Brew Biz: Werts and All

This week’s topic: Judging Specialty Wonderful-Weird vs. Specialty Slightly Abnormal

“Whose brain did you get?”

“Somebody named Abby Normal.”

“You’re telling me we gave him an… ABNORMAL BRAIN???”

-paraphrased exchange between I-Gor and young Victor Frankenstein; or “steen” as he preferred at first, the movie and the musical

Yes, maybe I was the one who got Abby Normal’s brain when it comes to judging what some may consider “Abby Normal beer.” Apologies to fans of Christopher Moore and homebrewers like myself who love to brew “Abby Normal” beers, braggots and explore other fermented concoctions, perhaps, even more odd.

A topic came up on JudgeNet, a Yahoo group, and I immediately went where no one else has gone before. Or maybe I just have a slightly off kilter look at Specialty brews…

(Hmm… “Off Kilt-er Kolsch?” I’d better get to brewing another Specialty!)

A brewer wanted to enter a Session IPA and thought maybe he/she should enter it as Specialty. I’m sure some judges are traditionalists: it’s neither an APA or an IPA, so Specialty should do. Others thought the category for APA would be better.


Frankly, Scarlett, I think they should just add sub-categories.

Being a traveling judge I have sat at many Specialty tables, often considered the ghetto category no one wants… or at least so I have been informed by quite a few judges. I’m not griping. Not me. I enjoy judging no matter what the category. Besides, as a brewer, it’s kind of my turf. As a former president of my Nashville club said to my wife, Millie, once, “You guys are never going to brew anything ‘normal,’ are you?”

Here is a conversation I have heard far more than once…

“But this is no more than a slightly higher hopped APA, what makes it ‘Specialty?'”

“Um, because it fits in neither category?”

“But shouldn’t it be really ‘special’ to be in ‘Specialty?'”

Well the answer should either be, “Yes, and that’s what makes it ‘special,’ because it’s out of category,'” or, “You answered your own question,” I suppose… depending on how sarcastic the judge wants to be. (And, of course, he or she probably shouldn’t. I am very much for respect between judges, no matter what their rank… or lack of. But all that takes us off topic.)

Yet, I think we’re missing a wider point here. What usually happens in situations like this is we come to some agreement, adjust scores because in such cases the two judges rarely are within the point spread, and the score for the beer (or other beers) usually suffers for that.

Would anyone think it fair if American Pilsner is judged along side Baltic Porter, or Russian Imperial, or even Imperial IPA: all in the same category?

I wouldn’t. And I feel styles winding up in Specialty because they’re a little too much of this, or too little of that, suffer as well. Perhaps, in some cases, the real “special” Specialty beers suffer because the judges at the table prefer judging more standard styles.

Note: I know neither should ever happen. But let’s remember, as objective as we may try to make judging beer, it’s always subjective: we’re all human.

So what we have is super innovative, sometimes quite wild brews, being judged against beers that are marginally different. I can’t help but feel either, or both, might suffer under that version of the guidelines.

What about splitting Specialty into two subs? One could be labelled 28A: “Standard Specialty,” and the other 28B: “Open Specialty,” or just “Specialty?” That way Specialty beer that comes real close to some style gets judged together first, while the more exotic are being judged together, or later. Eventually they’d be judged against each other, true, but in the beginning both would get the more specific, “special,” focus they need.

And that way “Frankensteeen brews and “Frankensteins both get the attention they deserve. The Abby Normal beers, and very Abby Normal beers, can both be judged well.

Hmm… “Abbey Not So Normal?” Is that the obsessive desire to brew yet another Specialty beer I feel swelling within me?

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. “Wert:” one of the more archaic: old English, spellings for what’s now commonly refer to as “Wort.” 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.”
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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