A Beer Judge’s Diary: Music City Brew Off

Written by Ken Carman

Note: for those who get The Music City Brew-Score at the end of the year there will be even more pictures and stories regarding the 2014 MCBO. Oh, and after the column, stay tuned for the winner list.

bjd-265x300 We missed the main event at Music City Brew Off last year. Judging in Albany, NY, at Knickerbocker, we only ended up doing prejudging in 2013. Flash forward (zoom!) to the 2014 Music City Brew Off: this year we fermented our way through all the activities, and since we’re old fogies that “fermentation” was probably just a wee bit funky.
 To be honest, I think we both forgot just how intense it all can be. Almost every third day we were prejudging beer at Czanns: owned by long term Music City Brewers member Ken Rebman. Ken is one of the few old time members left: and when we joined in 98 (99?) I think he was already a member.
 Music City Brewers has more members who have become professional brewers than any club I have visited, or we are members of. And I have been to many homebrew club meetings from NY to Mississippi. We’re members of three. So what makes Nashville so different? I think it may have to do with the serious, educational, path the club has taken over the years. And, to be honest, having been in Nashville since 1978, on the air, hawking songs on Music Row and working in the music industry, the fact Nashville seems to attract a lot of type-A personalities might have a little to do with it.

Courtesy http://nashvillebreweries.com
Courtesy http://nashvillebreweries.com
 Czann’s worked well for prejudging, and having been part of MCBO since the very late 90s I can tell you some of our prejudging locations weren’t always the best, not to mention any names. (Spew, sputter, cough up dust, “I’m hot! I’m cold! I’m hot! I’m…” upstairs Boscos.)
 Thanks Ken. Great first name you have there, by the way.
 This year we had a new location for the actual competition: Ramada Inn Stadium Hotel in downtown Nashville, TN. Though it seemed to suite our needs well, the old location had became a tad pricey. But, to be honest, I suspect we may be elsewhere next year. Knowing the area as I do: right near where the Titans play and a lot of other activity, well the location is a tad problematic. This year we managed to find a hole in time when that special flavor of stadium crazy isn’t a “happening,” to use archaic term from the 60s when dinosaurs roamed the earth. (All named Dino. Great grandson Barney had yet to be barfed out.)
 Not sure we’ll be that “lucky” next year, and a bigger judging room might be a necessity. It was a hint small, in my opinion.
 (A “hint?”)
frijudge  That’s not the hotel’s fault, but it is what it is.
 Friday arrived like a steadily approaching beer tsunami with mid afternoon judging: we both started with Lite Hybrid… Millie judged on one team of two judges, me another. See the creep with the long blond hair on the right? Well he’s married to the lovely brunette on the left, second seat in. We ended up as the ranked judges, so we did mini-BOS. You know, she didn’t do bad at all despite, well, you know guys, these women judges…
 Shhh! QUIET! She’s reading this right now!
 Yes, I’m kidding. In some ways she’s the better judge in the family. And as a newly minted Recognized judge her completely Certified husband can’t even call her “my little apprentice” anymore, dagnab it!
 We even did mini-BOS together.
 We didn’t try to kill each other.
 This time.
  (“I’m waiting for you, my pretty.” “Yes, ‘dear.'”)
 After that, supper, and then on to the main event: “And in this corner, Denny Conn!”
  I wasn’t prepared to like him as much as I did, and despite his passion for digital recording vs. my fond memories of the vastly superior studio analog, we hit it off. Yes, I’m joking again. (To Denny: “Studer! Ampex! The return of the almighty editing RAZOR BLADE! BOO!“)
 I delighted in discussing recording and advancements he helped with: a bit jealous since my own recording career has had to center around more semi-pro equipment.
DSCN0850 Ah, there Paula and Denny Conn sit with the relatively unknown Brandon Jones… yeah, you have me over a “barrel” over that funk. As I told Denny, Brandon has done more to bring sours and such to the South than any man alive or (Walking) dead. (Especially the one named “Brett” who keeps hanging around Yazoo.) …not that I was telling Denny something he didn’t know.
 On to his presentation and, like his recording career, his talk, and the experimental brewing context to his book: all this made me like him even more. Hey, I’m probably one of two of DSCN0851the more “out there” brewers in the club. (Jerry Buckley’s the other.) An almost all cereal braggot featuring 6 commercial cereals, including Captain Crunch with Crunchberries? Another accurately named, “Hal-No-Pee-No?” And, I must admit, one of Denny’s first points DSCN0856 was fascinating: he did a survey on perceptions regarding decoctions, showing the difference between “doing,” or not, may not be as significant as one may think when it comes to the palate. I did a triple decoction for my very tiny batch (2.5 gallons) Dunkelweizen Braggot, mostly to try it once and also, well, tradition calls for it. (“Tradition!” as the Fiddler on the Roof cast sings onto the page.) While it won in Savannah, I do tend to wonder if all that was necessary.
 Being kindred dog lovers we found his first slide meaningful.
 Another focus was, basically, having fun brewing: always great advice. I’ve been saying that for years. Rather than arguing about who has the best equipment, or uses the best, most proper, techniques, let’s compete as to who can have the most fun! Some of us ARE here because “it’s a hobby.” But no one could say Denny didn’t offer tech advice, graphs or brewing specifics: especially in the question and answer after.
 We didn’t stay the night. Home… then up for an early judging session.
 If I remember right… hey, it was a long day! ..it was American Ale in the morning and Spice/Herb/Veg in the afternoon. I was in two mini-BOS’ overall, and was glad I missed the last one. For various reasons we didn’t give one entry the second look it deserved, but that got caught in the last mini-BOS.
 There’s a reason why a fresh set of palates helps in judging.
 I have to stop and thank: not just our judges, our stewards. Stewards get so little attention at competitions, in comparison, in my opinion. Club member Tom Gentry, and owner of Rebel Brewing, once mentioned, if I remember right, that in barbeque competitions the steward is considered over the judge: a highly prized position. Maybe it was chili? Well, either way, there seems a fair amount of justice to what beer judges might consider a role reversal.
DSCN0846 To provide one fine example: every year John and Debbie Kleczewski drive from where they live: at first Chicago, then Raleigh, North Carolina. John judges and Debbie stewards. She’s been our steward year after year and, as always, is gracious, helpful and does a mean waltz on the table top after we’ve all had too much beer. Yes, I typed “waltz.” I’m the one who did the strip tease, but that’s the one year we don’t talk about… or about all the judges and stewards blinded by the sheer ugliness of that thankfully past tense moment. “Judges and stewards” who are now on the street corners with tin can cups fashioned out of beer cans. I think I can hear one and his mournful cry right now!
&#8194″More hops! More hops!”
 Back to reality, Debbie does a grand job and has become part of the MCBO family.
 Big BOS began a tad later than we first thought it would but, as usual, seemed to go smoothly. Denny, of course, at the table. At MCBO they usually do all the beers on the table at once vs. queued-like judging. It does bucket_square_copy_grandemake for a bountiful, beautiful, spread.
 Awards were fun, as usual, and the raffle made it that much more enjoyable… except someone won the small fermenter I was supposed to win. DANG!
 Special mention must be made here about awards. John Malone announced the Mike Semich Spirit of Homebrew Award. Mike: well loved… not only in his Mid-State club but among many middle Tennessee clubs and beyond… died unexpectedly recently. His wife, Danielle, accepted the award. You may notice I DIDN’T use the “w” word when I mentioned Danielle, for Mike is still with us. And he will be every year when we award the Spirit trophy. Spirit of Homebrew is an award we had years ago and seemed to have faded away. This fall I revived it for my own competition I ran in Old Forge, NY, just before Mike passed. DSCN0860I was happy it had also come home to MCBO with Mike holding it, in spirit, every year: giving it to brewers who brew unique, incredibly wonderful, entries. I can’t imagine Mike would have wanted it any other way
 After we went to Czann’s to celebrate. There was pizza, chicken tenders and we had the run of the brewery. But Millie and I had to leave early, and I was disappointed: my attempt to secretly wrap some Reynolds Wrap around a Czann fermenter and sneak away failed. Foiled again!
 So back home, to bed and a night filled with pleasant dreams of MCBO: 2015.



“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

Winners 2014 MCBO

1 Light Lager
1st Kirk Hutcherson Hellich Munis Mid State Brew Crew
2nd Phillip Vacca Dads Special Mid State Brew Crew
3rd Jeff Kinzer Mow the Damn Lawn Bluff City Brewers
2 Pilsner
1st Rob Harris Rainy Day Pils Barley Mob
2nd Zach Scalf Sleeping Wren Pils Covert Hops
3rd Mark Quering Uncle Todd II Barley Mob
3 Amber Lagers
1st Chris Allen 1’s & 0’s Octoberfest. MCB
2nd Phillip Vacca Oktoberfest Mid State Brew Crew
3rd Jeff Bergman Oktoberfest MCB
4 Dark Lager
1st Rob Harris Uncle Dunkel Barley Mob
2nd Philsner Phils Schwarz MCB
3rd Vern Wolff Das Dunkel Ist Goot Rocket City Brewers
5 Bocks
1st Mark Forrester Memorial Day Maibock MCB
2nd Chris Allen 1’s & 0’s Doppelbock MCB
3rd Phillip Vacca Helles Bock Mid State Brew Crew
6 Light Hybrid
1st Jeff Bergman Kolsch MCB
2nd Joe Edinin Blonde Moment TN Valley Homebrewers
3rd Kevin Haeffner Urban Wheat Ale Garage Brewers Society
7 Amber Hybrid
1st Mike Dial Appalachian Alt Bier 1 Barley Mob
2nd Philsner Philsner Steam MCB
3rd Eric Tonkin Exalted III Yeast Nasties
8 English Pale Ales
1st Jonathan White Tommy’s Bitter Clarksville Carboys
2nd Chris Arnt Pub Rescue Barley Mob
3rd Andrew Laidlaw Batch 41-BC St. Louis Brews
9 Scottish and Irish Ales
1st Rob Harris Red LagerBier Barley Mob
2nd David Graham Independence Ale Barley Mob
3rd Chris Allen 1’s & 0’s Wee Heavy MCB
10 American Ales
1st Ryan Steagall Double Down Am Brown MSBC
2nd Kirk Hutcherson Spanked APA MSBC
3rd Danielle Dean-Semich Pretty Round Brown MSBC
11 English Brown Ales
1st Joe Edinin Mild MSBC
2nd Chris Allen 1’s & 0’s English Brown MCB
3rd David Graham Fred’s Brown Barley Mob
12 Porters
1st Jeff Bergman Robust Porter MCB
2nd Kirk Hutcherson Black & Blue Porter MSBC
3rd James Kerski Maiden Voyage Porter Clarksville Carboys
13 Stouts
1st Nathan Newton Pain Cave Imp Stout
2nd Mark Gregory Royals Milk Stout Barley Mob
3rd Andrew Laidlaw Batch 39-BC St. Louis Brews
14 India Pale Ales
1st Drew Bretz Interstellar IPA Garage Brewers Society
2nd Tad Kays C-Rex US Final Gravity Craftbrewers
3rd Chase Wilson HopBurst IPA
15 German Wheat and Rye
1st Nathan Newton Pheonix Weizen
2nd Philsner Philsner’s Roggenbeir MCB
3rd Andrew Laidlaw Batch 3-BC St. Louis Brews
16 Belgian and French Ales
1st Mark Quering Saison De Bogues Barley Mob
2nd Jeff Kinzer Malt Bomb Bluff City
3rd Aaron Powers BelgiMerican Session IPA Garage Brewers Society
17 Sour Ales
1st Ryan Steagall Downwind Crusades MSBC
2nd Ryan Steagall Atomic Peach MSBC
3rd Danielle Dean-Semich Berlinner Weiss MSBC
18 Belgian Strong Ales
1st Morgan Sapp Horne’s Dark Strong Clarksville Carboys
2nd Mark Forrester New Year’s Tripel MCB
3rd Jeff Kinzer Old Bubba Bluff City Brewers
19 Strong Ales
1st Ryan Steagall Jasper MSBC
2nd Zach Scalf Ren’s Old Nasty Ass Covert Hops
3rd Philsner Philsner’s Peculiar MCB
20 Fruit Beers
1st Jason Gross Sass Mouth MCB
2nd Art Whitaker TN Oktober Wild MSBC
3rd Robert Foye Biere De Miles MSBC
21 Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beers
1st Zea Miller 1’s & 0’s Pumpkin Ale MCB
2nd Phillip Vacca HOT Chocolate MSBC
3rd Stephen Parker Holy Chipotle Levee Break Brew Crew
22 Smoked and Wood Aged Beers
1st Jeff Kinzer Gratzer-Polish Smoked Wheat Bluff City Brewers
2nd Jeremy Taylor Olde Ale MSBC
3rd Jason Gross Oakey Dokey MCB
23 Specialty Beers
1st Brad Singleton The Pickle MSBC
2nd Matt Warise Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Stout MSBC
3rd JT Gowen Black IPA MSBC
1st Mark Quering Saison De Bogues Barley Mob
2nd Morgan Sapp Horne’s Dark Strong Clarksville Carboys
3rd Ryan Steagall Jasper MSBC
HM Rob Harris Red LagerBier Barley Mob
1st Kevin Haeffner Tree Top Cider Garage Brewers Society
2nd Andrew Laidlaw Batch C10-L St. Louis Brews
3rd Danielle Dean-Semich American As…. MSBC
1st Jason Farley Honey of a Peach MSBC
2nd John Malone BC/TC Melomel MCB
3rd Vern Wolff El Carazon De Agave Azul Rocket City Brewers

AND: 2014 Ed Tate award winners with 23.5 points are: Barley Mob Brewers of Chattanooga.

Congratulations to ALL!

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