Friday, December 27, 2013

What does being a certified beer judge mean?

This question came up recently in a customer service call.  Since I recently moved a domain to GoDaddy, they gave me a follow-up customer service call.  In the course of the call, my domain caught the CSR's eye.  It really took over the direction of the call.  She wanted to know whether it was a self-proclaimed title, a real thing, etc.  Well, in this case, it's a real thing.

I have been homebrewing for a bit over eighteen years.  I started in the summer of 1995 when a homebrew shop opened up across from the courthouse where I worked.  I lived a few blocks from work, so I walked to and from everyday.  Noticing the renovations going on in an old drugstore, I peeked in for a couple weeks.  One day, the door was open and I saw someone inside, so I decided to see what was up.

I had been getting more into beer anyway with Samuel Adams and Guinness starting to become more common.  I found out that the proprietor was selling homebrew supplies and a small selection of American and import craft beers (although they really weren't called that at the time) to pay the rent while renovating the space into a brewpub.  Well, I took his challenge to try a Tripel by Grimbergen, and I was hooked into the beer world since.

I convinced a coworker to split an ingredient kit with me (a raspberry/cherry wheat beer) and was bitten by the bug.  I entered a contest a few months later with a coffee stout recipe I came up with based on a kit at the shop, a couple recipes from Charlie Papazian's New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, and a coffee from the local office supply store that I loved.  I wound up taking the first place in the novelty beer category with it (coffee stouts were not common at the time).

I did wind up entering that competition one more time the next year, but since I've never been a competitive person, wound up just going back to brewing beer for myself and my new wife.  I still had an interest in brewing and enjoying good beer, so I had a passing knowledge of the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program), but really hadn't looked that hard into it.  I continued homebrewing independently through a couple of moves in job and domicile.  That changed recently.

In a conversation at a client site, it came out that I brewed beer.  One of the onsite support guys mentioned that he'd like to try it.  One day, I brought them a sample, and we started talking about the process of making beer.  I offered him the same original bargain that I started with: we would split the cost of ingredients, we would make the beer together, and we'd split the result.  Since I had been brewing it for years, the first recipe was my Wake Up And Go To Sleep Stout.  We did 10 gallons and split 5 and 5 with Godiva Chocolate Truffle and River Road Creole coffees.  He was now hooked as well.

A couple years later, he asked me if I had ever heard of Brasseurs a la Maison.  I replied that I knew it meant Home Brewers, but that was it.  It turned out that it was a homebrew club in our new home area.  I went to a couple of club brews and events, and they were trying to increase club participation in competitions.  I have since started getting back in the ring.  I have scored relatively well, but in order to enhance my scores, I started looking into the mechanics of a competition again.  This led to my current path to become a certified beer judge.

Basically the BJCP is centered around the goal of increasing appreciation for beer as well as trying to create a more consistent framework for judging beer.  There are a set number of styles and sub-styles which beers are referenced and scored against.  In my next series of posts, I'll break out each set of judging criteria and what it really means to be BJCP certified.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

There are no wrong answers...

One of the most interesting aspects of evaluating beers is that no two people are going to get the same thing out of the same beer, which is why judges are paired or grouped in competitions.  All of our noses and palates are sensitive (or insensitive) to certain aromas or flavors.  For example, I had my wife try a couple of the beers I was evaluating for my current tasting class.  We apparently were getting different fruity esters from an English bitter.  She was getting more of an apple aroma, where I was getting more of a lemony citrus aroma. Another interesting comparison was the Wee Heavy.  She described it as acrid where it came across as smoky and peaty to me.  It goes to show that there are ultimately no single right answers.  It's all about what you get out of it, except where the exam is concerned, that is.  ;)