It seems to be the latest rage: paying judges for judging. OK, let’s be beer judging-correct, “stipends.” Oh, I’m not saying it’s absolutely new by any means, but I have seen a rather large increase.
I understand, I have been tempted myself with my competition: The Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition. OFBB is in the middle of nowhere and there are no local homebrew clubs. Getting judges is tough. Hell, getting entries is an adventure.
But I have seen the result of stipends and I’m not convinced they are that effective. And I have every reason to say otherwise. I love judging, but I have yet to let a stipend influence me if I really didn’t want to go somewhere. The Can Can Awards in Franklin, TN offers decent stipend but, to be honest, I’m no fan of the judging sheet they use that reminds me more of a multiple guess high school pop quiz than a judging sheet. It seems designed by someone who thinks every aroma, every flavor, is sensed exactly the same way by every judge. So, naturally if this was all about just me, I’d avoid Can Can, despite the stipend.
Having spent 34 years of my life on the road entertaining kids, rarely earning minimum wage, obviously money has never been that big of an incentive in my life. But I’d still do Can Can because it’s an education in what small, often new, commercial breweries are doing across the country. It’s also an education about how they compare to homebrewers, since I judge regular competitions so much. Let’s just say I am impressed how well homebrews compare and even surpass commercial brews sometimes. I also like to have some influence; no matter how small, on pro-brewers.
I find it bitter/sweet that successful homebrew competitions are still dominated by homebrew clubs. While entry levels go up, go down, I find competitions run by clubs tend to do better overall in getting judges, entries. Competitions like Can Can that we just finished judging do well too, but I think it has more to do with the nature of the comp (pro and canned).
Yet what they offer doesn’t result in plenty of judges or entries. I know several times Nate, who runs Can Can, kept plugging for judges on Facebook and elsewhere. Considering the stipend shouldn’t be that hard.
Last year a competition I judged in Plattsburgh, NY, offered great hotel package in the form of a stipend and we had to fight for judges that day. Entry level was so low they decided not to do it again. I went to college in Plattsburgh, so not going back is, well again, bitter/sweet.
I’ve also noticed that big awards don’t seem to be as big a draw as one would imagine. Mine at Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition in Old Forge, NY, are very big.With only 100 entries, 3 ways to be number one, every winner but one gets medals. $50 each for two of the three awards. Each winner of Odd and/or BIG receives a nice engraved plaque, $25 for 2nd. Instead of a medal, or a plaque, the winner of The People’s Choice gets a certificate for a weekend in the Central Adirondacks.
Yet, despite all this, my entry level certainly could improve. Judge availability could too. That’s what I get for doing the right thing: promoting good beer, beer and palate education, in a wilderness area and a small town. I’m also hoping to spark enough interest in homebrewing that maybe there could be a Central Adirondack Brewers club.
I have no intention of stopping. I am not suggesting we need to stop any of this. In fact I am suggesting we add more ways to increase entry levels and access to judges. And I have been talking with coordinators: entry levels are down in many places.
I also helped create and run Jackalope Brewing’s Let’s Get Weird Competition. Because we have to judge weekdays I understand why finding judges can be problematic. The winner gets their brew brewed at Jackalope and a keg of the beer. Not bad. Yet entry level could improve there too.
Perhaps what we need, instead, is to combine forces and promote competitions whether we’re going to be part of that competition, or not. That’s why I started the Facebook page… Needed: Judges, Stewards, ETC! I also have suggested that competitions combine entries: entries that don’t win, if they send 3 bottles, the two remaining bottles move on to a second competition. That offers two or more chances to win, chances to have even more feedback. It’s especially good to combine a paid for competition with a free one. That way the brewer feels he’s getting more for his money.
But that’s only two ideas. As homebrewers many of us live on the creative edge. How about it people? Let’s get some suggestions. Put them into practice and report back. I’d love to hear about them myself. I’m sure we can all work together on fine tuning new ideas. You can contact me at email@example.com, or by becoming a member of Facebook’s Needed: Judges, Stewards, ETC. In fact I will post a link to this article there; feel free to comment there.
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.