Brew Biz: Werts and All

Written by Ken Carman

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

The Topic: Judging Mead

Last episode of The Brew Biz this beer judge offered up his diary of a competition in Mississippi. In that “episode” I ended up as one of three judges at the Mead table, two of us Certified. There are more than a few judges I have met who feel Meads and Ciders shouldn’t even be in a beer competition. I disagree, but as a brewer of Braggots, I admit I have my own partisan mash tun dipped into the debate. Most judges I know welcome the addition of Ciders/Cysers, Pyments, Hydromels, Melomels, Braggots (Yes!) and Meads. However, most of us are not all that comfortable judging them.

Some of the best ways to educate judges about their duties would be the BJCP test, supplemental reading and studying BJCP testing information provided on site… the order where one should start from having been reversed in that list. Yes, taking the test itself is an “education” of sorts. If for no other reason it can help encourage you to learn more and judge more. The more you judge, the more you learn, and that applies to Mead too.

While this has been an education for me, my regular readers know I have been rather critical of some aspects of the program in the past. While many of these aspects have changed, it’s still been an adventure discovering just how wrong I was, occasionally. And an adventure discovering how right I have been: occasionally. You, the reader, might be the best judge, I suppose. Judging that for myself would be as unfair, and as unethical, as judging my own entry in a competition.

But, more than anything, it has been an “adventure” discovering how helpful the education leading up to the test and, yes, the test itself, are. It helps us focus: better assess all the categories and to judge well, encourage us to judge more frequently.

Most competitions I have judged at either have no Mead judges, or have a hard time getting them: there are so few, nationwide… at least in the many competitions I have judged from Dallas to Albany, NY. I really feel, to do these categories justice, we need more Mead judges. I wouldn’t mind becoming one myself. But, like any human, incentive is an important part of the mix.

A while ago the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) introduced a new rank: Mead judge, something I feel was a grand idea. This is in addition to your rank as a judge, not a higher rank, like Recognized vs. Certified, vs National, vs…. And you can become just a Mead judge. The test, and the study material, are separate from the regular beer judge tests, with different information to study, to learn, for obvious reasons. That’s all as it should be.

Now, more news, for those not in the know: another new addition is an online test where you can become a Recognized, or Certified, beer judge. To attain a higher rank the old written exam still applies, upgraded, of course. There is no online test for Mead. I’ve also noticed they’re looking into doing a cider specific test too. Not a bad idea, though it might suffer from the same problems I will mention here.

. I had to write, via the net, and ask what I thought was an obvious question: if we need more Mead judges, why not have an online Mead test too? I understand that the tasting portion would have to be as is: a structured, sit down, session where you judge against other judges. But if you have to have a written Mead exam, well proctored, and a well proctored tasting portion: all at the same time… aren’t we making it harder to become a good Mead judge since there are so few tests, and so few actual Mead qualified judges to proctor?

If we could get judges part way to being official Mead judges, wouldn’t that encourage them to go all the way and take the tasting portion as soon as possible, creating more Mead judges and, more important, better judging? Wouldn’t it encourage clubs to schedule more Mead tasting exams, or find ways to get their members to these tastings? Provisional judges, waiting in the wings, seems a great incentive for judges and clubs to help improve judging of Meads in our competitions.

I E-mailed to suggest they start an online test for Mead and found out the reasons online exams were instituted was because they wished to manage all the beer judges, and better manage those who wished to become beer judges. And they are right: we are many, with many waiting in the wings. Management is crucial.

Yet, more than anything, isn’t it important for judges to judge entries as well as they can, with as much expertise as they can muster? Normally there are beer exams, if not nearby and sponsored by your local homebrew club, then within a few hundred miles. But, so far, for a good portion of the country, this is not true for Mead. This leaves us lacking qualified Mead judges, and judging Mead is by no means the same as judging beer, yet we continue to accept them into our competitions. “It’s in the guidelines” may work for beer, but I feel these categories are so different it would be like thinking a wine judge would serve just as well as a National judge.

As it is now, looking at scheduled Mead exams, my only option if I wanted to take the test would be to drive, or fly, from Tennessee to one of the few exams in… California? Pennsylvania? Minnesota? True, one of my homebrew clubs: I belong to three, could schedule an exam, but who is to proctor? Who judges the judges? With no Mead qualified judges, and certainly no Mead judges National and above in any club I belong to, and having to have a combined tasting/sit down test, this is a disincentive to having more Mead judges, and more judges who can judge Meads well. Seems logical, for now at least, to separate out the tasting and provide incentive by creating provisional Mead judges: much like the regular BJCP test.

There’s no reason, once we have more Mead judges, we couldn’t go back to sit down exams only if that’s the preferred way to do this. But the situation we have now may provide less satisfactory judging for these categories for a very long time.

I wouldn’t recommend ongoing online exams for the Mead categories. That would actually decrease incentive to study. Unlike the online beer exam, the BJCP should announce, and give, online exams on specific dates: once, or twice a year. Let’s say one week period, or a day or two, where test takers can sign on and take the written part of the exam. This could be twice a year, or once, whatever seems best.

I can see it now on the BJCP site: “Next online exam to become a provisional Mead judge is scheduled for… Please sign up HERE.” (“HERE” would be a link one could click on.)

Having scheduled online tests provides a period for test takers to study and learn and plenty of incentive to do so.

I would recommend at least a temporary online version of the Mead exam be instituted, as suggested, to become a provisional Mead judge, therefore having increasing our knowledge pool through provisional judges who have been “incentivized” to take the test, and the test being more accessible.

Bingo! Better judging of these categories.

Why bother?

Well, just like those who brew beer and enter competitions, those who enter these categories competitions deserve the best, most complete, results we can give them. Their entries should be judged as well as possible. They spend a lot of time and effort brewing (Braggots), fermenting Meads and such, and entering our competitions. They need judges, or provisional judges, who are better able to judge these categories sooner… not latter.

Otherwise, maybe the naysayers are right. Why bother judging them at all?



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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