A Beer Judge’s Diary: New York State Fair Homebrew Competition

Written by Ken Carman

Here’s a quote from an E the judges received…

 There were 279 entries judged and 174 registered participants, judges, and stewards. Winners can be found HERE.

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bjd-265x300   Shhh! Don’t disturb their natural habitat! Early in the morning the wild, some native: some not so, beer judges flock to see how well the beers floc’d, or not. They start with coffee, donuts, bagels and conversation, then the clarion call comes as the rulers of the roost tell them time to sit and judge. Then they cautiously, carefully prod, poke the entries with eyes and noses, and take a careful sip…. all to assess how this year’s “crop” of entries did.
  While I live in Tennessee, Millie and I have a retirement shack in the Adirondacks: Beaver River, NY… not far from where I partially grew up. Plus we’re both from New York State originally. For years I have wanted to judge beer at Salt City Homebrewers run NYS Fair Competition. Two problems: I’m a thousand miles away, and when I’m not my other home… Beaver River… has no roads going to it. This means getting in and out is sometimes not all that different from, well, coming up from Tennessee: difficult and awkward.
  We’re hoping to fix that with a second place in the Old Forge area when we retire and return home.
 Kind of like those birds I mentioned, eh?
  This year this entertainer’s schedule allowed for judging at the Fair, plus I had to leave Beaver River about the same time for the New England part of my tour. Having been by many times when I was younger I was curious what the grounds were like.
 Up at 4am because old man wakeup-itis had hit me: my cousin’s place near Ithaca, I slowly drove to Syracuse…

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  The day before I drove by and the gates were blocked: road work, but true to organizer Brent Blanchard’s promise they had removed the road work as I drove up to the guard shack I received something like the standard greeting I so fondly remember…
  “Yeah, what do YOU want?”
  Hey, I’m in New York and I grew up in NYS… not unexpected. A true southerner would be appalled, but also would be overly sweet while saying, “No,” nicely. Say “no” especially because I’m obviously still a Yankee, though I’ve lived in Tennessee since 1978. It’s the way of the South, at least as far as the few who have lived there many generations behave. Hey, when I lived in New York if I got stopped I always got some stern lecture, but sometimes there was a ticket, sometimes not. In Tennessee the cops give the nicest tickets in the world. But they DO almost ALWAYS give a ticket.
 Grumpily the guard said…
 “Yeah, go ahead.”
  I’m guessing he probably went back to dozing.
  The competition was in the Arts and Home building.

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  Inside the ceilings are high: a solid, classic, NY state edifice if there ever was one. It whispered tradition. The competition was down a short flight of solid stone stairs: no surprise since Adirondack granite seems to be everywhere. The room is sponsored by Wegmans: a great grocery store chain in this part of America.
  Logging people in, answering questions and probably having a fuzzy, blurry morning of it since so much was going on: Jeff Simonds. Nah, it’s my camera, but since things were moving fast that probably contributed to the blur.

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  So we checked in, and got our assignments.
  First up: one of three IPA judge teams, me with Pete: picture below. (I took it for “Pete’s sake.” Yeah, a weak joke I admit. And I’m sure he’s never heard that one. Wait. No: correction, I’m sure he probably has!) I must admit it was a tad tough: nothing really stood out. But I think we did well. I believe there were 9 of them. It’s so odd how the interpretation of the style varys region to region where I’ve judged. Some competitions seem to have a lot of Imperial without the “imperial:” as if brewers are trying to attain a collection of judge palates from hop assassinated beer judges… ripped right out of their faces.
  This time it was more…
  “Eh, more of a Pale, if that.”

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  We had two that kind of, sort of, stood out, so we forwarded them to mini-BOS. Then I moved on to mini. (Yes, I’m aware this makes me “Mini Me.”)
 I sincerely think it there really was was a regional difference when it comes to IPAs and judging because I pretty much ranked the top to honorable mention in opposite order to the other judges… but this happens. Palates vary so much. I think, once you’re down to the best of the best, the IPAs I find closer to deserving top awards have less funk, are more pristine and have a decent amount of not whacked out over the top hop drive… oh and also a decent amount of body for support. But, knowing how palates vary, that may be exactly how they assessed them… only in reverse order.
  Lunch! Sandwiches, and due to dietary I just went with the meat and cheese. I sat and talked with Tim Belczak who has dared to invade my space three times this year: Mentor, AWOG and NYS Fair. He’s stalking me, I swear. Yesterday I opened the hood on my Element and, “Why Tim, what are you doing in there?”
 “I dropped my beer.”
 “Well at least it’s not like dropping a Nook off the top of a Honda Element in Mentor …”
 Long and embarrassing story. We’ll be moving along now after a short…
  Hi, Tim! Great seeing you again.
  After lunch: Specialty with Frantz…

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  I was amazed. I don’t think we varied much more than a point or two per entry and we had one that was just incredible: a Grodziskie. Problem being the new guidelines aren’t out yet and, while we did some research via the net, judging was more a guess than it should have been. Can’t wait for those new guidelines. ,
  What an incredible entry, and that’s a high compliment from a high gravity loving, “lite” beer loathing, palate. Yeah, but I do judge what I care less for well. As I have explained to many I’m actually better when it’s not a style I like too much.
  Mini-BOS: this was tough, but we were pretty much all on the same page. The Grod got first and an incredible Lambic Porter came in second. I declared it not unlike a fine wine when we started discussing.
  I would have loved to stay for big BOS but I had to be in Johnstown, and a medical condition I had to be careful with made me leery. If you recently read one of my other columns you understand.
  A very enjoyable experience, and run oh, so, well, despite a cooler breaking down so the stewards had to walk a distance to get entries.
  Eh, it’s good for them. Next year we expect all the exercise to have them return as Joe Atlas, right?
  So out the door…

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  …and off to Johnstown as the Fair faded in the distance.


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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