The Beer Judge’s Diary: King of the Mountain, Mentor, OH

Getting ready to judge upstairs @ Red, Wine and Brew in Mentor.
Getting ready to judge upstairs @ Red, Wine and Brew in Mentor.

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
  I have never judged at King of the Mountain before and, only due to the fact this is the first time in 30 years my quirky schedule has ever brought me into northeast Ohio twice in the spring, not sure if I will be able to again. I hope to, but competitions that are far away from home are, by definition: “when I can.” Amber Waves of Grain in Niagara Falls, NY, is the same situation. Living in Tennessee and, by definition, not being a rich man, means I must have some excuse to travel so far other than judging.
  This year I noticed there was a competition on the weekend not too far from where I’d be staying so, well…
  I’ve only been through Mentor a few times over the years: promoting my shows or popping off of I-90 on my way to my place in the Adirondacks. Usually I just buzz by on I-90. But from the few times I’d been through here I could tell it really has exploded. Just one look at Red, Wine and Brew told me a lot of interesting businesses have entered the area since I last drove through here. And what an impressive place Red, Wine and Brew is: row after row of giant, personal library-like, wooden shelves up to the ceiling filled with exotic brews, multi-tap bar… In other words: nirvana for beer lovers.

This mega beer complex has everything!
This mega beer complex has everything!

  I parked across the street after registering and entered beer heaven.
  Registering was easy, though little did any of us know that soon a computer glitch would put us behind
The front entrance is impressive and somewhat foreboding
The front entrance is impressive and somewhat foreboding
schedule. Ah, the delights of the digital age, eh?
  I was placed at the American Ales table with four judges: two teams. Heading the other team: my friend Tim Belczak. I judged with Tim in Niagara Falls at AWOG (Amber Waves of Grain) this year. I knew things would go well. I was totally surprised when he greeted me after we registered and then doubly so when we ended up at the same table. We had 11 entries each team and, then, of course, a mini-BOS.
 This is the second time I’ve judged when computer glitches clogged up the works. Last time it was at Knickerbocker in Albany, NY, and that was worse: an important hard drive crashed. It always amazes me how well competition staff handles it, how Yoda-like calm they seem. I would be stabbing the
laptop with a lightsaber, or pulling my hair out, and I have a lot to pull.
 Gremlins. Must be gremlins. Beer thirsty gremlins.
  A busy day: 270 entries and, due to computer snafus, far less time than we would have had. Given digital tech these things happen. And we only had a certain amount of time: the room was booked for another event later in the day. But we didn’t feel rushed at all when it came to judging: kudos to the folks running King of the Mountain.
  It’s nice, though, to have a large, cavernous, room dedicated to judging and no incidents like one judge told me about at another competition. No, no boy scout troop marched through the King competition that day. Boy, that would be a distraction, though not as much as a jackhammer, a sledgehammer, people yelling instructions and having to walk the plank over wet cement to get to the bathroom. Yup, that did happen one year at another competition I judged at.
They were working on the yet to be opened multi-tap pub.
 I love hearing war stories told by seasoned judges.
 By the way, what “season” would that be? Curry? Basil? Allspice? If you’ve judged Spiced/Herb/Vegetable a lot, well, by now you may very well be “well seasoned!”
 American Ales… and one of the challenges was to get through the absolute hop bombs to American Pale. It may seem a bit of a distinction without a difference, but once you’re tongue is faced with beyond IPA tongue ripping, well it kind of makes sense. I love them, but we felt, when it came to the subcategory, we were looking for American Pales, not just something that really should have been entered as an extreme IPA.
 For all the fun judging beer, and the fulfillment, now it’s time to get serious. We all learn from mistakes, and I made a big one this day. Lunchtime I looked at what was on the menu and decided to go real light. My body has been playing around with being pre-diabetic lately and I knew pasta was problematic. Why combine small samples of beer used for judging with something that might make me way too sleepy? So I took about 4 noodles and a little salad because there wasn’t much left.
 What I didn’t know was soon I would be judging strong ales.
  So make sure you have enough in your stomach, even if it’s carb-laden. That’s a word of warning to judges new and old: don’t just consider any medical conditions you may have, or where you may need to go… but also what you might be judging next.
Afternoon session.
Afternoon session.
 Praise be to the yeast rolls I kept snitching!
  We only had six, luckily.
  But despite all that I think it went well, I just had to rewrite a few sheets because my writing gets even worse down the high abv trail. Imagine that! And it certainly was a delight when I saw who I was judging with.
  While Kerrie Mclean is new to judging I could tell she had the palate and the interest to be one hell of a judge. And we have similar stories: we both thought we hated beer because all we’d had when we were younger (especially me) was fizzy concoctions that pretty much defined all beer years ago. You know, the brews that tasted like a corn farmer, or a rice farmer, had tossed their crop into an already meager mash? Not far from the truth, actually. A hard style to brew for sure, but if you’re palate lusts for multilayer-ed complexity… well there are other styles better suited to satisfy your passion.
  The conversation was wonderful. I’m almost always impressed by new judges: their dedication and all they bring to the table, the new perspectives. And Kerrie was more than that, in my opinion. Much more. She was picking up problems and pleasures I didn’t, very good at the back, the forth and the compromise needed in judging beer… yet also standing firm when she felt she should. All necessities for a good judge, and a good judging team.
That's Tim Belczak between his two munchkins. I can only assume their behind bars for dropping a house on a witch in Munchkinland.
That’s Tim Belczak between his two munchkins. I can only assume they’re behind bars for dropping a house on a witch in Munchkinland.
King of the Mountain is a competition run by Little Mountain Homebrewers Association. And in case you’re curious about the name, yes, there actually is a “Little Mountain” in the area. Yes, I asked because on the way over I kept wondering, “King of WHAT ‘mountain?'” The club was started in 2008 when Joel Gayer and George Plaatje invited a group of friends over to the first meeting and brew session of LMHBA. There are other local clubs involved in the competition, like SAAZ< and SNOBS.
 Have I ever mentioned I love all the creativity that goes into naming homebrew clubs?
 Oops… I just did.
Click here for the results.
  Many thanks to Chris Ashmun: Competition Coordinator, Ari Newman: Board Sponsor, Brad Proper: Registrar, Ed Hannan: Head Steward, Joel Gayer: Consultant and Mike Yingling: Consultant.
  Tim and I left. We wanted to go to Brew Kettle: a BOP that is now also a brewpub, but it was too far away, and Tim actually had a craving for one of those great sandwiches just down the road at Melts. And wonderful it was, and I don’t mean just the food. Great company to keep… always a pleasure, Mr. Belczak.
  But we didn’t leave until after we heard the final…

...and the winners are...
“…and the winners are…”


 A Beer Judge’s Diary is a column that follows the judging adventures of BJCP judge Ken Carman and his wife, Millie; a column that celebrates both homebrewers and professionalism in beer judging.
©Copyright 2014
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved

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