A Beer Judge’s Diary: Plattsburgh and Can Can

Can Can Awards

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
  This edition is about two of the odder competitions I’ve ever judged at. One was “odd” due to what we were judging, one where. Let’s start with “what.”
  Like Plattsburgh, Can Can is in its first year. Millie and I drove to a rather spacious house, in a community slightly outside downtown Franklin, Tennessee, that reminded me of the sumptious preplanned communities like Seaside between Destin and Panama City, Florida, or Chautauqua in southwestern New York.
  Nice place, Nathan. Almost as nice as chateau Carman.
  OK, a heck of a LOT nicer than NOT so “chateau” Carman.
  Nathan Baker’s concept is pro-brewers send in their cans and the stewards pour and serve two entries at a time. Unbeknownst to us, obviously, a few of breweries we were familiar with, and many not, from all across the country sent in their jessica
entries; some we drink here locally.
 One brewery sent in a pineapple IPA and at least one local had several entries. Nathan asked me NOT to mention the names Judgingsince announcements will be in September. Of course, when judging we had no idea, not only who they were but other information. A big no, no, judge-wise, is just a small number of breweries were sent in with little description style-wise… and I don’t just mean Kencategory. One brewer entered a standard style under experimental and not one of us could figure out what was so experimental about it. It was good for the style, but I did tell them to please mention what’s experimental about it next time… all on the back of the less than friendly to lengthy commentary AHA, check off list form.
 I kept writing “see back.” My handwriting is too big, too awkward, for the front.
 262 entries from 100 breweries. Really: as far as what Millie or I saw maybe 2-3 entries offered us nada to go on. I did recommend contacting the brewers next year, before judging, and getting more specifics. Guessing what style it is, in that one case, is No fun when judging. Really, like Luke Skywalker, judges can be very talented, but “using the force” doesn’t work all that well in competitions!
 This was a paid gig, which means Millie and I each received cash for judging. Seems to be happening more over the years. The Saturday session we had to skip: we had driving back from a family reunion they do every year in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. At first we thought we wouldn’t participate at all, but I felt it better than just sitting around Sunday.
  With 200 plus entries, this was a two day affair. The only way we could judge Saturday would be to have entries shipped to us and judge while driving home. Even if possible I think authorities might have had a “slight” issue with us driving and judging at the same time. Hmm… would have made the trip shorter, right, Millie? Thinking. Thinking. Thinking. A drive while judge competition? NAH!
  Do they make pedal taverns to accommodate that concept? If we judged commercial brews would we be pedaling their… wares?
  Lunch time was barbecue, chicken and… quite the spread. Of course I was rewarded with being sleepy right after. Carbs do that to me sometimes. Sluggish at first, I rallied about 20 minutes latter.
  I know this might annoy some judges, but I only had one gripe, and I admit it’s personal. Doesn’t keep me from judging. I’m just no fan of of the AHA check off judging sheet, as my readers well know. To me judging is more about giving the brewer your impression, and offering suggestions… not just some checked off, or circled, preconceived notion about their beer. BUT some judges prefer that form.
  As I polished this off Millie was about to head off and help finish the judging at Can Can. I’m was, and still am, thousand miles away. Later I found out she, Phil Biggerstaff, John Lawless and Kendall Joseph judged brews like herb and vegetable. There was a pumpkin they were fond of where you could actually taste the pumpkin instead of just spices like many brews of this nature. After Nathan took them out to dinner at a pub around the corner.
  Waited til I was gone, eh, Nathan?
  A joke.
  I know: a very tiny, itsy bitsy joke.
  We have two places in the Adirondacks I am setting up for our retirement. So about 5 days after Can Can I headed north after looking at the bjcp.org site to see if there was any judge-based trouble I could get myself into while up there.
 Bruce Martin started the Plattsburgh BrewFest Competition. Joined at the hip, toes and nose with Plattsburgh BrewFest, 0806161140-00to entice judges they offered two nights stay at La Quinta as part of the deal. I thought that meant I’d be judging Friday too, and had several things to do that nixed judging Friday.
  I was wrong. Rats. I could have stayed two nights!
 First time in my whole life I’ve EVER been wrong. Won’t happen again. (Sure it will. And again. And…)
  I know Plattsburgh, NY, fairly well: graduating in 1976 from PSUC (a state college). That’s the college you see to the left. Hadn’t changed all that much.
  I’ll never forget my first face to face conversation with Bruce when he asked what we might need.. .

  “Well, how about some rocks so our papers don’t fly all over the place?”

 He brought some wrenches. NO, there’s an “R” in there! Wrenches! Wrenches! Besides, what a waste, of a… just having her hold down papers.
  The competition was held under a tent in a park right next to Lake Champlain. The wind was pretty bad. Even with the wrenches to hold down the papers they flew off a few times. Pretty positive we caught all. Also glad there IS an “R” in there. The papers were not hurt. Sure would have hurt those wrenches without the “R” if they flew off like the papers, as if they were Sally Fields as The Flying Nun.
 OK, I’ll stop with the “R” jokes.
 Start time was 1pm
  Before we started I asked how many judges. “3.” The Fest ended at 6. I recommended we find a 4th judge because I felt 27 entries in 5 hours just too tight a squeeze. Luckily our Grand Master judge: Judy Pardee, dragged her husband Barry along. So he judged too. I’ve never done that. I’d NEVER drag Millie along and recruit her to… oh, wait. Never mind!
 I judged with National ranked judge Jessica Sullivan. Barry has no rank at all. So, except Barry, and hopefully NOT my (rank) smell after the long drive to the competition, I felt a little out… ranked!
 Yeah, that was a joke. Kind of. Sort of. Anywhosie…
  Judy pretty much covered mentioning all our needs that I had missed.
 We started at 1pm with only 27 entries.
  A brief mention: my wife, Millie, judged with Judy about 5-6 years ago at Knickerbocker in Albany, NY, while I was off having too much fun judging mead. Judy is one of the first BJCP Grand Masters.
  Off to the races. Now we REALLY get to “Pardee!”
0806161238-01  My team’s first entry was incredible, a Czech Pilsner. More on that latter. Another interesting entry had hops that smelled and tasted like watermelon. Unfortunately the taste also had a bitter that seemed more like watermelon pits than hop driven.
  While we got a few questions I have to praise the crowd. I have always resisted being “on display” as beer judges when asked for that option at my own: Old Forge-based, competition. But there was little interruption, just a few people casually asking questions. One person I did have to say to him, “Well I’d better get back to this.” He backed off.
  A polite crowd, for sure.
  Bruce had said he wanted first place per category, but all four of us agreed we simply didn’t have enough stand alone category entries to do that. So we did a simple one, two, three and two honorable mentions.
  At BOS we were split between the Pilsner and a Stout for #1. But the prize for #1 was for the winner’s beer to be brewed at a brewery that couldn’t do lagers. So, since we were split anyway, we decided stout one and pilsner two. A blueberry melomel did well. We all loved it, though to my palate the blueberry was a bit too too background. Since I brew braggots a lot and use different honeys, I felt what was being assessed by the others as part of the blueberry profile was really more a great mix of sweet from several types of honey with the blueberry way behind that.
  Afterwards we got to go get samples from the breweries who were open and were given food chips for free eats. This Fest0806161225-01also had cider, since it was started by a nearby Erin Frey of ADK Hard Cider, but we finished too late… or maybe I went to beer first so I missed the cider. The owner did bring us all fine samples that reminded me a tad of my cider I make out of Beaver River apples.
  I went to beer first? To quote Gomer, “Surprise, surprise!”
  As I got ready to go to the hotel I met the #2 winner who seemed quite pleased with the results.
Bruce E-mailed me and said…

  “We were sold out at 1400 people – 42 Brewers, 2 Cideries, 1 Vodka Distillery and 4 food vendors. There was a VIP session for 1 hour before and 140 VIP tickets sold out in the first hour the event was listed online. There were games such as large scale version of Janga, corn hole and jousting.
 This was our 2nd year for the event, and plans to make next year’s event even better are in the works.
 For the Homebrew Comp. there were 27 entries – most from the local area, but several from western NY as far as Buffalo.
 FYI, thank you for taking the time to talk with my buddy Tom (the Pilsner guy). He was very excited and is already working on some of the suggestions you and the other judges provided him.

 And thanks, Bruce, for helping us feel welcome, encouraging us too. Helping brewers making is what makes competition so meaningful. And it was a blessing to work with so many experienced judges, ranked or not.
 Judging is always such an adventure. The next day I drove through Adirondack High Peak region, back to our place in Eagle Bay, NY, and felt blessed to be able to spend much of my older years in the Adirondacks; writing, working on my music and especially judging beer.


Ken 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, until the very early 70s, thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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