A Beer Judge’s Diary: Bluff City Homebrew Extravaganza

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For previous editions of “A Beer Judge’s Diary” on this site please search under “Brew Biz: Werts and All.”

Written by Ken Carman


Ken Carman is a Certified BJCP beer judge who has been brewing beer since 1979, judging beer since 1998. Ken has judged beer from Texas, to Florida to Albany, NY. A Diary of a Beer Judge is all about personal reflections regarding various homebrew competitions.

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  286 entries, 117 brewers, 37 judges, 19 sponsors, 9 stewards: slightly over 100 judged that Saturday.
  This competition has been at Boscos Squared every time we have judged at it. According to their site this is the 25th annual. We have judged in Memphis at least 3 times, once even staying at our friends’ house, Jody and Phil Kane. That’s Phil to the right and below doing his He-Man impression, or at least practicing to achieve his next, best, hernia. His wife, Jodie, does not bear any responsibility for his frequent odd behavior, so instead of a hernia I suppose you could call it a… “hisnia?”
  However, having an old man collie (14!), who’s going from brilliant to a little befuddled, on our front porch from 4am until past sundown we felt it best not to stay the night.
  Boscos Squared is a pretty good place to judge beer. With wooded alcoves that isolate judging teams and also keep the noise down, the only real problem here is you’re judging at a restaurant. That’s only a problem because, as with any business of this kind, customers come first and beer judging takes up precious space, needed tables. McGuires in Pensacola replaced its sampling bar next to the brewery to make room for more customers. Beer-wise I always thought that sad: and it was a beautiful bar celebrating a dedication to making fresh, in-house, beer. However, being an always packed place: table space must come first, and is always at a premium, I would think, that not unusual in the brewpub-biz. Just like I’m sure space can be at a premium on any busy Saturday at Boscos Squared in Memphis.
phil+brew11-300x225   But otherwise Boscos Squared does work well. A restaurant, by definition, is a busy place where people and servers come and go. Alter it too much and the environment becomes less judging friendly. Raise the ceiling, add a lot of hard surfaces and sound bounces around like bullets from a machine gun fired into a huge metal chamber.
  Again: the restaurant’s business comes first, and even when we used to judge at Hillsboro location for The Music City Brewoff, I always thought the staff did an incredible job there too.
DSCN0195  We seemed to have plenty of judges.
  For some reason they let me judge with this elderly woman, one year younger than me, who has been following me around for almost 40 years. Yes, I have a stalker. A stalker I married. Millie, my wife, is BJCP too.
  We were one of three teams judging Porters. Our team had most of the Robust Porters. Only one had a defect, so sorting them out was more “fun.” Sincerely: last time we did this in Chattanooga I swear they picked out the worst for our team. I know: luck of the the draw: and latter that afternoon in Chattanooga I swear we got the best.   But that’s how beer judging goes.
  While you glance at the schwag below and to your left that brewers can get when they buy tickets for the raffle, let me mention what’s been going on in beer-judge world since I first started judging in 1998. The quality of the entries has increased immensely. One year, prejudging upstairs in Nashville’s Boscos/Hillsboro Village, we had one I, unfortunately, called “dirty diaper beer.” Unfortunate because the name stuck and those who enter competitions deserve more respect. But as time has gone on those one might insensitively label as “dirty diaper” have pretty much gone away. Yes, we still get some entries with defects, but those defects seem less problematic, and less in quantity. Now it’s more frequently about judging what fits into the category better and which is the most amazing, “I want a case of that right now,” type-of beer. That makes our jobs as judges harder, but pleasantly so.
  And it says a whole lot of wonderful about homebrewers these days.
 Many thanks to the staff at Boscos Squared. They put up with us well and were professional. The lunch, free to the judges, was wonderful. Millie had a chicken salad. I had chopped up cow with essence of cow milk turned into a pleasing sold substance on a bun. Others would call it a cheeseburger. It was wonderful. I’m just having fun, that’s all.
DSCN0197  The afternoon session, for us, was Sours. We only had five and one was excellent: a nice muted, but obvious, sour in the background with a solid malt backbone. Not that the others were bad, this just stood out.
  Then on to BOS. Let me mention that this is the third time I’ve judged BOS with Ken Haycock. He introduced to me the concept of doing 5-7 beers, starting lighter to darker/hoppy-er/spicier, knocking out what we can, then DSCN0198replacing those beers with the next in line. There is no perfect way to do BOS, and I would admit that the downside to this method is I think one beer we put to one side early in BOS might get less consideration another we put to one side later. The chance to revisit a beer in BOS could be very important. But, to be honest, having 20 plus beers in front of you can lead to just as many issues: especially space issues.
  So I prefer this method, but understand those who might rather have everything in front of them at one time.
 There were two other BOS judges but, due to certain conflicts, they varied a tad. Apologies that I didn’t write your names down.
 The thing I like best judging with Ken is the respect and the give and take we seem to have developed between the two of us. If we don’t agree: that’s OK, and the rule that everyone’s palate varies seems to be dealt with in the best possible of ways while judging.
 Plus he paid me to type this. Ya, owe me brewer with the best first name in the world.
  Yeah: kidding. Except about “the best first name.”
  It was pretty hard, they were all great beers. The Sour Millie and I judged earlier hung on until almost the end, but the thing I was exceedingly pleased about is that a wonderful Mead came in second and a Saison came in first. Neither styles get as much respect as they should in competition, especially Mead. For a Sweet this was perfect. The BJCP has recognized the problem and has started a Mead judge certification program, something I hope to partake of if ever offered the opportunity.
  We had gotten up at 3am to make it here, and I had had almost no sleep that night. Phil even has a picture of me dozing off he was planning on asking for blackmail for on Saint Patty’s day. Does that make it “greenmail?”
Phil says, “Rats. He knows about my evil plans! Foiled again, nah, ha, ha.”
  So after crossing myself after passing the most holy altar of brewing, we returned to Nashville.
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A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman, and celebrates homebrewers, and professionalism in beer judging
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