A Beer Judge’s Diary: A Judging Question

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 My apologies to the good people at this competition. Like most competitions they do a great job with what they’re handed year after year: conditions change, locations have to change, as Dave Houseman once told me, “You do what you have to do.”
 I decided not to do an article directly on the competition because I was part of only two flights, two people, one day. But more important there was another story I need to tell; a story that required a certain amount of anonymity.
 I won’t tell you the name of the competition, where it was, when it was and only two names… and just first names. I’d appreciate some answers: like what else I could have done, or most important comments regarding how I handled it.
 First flight: very early afternoon, was Malty German Lagers. I was very happy: I judged with Dawn and she left enthused. She left interested in pursuing judging.  Success!
 Late afternoon judging was with Adam who has entered my competition many times and won too frequently. (&%#@! it Adam, have you ever even considered brewing a crappy beer???) I am just starting to actually get to know him through a few club meetings I attended. We were doing ciders.
 For two judges: neither of whom are cider judges, but having a certain amount of cider making and cider judging experiences under our ever expanding with age belts, I thought it went well. (Well, mine is expanding, not Adam. He’s quite buff. Sorry, ladies, he’s taken. As I sign off on this sidebar singing, “Tracis of love…”)
 Well, “went well” until we hit two entries.
 As a judge this is one of those moments I tend to steer away from what I THINK is protocol, only because I feel it’s not fair to those who enter. I have had judging sheets arrive in my mailbox where it’s obvious the judges didn’t know what they were judging, had the wrong information, or even seemed to not care that they may not have been giving the correct information I KNOW I sent. Once I sent a competition special ingredients on a braggot three times and they finally said they got it. I put it in the shipping box first as instructed, then I E-mailed it when they said they hadn’t gotten it, and finally Millie E-mailed it to them. Yet despite telling her they got it both judges sheets read, “We have no information on this entry.”
 So this is a sensitive issue for me. That’s one hell of a big disincentive to entering. I stopped for many years. I finally entered recently just for feedback and while I didn’t score well some feedback was pretty good.
 The first cider of the two was supposed to be with concord grapes. Instead of grapes it obviously had Christmas-like spices. This wasn’t a bad one by any means, but there’s no way anyone could have tasted this, in my opinion, and think concord grapes instead of Christmas-like spices. We asked for the second bottle which was less aggressive, but still had the same spices. It didn’t get a great score and I told the entrant it probably would have scored better if it had been as described. We also asked organizers to check to make sure there wasn’t any paperwork snafu. There hadn’t been.
 Pretty standard. I think we did all we could, until…
 Two or three entries later in the flight we had an entry that was supposed to have those same kind of spices. I have loved concord grapes ever since, as a kid, my Cousin Joyce’s family had a small, family, vineyard. We’d greedily snatch grapes off of until we had our fill. This entry had: to my palate, a distinct Concord grape sense. I would challenge anyone to find those spices in that entry.
 That’s just too weird. As Adam said, maybe it was just a cowinkydink. OK, I used “cowinkydink,” not Adam, because I love to entertain myself and my readers as I write, so lay off! I’m doing my best! What, am I supposed to be PERFECT? Are you? Why I… oh, what was I writing about?
 Enough Kavanaugh-ing!
  We pulled the second bottle again, double checked the paperwork both digital and hard copy. (Well, organizers checked the paperwork, the steward pulled the bottle.) In case you’re curious the organizers said it was different entrants. We asked because we wondered if the entrant had entered the wrong bottles: mixed them up. Adam took what I would say is the classic BJCP stance: he just judged it ‘as entered.’
 This is where I veered. I understand you’re not supposed to judge one entry against another, but that’s really not what I did. As well as going through the categories explaining what I sensed I also explained on the top of the sheet and elsewhere what had happened, and also mentioned we had to judge it as is, including a possible higher score comment if the entry had matched what we were told. My one regret is I didn’t get the previous sheet and write it on that too. It was a long flight and my judging time was tempered by a collie waiting in my combo cabin/big dog pen far away. He was OK, and as usual went nuts when he saw me.
 Yes, I suppose it could be a sorting error, though lining up so perfectly seems odd. I have been judging since about 99 or 2000. I have helped label, sort, etc: everything, and been judging since either 1999 or 2000: close to zero mistakes. It’s surprising so few mistakes happen, but we’re all human, except Bottle Bot: manufactured by Stupid Brew Systems in 2009, who immediately abandoned his sorting job and ran off with Old Engine Oil. (That’s maybe why some of you haven’t seen that brand for a while.)
 Jokes aside… I understand the concept of judging as is, but I would rather those who enter any competition keep entering competitions. Seems to me just getting sheets back that indicate the judges can’t tell the difference between concord grapes from Christmas spices is enough to make both entrants think, “Why the %$#@! did I bother?” I felt explaining my comments might lessen the impact.
 I did what I thought was right. Did I?


A Beer Judge’s Diary is one of many columns by Ken Carman, Certified BJCP beer judge, homebrewer since 1979 and seeker of both simple and complex quaffs who once upon a time thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast in the 60s. Thus the adventure began.

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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