A Beer Judge’s Diary: The Old Forge Old Ale Competition, Part 2

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 Well, I wasn’t eaten.
  Are you surprised?
 Well, I’m NOT on the menu, or at least I wasn’t that night.
  Being the only person on a lake: miles away from any house, I still wonder. By morning it was obvious that someone, or “something,” had an issue with the on site outhouse door with heavy springs that probably kept them out, or kept slapping them on the posterior. Who, or what dragged a rock and then put it between an outhouse and its door? At thirty minutes past midnight? At a campsite half way around a lake that’s not even the main part of said campsite?
 Was it someone desperate to bring me a late entry but decided to dump it?
 Someone who passed by several outhouses past midnight to do a different kind of dump far off the beaten path?
 Who “beats” these paths, and do they complain? Call 911? Should I have called 911?
 No cell phone service.
 Or, was that what’s considered the “caviar,” or “sirloin tips” of late night snacks for bears?”
 OK, when I lived here they fed at the dumps, so… maybe?
 I arrived at The Back Door early and my judges were right on time. With 25 entries registered in my books most organizers would think, “Easy!” But, remember, I only had 4 judges per am and pm and I don’t think we had a stinker in the kaboodle. Oh, there were a few that were slightly astringent, or missed the style slightly.
  Some folks who entered must have wondered why there were 600, 400, 21-29, 001 etc. numbers on my drop off books. Why didn’t I just use the number assigned? Well, I partially plead ignorance: I didn’t know numbers were assigned. But I wanted to be able to have a hint of location so I could steer the entries to a more “blind” table.
Albert Kiss
Albert Kiss
Except one entry it worked well, but I still didn’t know who brewed the entry I was judging. Success! They also must have wondered why I asked that they put bottle labels and such info in plastic bags. I had less control than I liked over humidity conditions, and storage issues, at several locations, so I figured this would avoid getting entries with nothing but a smear on the paperwork.
 The morning proved my drop off system worked quite well. Between my judges, owners Tommy Greco and Albert Kiss, Chip Kiefer, Mark Franey, Saranac, EJ Wren, Nail Creek Pub and Brewery, Rebel Brewing, The Winemaker, Ithaca Coffee and the Central Adirondack Association we had pulled off quite a professional affair. The major question: “Can I judge, do pick up, get them sorted and also judge without knowing who entered?” was answered:
Tom Greco
Tom Greco
“affirmative.” Each location had its own set of composition books and entry numbers assigned to each book. Those who entered, or Albert at The Back Door, or a helper, put stickers provided on each bottle, wrote all information in one of two books under the same number, and just the style and what might qualify it for Spirit of homebrew in the other. Again: under the same number. Any series of numbers I thought I had a hint as to who might have brewed it, or the person judging it might know them, I sent to the other team of judges. I had most of the other brought to my table. I avoided even opening any entry book, only looked at the one I called, “The Judge’s Book:” style listed and anything that might have made it qualify the entry for Spirit of Homebrew. In other words: odd, strange or outright weird. Numbered stickers and extra stickers were provided.
  Melinda did a great job stripping what labels were left and sorting them into a folder I gave her. And I have to thank Music City Brewers: I’ve judged and helped with every competition since at least 2000. The experience was invaluable.
 Most of those who entered logged in their own entries, Melinda Blanchard took care of those bottles that still had entry labels rubber banded to them. This was one of those, “You don’t really know until you try it,” situations. It worked. I told her which series of numbers should go to one team, or the other, to facilitate the blind nature of the judging. I know it worked for the other team and I had no idea whose entry I was judging, surprised after the fact, once all judging was done, that I had known at least one.
 Incredible work Melinda. Thanks!

Tim Belczak and family
Tim Belczak and family

 Morning I judged with Chip Kiefer who amazed me. A novice, he did so well. Brent judged with Tim Belczak. A powerful team indeed.
 Break for lunch! Provided by Albert, part owner of the Back Door/Front Door.

Dennis and Ken

 Afternoon: Chip had to go back to his store and Dennis Tofani stepped in. Tim had to go back to Chittenango where his relatives were probably tapping their toes in anticipation. I would: he’s a great guy. Mark Franey stepped in: he was part of my, “Melinda don’t send any of these numbers over to the bar…” plan. And the other team judged those entries in the morning before Mark got there. I felt I shouldn’t judge those since we knew each other and, of course, these entries were from Mark’s area.
 Great plan. Especially since I had no idea Mark had entered, but managed to steer his entries away from him anyway. He wasn’t even there since he judged in the afternoon. Here he is with Brent…


  Mark and I have known each other, well, no where near as long as I’ve known Chip, but a while. He’s a great homebrewer just on the precipice of going pro. He judged with Brent in the afternoon.
 Still, Brent and I had some training to do.
 I want to praise Dennis, Chip and Mark. Wow. Each one of you really stepped up to the brew kettle in a good way.
 GREAT pictures by Melinda Blanchard.
 Let me climb up on a soapbox, briefly. Take a second. Hey, I slipped! Who put soap on the outside of the box?
 I know you should have one BJCP judge at each table. We did. But, in praise of beer judging virgins, I find they bring something to tables “in house,” regular judges lack. I think both Chip and Dennis did. View it this way: some of our most interesting brewers over the years at brewpubs, micros and such, came out of some other profession. They didn’t start out going to Siebel, or whatever. I think in judging, or brewing, we need both: those coming at it from a different angle and those who pursued it from the start.
 Big BOS: Best of Show, was tough. We had no major defects, nothing way off the reservation style-wise. Let me show you just how close it was…
  Note: I’m being vague here intentionally. I have no desire to violate any desire for confidentiality.
 One entry that didn’t make it to Big BOS had many hops that represented a specific part of New York State. It was really great but had a hint of harsh, apricot pit-like, in the background. Now with an IPA I might have scored it better but the apricot and that slightly harsh astringency just didn’t seem to work as well together as it warmed. Definitely in the ballpark, but less of a boil on at least one hop seemed advisable. In most competitions I’ve judged it might have made it into Big BOS but our entries were that good.

Big BOS with Brent

 Brent and I did Big B. since Tim was gone: we were the ranked judges present. (After the bear incident hopefully I wasn’t too “rank.”)
 Three top scorers were forwarded from each team, and one each for Spirit. The Cappacino Imperial Stout I forwarded didn’t make Spirit, but it did get second. An IPA: Imperial, did make 3rd, and number 1 was a Belgian Dark Strong: one Albert had logged in I found out, once the post competition paperwork started, was from Brick,NJ. It was phenomenal.
 When I was real young I live near the NJ border and I have to ask: “There’s a “Brick, NJ?”
 Then Brent and I decided Spirit. It was between the cappacino my team had judged and a maple syrup, oatmeal entry that Brent and Tim had judged. Brent said, “You REALLY need to try this one!”
 Curse you Mark Franey!
 Here are our winners…

Honorable Mention: Chris Begenho of Turin, NY: Saison with raisins and brown sugar
3rd: Imperial IPA, “Generic IPA,” Michael Bono, Nashville, TN
2nd: Imperial Cappacino Stout, Adam Kugler, Syracuse, NY
Spirit of Homebrew: Mark Franey, Number 4, NY Flanders Brown/Oud Bruin, maple flavor, raisin juice, oatmeal, corn sugar
1st/BOS: Brian Boeckel and Tim Fusiak, Brick, NJ, Belgian Strong Dark. “Trubbel.”

 The order is in for the awards and will be shipped ASAP.
 Thanks to all. An event made perfect by professionals and professionalism.
 The bear didn’t enter anything. Considering what he probably had been having for a late night snack: I think I can speak for all judges…
 Thank you for NOT entering.


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.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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