5 things I learned as an honorary beer judge

Being a beer judge has definitely got to be up there as one of the best jobs in the world, getting to travel around, meeting other beer lovers and (most importantly) getting to try lots of beer! Dave from our UK office was lucky enough to be invited to guest judge at a homebrew competition and jumped at the opportunity! As he discovered though, being a beer judge is a harder job then he thought!
“Being asked to judge at a beer festival was more than a little bit exciting and I was really eager to get the chance to work with certified judges and learn from them. As a brewer and all round beer lover, I felt like I had a pretty good grasp on what to expect from styles and what constituted good beer but this was my first mistake. Properly judging a beer was about much more than just whether or not you enjoyed it and my loose knowledge of styles paled in comparison to the BJCP judges I was working with. If this is something you are looking at getting into then let me share the five things I learned as a beer judge;
1. BJCP judges know their stuff
 
Straight out of the gates I was put on the table for oak aged, smoked and historical beers. A fairly difficult category I felt for a first timer! I was provided with the style guidelines which related to the categories and off we went. I’ll be honest, there were a few beers I had no reference point for such as Sahti and Grodziskie but was amazed by the judge I was paired with who explained what I should be looking for in both styles without referencing the guidelines. That was pretty impressive.
All the judges I spoke to throughout the day knew beer inside out and were able to detect off flavours at extremely low levels, there was no getting past some of them when it came to faults. I was quite proud to be able to recognise a few myself but that’s definitely an area I want to improve on so I can analyse my own beers better.
2. Even with just small samples, be prepared to drink a lot of beer
 
Drinking to judge is completely different (at least to me) from drinking for enjoyment. You really have to pick apart every element of these beers which means a long time staring at the beer and smelling it before you even get anywhere near drinking it. When you do finally take a sip you hold it in your mouth, swill it around and try and pick out every flavour and aspect of the beer. And you do this a lot! Each flight has several beers and even if you finish your own flight there’s a good chance you will be asked to help with any overspill from the bigger categories.
I love beer but even I was finding my palate was a little fried towards the end and I’ve never been more thankful for crackers and water.
Table full of homebrew competition entries
Just some of the great beers on offer on the day
3. Entering to win means brewing differently to if you’re brewing for feedback
 
Like a lot of other brewers I love to experiment with new techniques, exotic additions and muddled styles and to me, entering a competition and getting feedback from certified judges would be extremely valuable. If I decided that I really wanted to try and get a high score though my first point of call would be the style guidelines. This is what your beer is being judged against so if you want to score in the high 30s to 40s, brew to these guidelines.
This may sound easy, the guidelines certainly give a lot of ‘wriggle room’ so you shouldn’t be too restricted and if you brew with a style in mind, the guidelines are probably a part of your reference anyway. However, miscategorising your beer can really hurt your score – even if it is a great beer, if you say it’s a certain style and it doesn’t match any of the guidelines you won’t score well. Similarly, if you say you used an ingredient make sure that it can be tasted. If your beer is a raspberry pale ale for example judges will expect to smell or taste (or both) raspberries to some extent. If no aroma or flavour is present this can hurt your score.
4. Giving good feedback is extremely important
 
There’s a lot of space on the beer judging sheet for comments and feedback and the judges I met on the day took this seriously, giving detailed and specific notes. I’ve heard horror stories from people who have entered competitions to get feedback only to receive their form back with one line notes but this was not my experience. Most judges I spoke to were brewers themselves (several at a professional level) with a great in depth knowledge of the brewing process and the feedback they were giving was specific and detailed. If you are looking into becoming a beer judge keep in mind that for many homebrewers this feedback is invaluable and will help them improve going forward.
5. Judging beers is something I want to do a lot more of
 
Getting the opportunity to see the high level of quality beers that are being produced by homebrewers, learning more about the style guidelines and developing my palate so that I can improve my own brewing is all something I am keen to do and as someone who enjoys brewing so much I really enjoy the feeling of being able to help other brewers with feedback. The biggest thing that I took away from the day is that I want to complete the BJCPcertification and become a certified beer judge. Time to get studying…”
Who here has entered beer competitions? Did you find it valuable? Would you consider becoming a beer judge? Let us know in the comments below or by emailing [email protected]
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