A Beer Judge’s Diary: Jackalope’s Let’s Get WEIRD

Jackalope Brewing’s Let’s Get WEIRD, 2017

By Ken Carman

Our Judges
         Bailey Spaulding
         Steve Wright
          Katherine Schermerhorn
         Millie Carman
         Grant Ferris
         Stephanie Moore
         Phillip Biggerstaff
         Noah Denney
         Miranda Chandler
         Amanda Crisp
         Ken Carman (and Judge Coordinator)

Just a few of our judges

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 This was the second annual and some of us agreed it got even weirder. That’s great, as long as everyone understand LGW is not a “the weirdest entry wins” competition. It’s also BJCP/AHA, so any entry also needs to fit into some base style, and be without major defects, deficiencies. Drinkability always plays a role, eventually. Plus, it’s run by a brewery: Jackalope, and what they can brew and what they shouldn’t is a concern when it comes to first place, because first prize is having your beer brewed at Jackalope.
 If it was only what’s the most weird, well, why have any judging at all?

  “Let’s announce the winner right now! Ladies and gentlemen, I present our first prize to Toilet Bowel Cleaner Kolsch!” (As the contents of judge’s stomachs immediately… Vanish.)

    Me after one long day judging
 The main judging came down to two very long days. Phil Biggerstaff, Millie, myself and several Jackalope employees. While not BJCP, among the employees we had Cicerones and pro-brewers. Every table had a BJCP judge. The second day was a blur; with me, me, me and a lot of shifting, depending on other duties the staff had. I think what you see to the right may be a picture someone snapped of me after one day’s judging marathon.
 2017 Overall LGW was a deeper study in weirdness. We had a chocolate cricket beer with both actual crickets and cricket flour. I must admit my mind went to seeing Bailey; a vegetarian, grinding up crickets and then dumping them and the un-grinded into the boil, or a fermenter, saying to herself…

”It’s a job, it’s a JOB, IT’S A…

 Of course, being the perfectly couth and sensitive soul I am, I kept those thoughts to myself. You believe that? Really? To quote that great bunny ear-ed great animation Warner Brothers philosopher; you know, the one who took a wrong turn at Albuquerque?

”You don’t know me vewee well.”

 At first some judges wondered how we would know if the brewer had actually put “cricket” in it. I think it may have been me who was the first who realized most likely they did. In 4th grade I had a jar filled with chocolate crickets and, well, it did taste like them.
 It went on to BOS, along with 9 other entries.
 This goes to what brewers declare. Sensory analysis is a highly suggestive process. If you say something is in there, and it’s not, don’t be surprised if someone thinks they found it. The opposite is true. If you declare a lot of different weirdness is in there be sure they’re all easy to sense. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if a judge or two doesn’t find it. And don’t be surprised, even if it’s obvious to you, it might not be to others.
 Everyone’s palate is different. A good example of this was the peanut butter/banana entry. I got peanut butter, mostly, everyone else got mostly banana. I think the peanut butter was more prominent to me because it reminded me of PB2; not in a “bad” way like how too much PB2 can come off highly processed, artificial. Once you’ve had an entry with a lot of PB2 it’s hard to forget. Luckily that wasn’t this entry.
 You also should be sure what makes it weird can be tasted. One entry had Beano as part of its weird matrix. I’ve had Beano and it really seems to have no flavor of any consequence. A few of us thought we got a hint of chalkiness, but was this thought put into our heads by the very fact it had been declared?
 Of course, we had to check what the ingredients of Beano were. Really? Beano has polyvinyl acetate in it? YUM. Using too much of that must taste like melted coating of what they use to make the plates that press records. (Master laquer, some refer to a test version of it as an “acetate.”)
 Dear readers: I am not mocking the entry. It actually was interesting and scored well, again, IIRR (if I remember right). No melted vinyl sense at all.
 Of course there were no Beano jokes at the table. Or, if there were, my lips are sealed. I know fellow judge and wife, Millie, may wish for that miraculous event on some occasions.
 As with all competitions with unusual entries, on a rare occasion, we had to go to the net. You can’t expect judges to know everything. Even an unusual hop can get the Mr. Google treatment. You can’t expect judges to know every new hop or weird ingredient.
 2017 LGW was harder in some ways because Jackalope has become so successful. LGW takes up too much space to judge on weekends or even evenings past 6:30. As the crowds came in I think 6:00 may have been pushing it. That makes getting judges hard because people work weekdays. But Kristen Westerbeck; competition organizer, spread it all out over a few weeks. The extra time really helped. Plus, with Jackalope’s on staff pro-brewers and cicerones we have a more diverse judging table. Since judging “weird” takes some out of the box thinking more diversity is welcome.
  Thursday, the 27th, was Big BOS. Me, Will, Steve and Bailey. Kristen was the steward, of course, and between Steve and I we had already chosen 10 to push forward: all above a certain score and that were weird enough to fit the concept of the competition. Yes, to crickets, in case you’re wondering. A great IPA that was, well, a great IPA? Kudos to the brewer but not so “weird.”Just like some weird ingredients didn’t seem to offer any weirdness to the taste or mouthfeel because, well, other than a little grit none of us could get Beano; just for one example. Good entry, just less ‘weird’ than we were looking for.
 It’s kind of running an IPA only competition and having an incredible Alt. Kudos, yes, but due to the nature of the competition great scores will have to make the brewer as happy as he or she can be.
  Hey, Kristen, how about a slogan for next year…

  “Taste the WEIRDNESS!!!”

 We are considering a weird ingredients only policy for 2018. The brewer may have fermented it from yeast culled from flying squirrel armpits, but could you tell that from chipmunk tail yeast? Yes, that’s a joke, but where yeast is culled from, or some other odd process, doesn’t always make that much of a dif taste-wise. (Rogue’s beard yeast beer kind of proves this.) Well, maybe a “difference” to Bullwinkle who might wonder where his sedated little buddy went, or the brewer forgot to sedate Rocky and suffered from multiple squirrel bites. But hey, if you want, give it a try. Just remember: better be flying squirrel, not red squirrel, or ya’ll be knocked down a point or two.

 That’s become a standard joke among a two judge family. Just replace the squirrel yeast part of the joke with organic sea salt, Madagascar lemons, dandruff from a senior citizen, toenail fungus from a 30 year old mortician, tears from a blue Alpha Centarian: no green, purple, orange or chartreuse Alphas need apply, or…
 When BOS came around we had a rosemary brew, probably the weirdest was roasted cricket and chocolate… there were ten of them mostly 35 and above. This was tough this year because we had a lot of high scoring entries: a lot more than 10. A few high scorers were knocked out because, well, great beer but simply not that weird. I remember one was a standard style but the weirdness factor escaped all of us.
 The award ceremony, on May the 6th, was incredible. Because it’s such a small competition every person who attended whose brew end up in BOS got to talk about brewing their beer. Meeting Mr. Count Chokula was great, and Imperial Stout that came in 3rd. I had pushed for 2nd. Of course we started it all out with my beer prayer, even though this year the ceremony was on a Saturday, not as Sunday. We even got to chat with James and Jami Visger, members in one of our other homebrew clubs we’re members of: Clarksville Carboys. James made it into the top 10.

The Winners
1st. Keith Baker, Rising Sun, OH, 28C: Wild Specialty Beer, Brown Ale with Oats, Lactose Sugar, Cranberries
2nd. Michael Wasyliw, Brentwood TN, 30A: Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer, Hibiscus & Honey Gose
3rd. John Wingfield, Murfreesboro, TN, 20C: Imperial Stout, Infused with Count Chocula Cereal
Most Creative: Brandon Holt, Nolensville, TN, 20A: American Porter, Infused with Whole Roasted Crickets, Cricket Flour (Ground Up Crickets), Peruvian Cocoa Powder

 Next year we’re talking about combining it with Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale, one I started and help run in Old Forge, NY. If the entrant wants to enter 2 competitions they send 3 bottles and, if they don’t win, they get entered in OFBB. That competition has 3 first place winners with cash prizes, plaques and one winner gets a certificate for a weekend in the Central Adirondacks they can use themselves or give away.
 We’re also talking about moving it back to February, which would be very helpful. Having the ceremony on National Homebrew Day probably limited attendance, and there’s always so much going on in April and May.
 When I first started judging I never imagined the journey it would take me on, judging as far north as Plattsburgh, NY, as far south as Mississippi, from Texas to Charlotte, NC. And the good folks in Old Forge, View: arts organization in Old Forge, Jackalope and so many homebrew clubs, have all helped add excitement to this adventure.
 Thank you doesn’t seem enough.

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.

©Copyright 2017
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved

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