A Beer Judge’s Diary: Return to Atlanta; Taste Test, Take 2

 The first edition will be an overview of that day, Take 2B gets to specifics that might help potential judges before they take the tasting test.

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 If I were to pass on a warning to those who haven’t taken it yet it would be, “Use the few minutes you have per beer well, otherwise time will be your enemy.” 15 minutes per beer: try practicing to get it down to 10 or 12. That’s per completed sheet.
 Unlike my last column on this topic this is not going to be about my score at all, or how I did. Enough of that: whatever the score is it is. Besides, I don’t know the score yet and most likely won’t for up to six months, maybe more. That’s OK. As I told Phil Farrell it’s not about getting a better rank, and only a little about a better score. More than anything it’s about the fact every time I take the test I learn a lot through intense study, including how I know less than I think I do. Even the study involved is a humbling experience, not to mention the review after the test.
 Phil was one of the proctors, so Mike Castagno pretty much ran the show. And he didn’t even come out for an encore after!!! Or a curtsey. And that god-awful dress he wore… yes, I’m joking.
 The test was at New Realm in downtown Atlanta. I got to the motel room the night before and, like last time, decided to go for a drive after rush hour because no sane person enjoys Atlanta rush hour, or as I call it sometimes: “parking lot.”
 New Realm is one hell of a big place. I can’t even imagine what they spent to do this, but it’s not all that advisable on a Friday night to take a trip just to “check it out.” I immediately got caught in the valet parking
New Realm Brewing’s brewery
line in their lot which has “no self parking.” I managed to find my way out, beer-less.
 The next day I checked out and showed up quite early for a 1030 test, sat in my Honda Element and went over the guidelines. The night before I judged several beers, including an extra from the Clarksville competition to see how close I got to the judge’s scores: a few points away. I woke up at 3am and judged another, plus a lot of studying in between. I had been preparing for three months, maybe more.
 We were upstairs in the Radegast room, bathrooms upstairs and down. You could see the BIG brewery out a door. I am telling you this because they were preparing our samples downstairs so two of us went upstairs so we could avoid seeing what they were doing and… WOW!!! Giant picture windows
New Realm Brewing
overlooking downtown Atlanta and the park-like area where Realm resides. Like tiny ants seen from up high, swarms of millennials and other younguns were below us in New Realm and the surrounding community: a very popular area of downtown Atlanta with tons of shops and restaurants.
 It must have taken a lot of work to prepare then keep climbing the stairs: every 15 minutes a new sample was marched upward. We had a Munich Helles, Strong Bitter, American Brown, Belgian Dubbel, American IPA and an English Barleywine.
 Maybe you remember last time in Atlanta I was time deprived because I used an aroma glass. No aroma glass: I brought plastic Chinese quart tops, prewashed and rinsed quite well, to trap aroma. Kind of worked. I came to the conclusion spending as much time as I spent on aroma killed too much of that precious commodity. Same is true, though less so, regarding mouthfeel. Anything you can do to keep from hitting that 15 minute brick wall is helpful. And, if like me, you have rotten print, you will need it to take the time to print carefully so it doesn’t have to be translated by the graders. Not everyone has a Master degree in Klingon gibberish.
 Hopefully I succeeded turning my %$#@* into readable print even better than last year. Normally I have Waco Kid writing. “Yeah, but this is the hand I shoot (write) with,” as my right hand shakes up into the air.
 Not familiar with Blazing Saddles? Go. Watch. Classic Mel Brooks.
 Afterwards we went downstairs and discussed what they had done to the samples, and/or what they were.
 I told Phil if I wanted to take it again I probably would wait a year. I might even take it elsewhere so those in Atlanta: judges “to be,” are taking it instead.
 Then several of us sat and had lunch, including Phil who discussed the brewery he was helping with. During our discussion I was glad to have a confirmation of something I suspected for a long time: different regions where competitions are run seem to have different palates. I discovered this through taking the test in different places and judging many locations on the east coast. Though our standards are generally the same what we sense seems to be slightly different to a lot, occasionally. And, as he said, even an hour later our palates can change. There are a lot of factors.
 I must add that under the tutelage of Phil the palates in Atlanta seem well refined.
 Thanks to New Realm for the space. While Mike from Twain’s was able to run the affair, due to scheduling conflict New Realm stepped in. The location worked well, even though it’s a very busy restaurant. This space was pretty quiet. They told us we could close the door but for most of the test it wasn’t necessary.
 Having to drive back to Nashville I left, but as a final note: no matter how I did, I learned as much as I did last time… maybe more. Take the test: you’ll be a better judge.
View from top floor


 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 once upon a time thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast in the 60s. Thus the adventure began.

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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