it, along with others.

Right now the mead designation includes ciders. If we had more mead judges in waiting: provisional, therefore more incentive to do a tasting part of the exam, our knowledge base for these styles would increase, our proficiency in judging these categories would increase and the quality of our score sheets for these categories would increase.

To use a common metaphor, aren’t we trying to make the horse push the cart: “the cart before the horse?”

Please don’t get me wrong: as a brewer of braggots, I am grateful either way. The special attention is appreciated. Mine is simply an argument of which should go first: more qualified judges to bolster the last new designation, or even more designations. And more category specific judges to help proctor exams. Experience and education count, right?

Once again, let me make it clear: I support what they are doing now.

My point is only that how we’re doing it may be a bit backwards.

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting 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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