A Beer Judge’s Diary: A Hoppy Question

                   NSBO with some long hair creep judging too.

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 I’m still trying to figure out if I made a mistake. I stepped away from a mini-BOS table because I had what I thought was a prejudice towards an entry. Some considered the entry a tad problematic. My view was different.
 It happens.
 We were judging in the brewery at Star Spangled Brewery in Clarksville for The New South Brewoff. Always a grand time when I can do it, if not a grand time for those who do like Millie, my wife. BTW: apologies to those at NSBO: at least for a while I am getting away from individual reports on each competition. I think it more interesting to judges to bring up judging questions rather than what I judged, number of entries, etc.
 When it comes to one entry, did I make a mistake? I can only give you my perspective; especially when takes on that entry were so different.
 The entry was American Barleywine. I understand over the years the BJCP has changed the requirements for the style to reflect the trend towards being more hoppy. I am not a fan. I love the more British-like, rich somewhat sweet malt barleywines best suited for sipping by the fire with my collie, Payson, by me. Maybe not for the best? He likes to lay so close, after a few of those, I might trip and hurt both of us.
 Despite these feelings I understand my job is to judge per style, not per my personal tastes.
 Still, I can’t give up without at least one more shot at the change. I ask: why must we have some barleywine version of an Imperial IPA? This is a plea sent out to brewers who think, “Because American MUST be more hoppy,” no matter what.
 Back on point again: did it fit the style?
 Well, some thought it so bitter it was astringent. That’s not what I sensed. To me in one way it was somewhat of a clone of McGuire’s I’ll Have What the Gentleman on the Floor is Having that Steve Fried used to brew. Not listed as a classic, for sure, but a personal favorite now long gone, and what introduced me to barleywines. Tad sweet, luscious body, alcohol firm, yet background, hops just enough to balance.
 That, I understand, is more Brit these days. But that’s not what made me step back. What made me step back was, yes, to my palate it DID fit the more “hoppy” requirement in the guidelines compared to some older guidelines. (We’ve been judging so long I have one from the 90’s you can fit in a pocket like a cellphone!) But this, to me, was not your standard highly hopped IPA-ish Barleywine that so many breweries are doing. This was unique: a more an NEIPA Barleywine, at least to my palate.
 I know some I judged with disagreed with me. To them it was somewhat astringent. I have noticed some people find NEIPA’s so acidic I’ve read the description as “pond scum.” Could this be what they sensed that I didn’t?
 But again: not the point. As a judge your palate is close to your biggest weapon. And I absolutely knew what my palate was telling me. Honestly: an NEIPA Barleywine.
 I decided I was too prejudiced towards the entry and stepped back. But did I make a mistake? Should I have gone into mini to do battle, defend the honor of that brewer? I decided not because perceptions were so different and mine was based on preference.
 Pausing to contemplate the entry while mini was going on I pondered another question: why would a more hoppy barleywine HAVE TO BE just IPA-ish? Couldn’t it be NEIPA-like hoppy: the fruit characteristics of the hops rather than bitter? Would that need to be a new kind of beer… NEIPA Barleywine? Personally I don’t see why. NEIPA should be just as valid as IPA bitter, if we are to continue with more hoppy Barleywine trend. Why not hop fruity instead of hop bitter?
 What do you think?

NSBO raffle prizes for judges, stewards and staff after.


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 in the 70’s 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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