A Beer Judge’s Diary: Small and Remote Competitions Have BIG Problems Too

Old Forge, NY

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 You would think a very small competition: perhaps the tiniest one that’s still AHA and BJCP, would be easy. Sometimes they are, often not. We just have different problems.
 There’s only so much one can say reporting on the same competition every year. So I thought coming at it from a different angle might be refreshing. Every year we go to Screamen Eagle in Inlet at the end: great multi-tap thanks to the beer picking abilities of part owner, with his mother, Matt Miller. Every year we sit in Old Forge and Eagle Bay to judge. Except this year. Originally we thought we’d mix things up and have a weekend in Beaver River: town with no roads going to it. But when John Lee, who has been my savior for many years now, told me the changed nature of his job meant he might not even be able to make it we opted for the usual. You would think that would been easy. Uh… NO.

 I have judged competitions beyond 1,000 entries where they had to have 3 bottles. The lady at Bluebonnet whose job was sorting and such told me that was her first and last year. I understand. MCBO, run by Music City Brewers has had upwards 400 entries in the past, until they got wise and started limiting the number of entries more strictly. It can get complicated.
 I limit mine to under 100 and have had, at the most, around 42. To be fair I don’t remember the exact numbers. I praise Zeus, Thor and the ghost of Tiny Tim; I always wondered is he was drunk doing that act, or stoned… that we never reached 100.
 Example: if most competitions lose a judge it’s a problem. If I lose a judge it can be catastrophic.
 Location, location complicates the affair: there are no close enough homebrew clubs to support us, the closest one doesn’t seem all that interested in running any competition, and the one 80 or so miles away has their own competition about the same time to attend to. There are no homebrew stores. Craft beer has grown but still considered a trend that will go away by some local merchants. Old Forge and the towns surrounding are not the kind of environment one goes to for freebies: schwag: at least not for something like this, except donation of a space like at The Back Door (Albert Kiss) or Fulton Chain Craft Brewery (Justin Staskiewicz).
 Millie and I pay for everything, We aren’t griping at all. It’s a pleasure to bring the art and craft of homebrewing to the Old Forge area in a very minor way. Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition isn’t easy to run because special accommodations have to be made, starting with we don’t live here, at least not since the 70s. I’m mostly retired and here up to 6 months out of the year. After Millie retires the plan is to once again be a permanent resident.
 Getting judges here is a pain. One year we paid for a motel room for a judge and his wife, another year John Lee stayed at my place in Eagle Bay. John comes over from Saratoga Springs area and that’s quite a drive up through the remote high peaks area. When John told me it was possible even he might miss the event I knew I was in trouble. Luckily we had worked it out that Millie: also Certified, could make it. She always flies up from Nashville at the end of my time here.
No, this is NOT Sarah!
 I have a series of trolls, gremlins and goblins who help me log in so I DON’T know who brewed what. No, Sarah, you’re not an ugly gremlin, and you’re far more more beautiful than than the beauty gremlin from Gremlins II. Point being even, and maybe especially, small competitions have their snafus too, and they can be more serious because the competition is so small. One year I had to avoid being eaten by a bear, another due to lack of judges I had to have judging sessions as far away as Buffalo… 300 plus miles… and one under a leaky roof in pouring rain and poor lighting.
 This year we had the marvelous Greg Mobley: National, and three Certified and certifiable judges: me, Millie and John. Or Millie, Turkey and Ham Sandwich. That joke dates back to me filling out the sheet provided describing how well the Knickerbocker competition was run, including plenty of platitudes and a plentiful supply of, “But John Lee is a turkey!”
 This year I provided a special E-mail address to MAKE SURE we knew what was unique or special about their brews, meanwhile finding out it may be on site anyway, but didn’t know because I don’t have a Smart Phone. (Do I REALLY have to buy into one of those $#@! things? I know the way I use tech my bill will go up.) At 9PM the night before I’m notified about special ingredients for an entry we don’t have. Why would a brewer do THAT? I call my shipping location and find out we have 4 more boxes, 6 more entries that were flat out missed. So, with help, they get logged in. It’s 11pm and we now have flights of closing well over 10, with the possibility two judges may have to leave early.
 6 more entries in an average competition might be a big, “So what?” In a tiny competition with limited judge pool it might make for serious complications, especially when two judges have to leave the same day. No other options.
 Old Forge had a bike event that day. We got there and no one is there to open Fulton Chain. Finally co-owner and our hero Richard Mathy showed up. Justin had to go early to the bike event. But by that time, with the increased load, we agreed we were running late so it was best to do everything at Eagle Bay.
Traditional vessel for Lithuanian Farmhouse Ale
 Otherwise we had a great competition: though some miscommunication there too. Since we had no steward I figured the guys could pull their own entries from boxes where the numbers were in order (except very few that came in late in 6 packs) but they HAD TO presorted them.
 Bums. Wait, did I just type that? I meant “bums” in a ‘sweet’ way, guys!
 We had some fascinating entries. Of the many I remember that were remarkable there was Keptinis: a Lithuanian Farmhouse Ale. The ‘mash’ starts with just hot water then it goes into an oven for 5 hours, 500 degrees, no boil. Very interesting, but didn’t make it to BOS. To be fair when we have no guidelines on an entry we’re kind of winging it by just looking up info: that makes a win a harder option because judges DO rely on those guidelines, kudos to Mr. Strong and all his helpers. It also makes it unfair for those entries we do have guidelines for for the base beer since they go by strict guidelines while the other we’re not sure if our information is right, or just opinion of one writer. Such entries tend not to go into BOS, from my experience. But I didn’t decide that. Greg and Millie did.
 See how I blamed it on ya’ll? Ain’t I clever?
 The one I really was disappointed missed placing was Purple Dreams: a mixed fermentation sour beer that did make BOS but got pushed aside, barely, by others.

Winners Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition 2019
John Spinella Best BIG Beer Russian Imperial Stout
Shane Denslow Best Odd entry with his pineapple cider
Joseph Nance 2nd Place with Mixed Fermentation
Evan Ruach 3rd Place Imperial Stout
John Spinella Honorable Mention NEIPA
John Spinella To Style Challenge American Light Lager

 It was obvious we were blessed to judge the beer brewed by a lot of good brewers and we actually finished a little early! On to 2020. Congratulations to the winners and thanks to all who helped and entered! To us you’re ALL winners. So now we end with a big display over Old Forge Pond for an additional thanks and a grande finale…


 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.

©Copyright 2019
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
all rights reserved

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