Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman for

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

The Topic: Amber Waves of Grain Homebrew Competition

I know Buffalo fairly well. My brother-in-law went to college there, and I had clients in western New York for years. I even had one in St. Catherine’s, across the Canadian border, and one on Grand Island. But… I haven’t been to either of those two in years. Buffalo? I went there during my yearly tours for quite a while, and still pass by twice to three times a year: on my way to other destinations.

Being from New York State originally also helped, as well as passing back and forth with my wife to our place in the Adirondacks.

I was planning a short tour up north: I’m a musical storyteller and educational service provider by trade, and noticed the Buffalo area was having a homebrew competition. So I worked out a few things and headed north early, clunking out in my old tour bus that’s stored in northeast Ohio for the night. Then I headed to New York: waking up at 3:30am so I could be sure I’d arrive at The Knights of Columbus on Grand Island at 8:30 where the competition was being held, with well over 600 beers entered! I felt bad: I could only make half of the affair and made a smaller dent in those entries than many judges there. Performing a program Wednesday in Nashville kind of cut my time short.

I got there about an hour early so I hopped on the net at the McD’s around the corner.

Walking into The Knights I was greeted by a huge room with plenty of tables, Todd Snyder: organizer and Terry Felton: judge director. Wow. Yeah, Terry looks a little like Jesse Ventura, but, ironically, he also looks like the brewer at The Brewerie in Erie, PA.

Must be all those BEER soaked genes in us BEER lovers, huh?

A note in advance: my spastic camera ruined a lot of good pictures of all the staff, and especially a wide shot of a busy big room, full of judges. Plus my 3am tired mind didn’t help.


(To your right you can see a few of the judges getting ready: just before the competition began. I have never seen so many women judges at a competition, and so many who are Certified or higher! Tis something to be proud of, and one hopes I will see a lot more of this over the years… unless the Mayans get us. Cringe. Not until I finish all the beer! There: that will keep those Mayans and their pesky calendar away! Chuckle.)

We registered with Tim Collins (I assume no relation to Tom Collins, since this is a BEER competition, right? Though I am trying to… GIN… up support for AWOG here.)

Mary Lee worked with the stewards while Todd Snyder: competition organizer, walked around to make sure all went well.

The stewards were great: quietly washing glass after glass and bringing them back, checking math… etc.. I’ve judged a lot, but this is the first time when we use glasses that we didn’t rinse ourselves. Usually it’s plastic cups. This is better, and actually cheaper according to the staff. This ranks right up there with my other fav perk for judges that I’ve also only seen once at another competition: plastic lids for the cups. Kind of simplifies, and improves, swirling. Also makes my paperwork and lap look a hell of a lot better. A few beers take a hell of a lot of “swirl,” aroma-wise.

Stewards are great, and I’ve often wondered if it would be a worthy pursuit to do more intensive training with stewards, then treat them like chili competition stewards. According to Tom Gentry, owner of Rebel Brewer in Nashville, fellow beer judge and chili competitor, the stewards are actually ranked higher than the judges in official chili competitions. They help guide the judges.

Interesting concept, but how doable when it comes to beer? Not sure.

In the morning I judged Imperial Stouts. In the afternoon I did best of show for Perrys, Ciders and Meads first, then Specialty. I have noticed visiting judges do tend to get the odd categories, but I like them all… and I absolutely have a fondness for weird beers.

As the last president of my club in Nashville said to my wife, Millie: “You guys are never going to brew anything normal, are you?”

Nope, probably not. Or maybe once, just to be a contrarian?

Speaking of “weird,” I do have a question. Exactly how do you get the taste of carrot into a beer? I would think: very tough. The one entry we had with carrots did nothing to change my opinion, though someday I… hope? …some brewer does change that. Personally I really find that unlikely. Carrot is such a delicate taste and this beer had so much more going for it than just the carrot addition.

The judges all provided interesting discussions. I love how our palettes vary so much, and how we approach working with others. How judges work together as a team is probably one of the main reasons I judge: respect for BJCP judges of all ranks, and those who aren’t BJCP… yet. We all contribute something, and I have found having a judge who senses something a trained palate might miss is a big plus. Sometimes we miss the forest. Sometimes we miss the trees. Those who come from different perspectives are invaluable seeing through this very human tendency, in my opinion.

There was one “oopsie.” One of the beers we judged was brewed by our steward. Luckily we only found out at the end. We’re really not supposed to know.

At night a fabulous dinner at The Center for Tomorrow on the campus of University of Buf. Stout glazed pork loin, roast beef with mini kimmelwick, pasta arribattam: quite impressive. That’s the short list, and they allowed us to hop through the line to go where wanted to go, rather than be dragged though what we had less interest in.

Of course the club: Niagara Association of Homebrewers provided beer. I was especially fond of a Stout on hand pulled, but I had to be careful, as you shall soon understand.

Master of Ceremony, Paul Dyster: Mayor of Niagara Falls, kept us entertained as prizes, awards were handed out, winners honored. The usual raffle, only all our names in a hat rather than tickets sold. That meant we all had a chance.

I had to leave before they were finished: the drive back to Ohio beckoned and staying would have meant I would have had to have had more of that grand Stout.

A shout out goes to Alex Placito who offered a room for the night, but for various personal reasons I thought it best if I headed back. He was gracious and he even let me follow him around town to make sure I didn’t get lost on my way to the dinner. We practiced U turns several times on the way around town just for jollies, and a few wheelies for fun.


And if my tour coincides again?

“I’ll be back.”

Maybe I’ll even enter this time and win something from the great prize table…


Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

©Copyright 2012
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

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