A Beer Judge’s Diary: Things to Consider When Planning a Competition

By Ken Carman

By Ken Carman

 I am hoping to make this an occasional feature in the Diary. Millie and I have been judging since the 90s, and since I travel a lot for work and judge occasionally on the road, and we like to do a few out of town competitions together… we get to see more competitions than some judges, I suppose.
 Sometimes it’s something that seems insignificant, like a top to a sample cup. These were those plastic cups most competitions use. I think this was at Knickerbocker in Albany: run by Saratoga Thoroughbrews. While it may seem small, there’s something very satisfying about being able to shake a glass as much as you want without getting your hand wet, or spilling it on yourself. Plus it can hold aroma in quite well while you inspect appearance. As judges well know aroma can be a fleeting thing, yet head can be too. To judge a beer it can be a chicken or egg situation, as in “which best to look at first, which will I lose faster if I don’t get to it first?” The top helps to resolve that.
 Oh, and since there’s plenty of aroma, helps solve the, “Oh, !%$#, I just got beer up my nose” slosh problem.
 One sample cup concept I have mixed feelings about was at AWOG in the Buffalo area: run by Niagara Association of Homebrewers. They use actual glasses for judging: small. It’s a great idea and the presentation is superb. But the cleaning! Quite the effort from what I’ve seen. They take them away, rinse and return.
 Honestly? Nice; the glass feels great and improves presentation a tad. But the plastic glass works fine for me, and we have possible breakage and more work. Have a plentiful supply of volunteers? Great, and it definitely helps environmentally: less landfill gunk. But if I had to choose between the two: I’d much rather have the top. If volunteers are in short supply I’d rather focus more on enabling the actual judging… not that AWOG has a problem with that. Anything but, in my opinion.
  By the way, I do find most sample glass glasses, probably due to less surface tension: due to less actual surface space available, tend to provide poor head. That’s part of the judging process and the plastic glasses with the wide top just seem better for both retention and presentation of that head.
 Sometimes something seems counter-intuitive, but works… at least at that competition. At the Charlotte Open, Charlotte, North Carolina, they have a worst beer of the competition award. Club members, usually, compete for this award by brewing a bad beer with an equally bad name. It provides some humor to the sometimes far too dry awards ceremony. I suspect they’re very careful to keep it tongue in cheek and not embarrass brewers who were trying to get honest feedback, or clueless as to how problematic their beers may be.
 Probably one of my favorite lessons was something Ken Haycock: beer judge from Little Rock, taught me at The Bluff City Extravaganza, Memphis. For big BOS I find the concept of 20 plus beers being in front of you problematic, mostly because each beer gets less attention than it should, in my opinion. Adding to the complications of having so many beers in front of you would be room and table availability concerns. Trying to spread out 20 plus beers with limited elbow room can be a problem. Tables are often small.
 Here’s the method Ken taught me…
 You start with category one and pull the first 5 best ofs. You could do 7. Decide, together, which you want to keep and which you’d rather set to one side to go back to… if needed. You keep weeding them out that way as you progress through the categories.
 It’s not perfect. I think sometimes we set aside some too quickly and then never go back to them, when maybe we should have. But it sure beats having all those samples in front of you, crowding out a table. If you have one hell of a huge table and a minimum number of BOS judges… less of a problem.
 AWOG has a BOS method somewhat like this but I only saw it briefly. Maybe someday I’ll get to the big table at AWOG and learn, or maybe some of our AWOG readers would like to share? I’m sure The Professor would love to publish it.
 That’s it, for now. Next time I return to this topic I may go to what I’d rather not keep in competitions: maybe even things no competition should have.


A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman: a column that celebrates both homebrewers and professionalism in beer judging.

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