Sunday, November 22, 2015

First Time Judge - Bayou Beer Fest 2015

Last year for the Bayou Beer Fest I was on my own serving Toby's Homebrew for 2-3 hours while he finished judging the homebrew competition. I told him he was lucky I was with him or his beer would have just sat. He assured me that this year he would buy me a ticket and I would get to relax and enjoy the fest this year while he judged beer and a fellow homebrewer served his keg. I had made reservations for us at the Courtyard Marriott by the library so we could drive in Friday night, sleep in Saturday morning, and make it to the beer fest with no worries, and have a place to crash post fest.

Then plans changed: my daughters high school football team made the playoffs and we had a home game. That meant Toby drove in on Friday night by himself and I had the joy that is playoff game concession sales for five hours on Friday night. Saturday morning consisted of getting Daisy up early, dropping the dogs off for boarding, and driving into Houma (which is about and 1hour and 15 to 30 minutes away.

I arrive at Southdown, connect with my mother-in-law to hand off Daisy, and discover that they are one beer judge short. Would I like to help? I have been married to Toby for 20 years. In that time, I have learned a great deal about beer. He has often encouraged me to take the test to become a certified beer judge, I have always said no because it is my belief that I can only do one of the two things beer judging is supposed to do. Here was my chance to prove if I was right or wrong, so I accepted the challenge.

First, for those of you who think that being a beer judge sounds like a fantastic way to get "casayed" (I'm sure the spelling of that is off, but it's how us cajuns say drunk) let me dispell that myth. Beer judging is a small amount of beer that you don't always want to drink being sipped and thought about while writing judging notes. It's interesting, it's engaging, but it is not a fun way to get drunk.

I said memorable things to my judging partner, like:
4. "Well, this is either really gonna be good, or it's gonna be a hot mess!"
3. I can actually give brewing tips for this one, "Your beer is infected, please focus on sanitization."
2. Sorry, trying to think of what to say, taste like cat piss is not going to be constructive feedback.
1. I get blue cheese in the finish, was that intentional, or do you think this is infected?

The last thing I wanted to do when I was done? Drink beer. My judging partner assured me that was a normal response. By the time we were done, the festival was almost over and we still had our homebrew setup to break down. I did get to listen to the band for a few minutes and talk to some friends I ran into, but not much actual beer drinking happened at the beef fest.

I now have a judging experience under my belt, and can have an informed response to the question, "Do you want to be a certified beer judge?" For me, I think the answer really is no. While I enjoy the comradery of the beer judging experience and getting to flex my palate and my knowledge of flavors, off flavors, and such; I can only fulfill one of the two things a beer judge is supposed to do. I can determine if a beer is to style and comment of the flavor, appearance, and mouthfeel of a beer. I cannot give adequate recommendations for improving a beer from the brewing perspective.

Toby is such a fountain of knowledge when it comes to here's what I'm tasting and here is why it probably happened. I respect that, but I don't want to be able to do that. I can do that for food, I can do that for many types of arts and crafts. But when it comes to beer, I really just want to be able to sip, taste, and enjoy. I have no qualms about judging again, if ever in a situation where a non-certified beer judge can be paired with a certified beer judge. But I live under no delusions that I will ever be a certified beer judge. And I'm OK with that...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mini-review: Trophy Wife Pale Ale

Aroma is dank and resinous
Appearance is pale gold
Flavor is dank and resin
Mouthfeel is moderate low with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is solid APA

Mini-Review: Old Mecklenberg Capt Jack

Aroma is spice and light herbal
Appearance is gold with light white head
Flavor is herbal and spice with a very light graham cracker sweetness
Mouthfeel is light with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is solid pils

Mini-Review: White Street Hoptimist

Aroma is citrus with light alcohol
Appearance is pale orange with light white head
Flavor is orange/lemon with slight alcohol sweetness
Mouthfeel is moderate low with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is decent IPA

Mini-Review: NoDa Hop Drop and Roll

Aroma is citrus and resin
Appearance is light orange with a persistent white head
Flavor is nice resin and citrus
Mouthfeel is moderate with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is IPA awesomeness

Mini-review: Big Boss Hell's Belle

Aroma is spice and pepper with a light malt backbone
Appearance is deep gold with light white head
Flavor is spicy phenolics with pepper and very light banana and clove
Mouthfeel is light with moderate-high carbonation
Overall Impression is pretty tasty Belgian blonde

Mini-review: Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout

Aroma is chocolate and roast coffee
Appearance is deep brown with light tan head
Flavor is chocolate and coffee with a light residual sweetness
Mouthfeel is moderate-high with moderate carbonation
Overall Impression is solid milk stout

Mini-review: Front Street Absurdity

Aroma is all amarillo orange with a tiny hint of spice
Appearance is golden with a light white head
Flavor is orange and a light spice
Mouthfeel is moderate with moderate carbonation
Overall Impression is amarillo awesomeness

Mini-review: Fullsteam Summer Basil Farmhouse

Aroma is herbal and grassy with a very light spice
Appearance is a cloudy straw with a light white head
Flavor is lemon and herbal with a light grassiness
Mouthfeel is light and crisp with a moderate-high carbonation
Overall Impression is summer in a glass

Mini-Review: Highland King MacAlpin

Aroma is slightly dank and resinous with hint of malt
Appearance is light orange with light white head
Flavor is piney and resinous with light malt backbone
Mouthfeel is moderate with medium-high carbonation
Overall Impression is solid DIPA

Mini-review Innovation Midnight Ryeder

Aroma is citrus and spice
Appearance is deep brown with tan head
Flavor is citrus and spice with very light malt
Mouthfeel is moderate with mediu, carbonation
Overall Impression is decent black IPA

Mini-review: Innovation Brewing Beet and Basil

Aroma is herbal and slightly vegetal
Appearance is reddish orange with a light white head
Flavor is herbal and basil with light vegetal (beet) character
Mouthfeel is medium with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is a bit strange but would make a good dressing

Mini-review: Lonerider Sweet Josie

Aroma is roast and light chocolate
Appearance is light brown with light tan head
Flavor is deep caramel with roasty bitterness to balance
Mouthfeel is medium low with light carbonation
Overall Impression is a solid brown ale.

Mini-review: Lonerider Tres Vaqueros

Aroma is vanilla and some honey with a light caramel and graham cracker
Appearance is deep gold with a light white head and lacing.
Flavor is a light vanilla with some peppery phenols
Mouthfeel is medium with moderate high carbonation
Overall Impression is decent belgian tripel with barrel character.

Wicked Weed - Late Night Dinner With Beverages

Rolling into Asheville at 9:16PM, I was happy to know that Wicked Weed served food until midnight. We had missed lunch and dinner, so this place on our to do list sounded like a good place to solve our nutritional whoas and start our Asheville experience. I loved the bare brick walls! We were seated inside at a table. There was an awesome outdoor patio with a fire pit for those who wanted to sit, sip, and visit. We did not check out the tap room, so we will have to do that on another trip...

The food menu was brief. Although the burger looked like a good option, I really didn't need meat, so I opted for the No Evil Foods Seitan, tamari, carrot, red onion, green apple, and naan. I'll be honest; I didn't know what half the ingredients on this were. Our server was able to confirm that it was vegetarian, and said it was one of her favorites. It was awesome! The seitan was well seasoned, the green apple was sliced thick, the red onion was shaved thin, and the carrot was shredded. I ate all of the contents and only a few bites of the warm pita it came in. This came with house made chips that were awesome because they were toasted brown and had no salt on them. As a beer lover with medical issues, I felt this place really got me. It understood that I wanted to drink beer and eat healthy.

On to the beer. What I really like is the pour size option. I always want to try multiple beers, but really don't need or want a full pour of everything I want to order. I also don't want to waste beer. Sharing isn't always an option as Toby and I have different tastes (i.e. I like fruity, he doesn't, etc.). The small pour came in a snifter glass, one of my favorite glass styles.

Lunatic Blond - a good, clean, well-balanced Belgian blond. I started here because I don't normally like blonds, but this one made me like blonds for the evening. Note: red heads have more fun!

XLVII Pineapple Guava Saison - fruity, but not overly sweet. You really taste the Guava more, the pineapple is in a support role for balance. I really liked this one!

XLVI Salted Chocolate Black Saison - think Ghirhardelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree or Godiva Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt. It's like a liquid but not syrupy version of one of those bars.  Divine, roasty, chocolate, dark beer goodness. Loved it!

Midnight came all too soon, so I hope to make it back there or to the Funkatorium to enjoy a Black Angel Cherry Sour. Anyhoo, if you make it out to Asheville, drop in and get your grub and brew on!

Journey to Asheville for the Beer Bloggers Conference 2015

I had been looking forward to my vacation time for well over a month. Anxiously awaiting my much needed three days away from my day job (the emails, the conflict, the problems, the people...) to spend some time checking out a new place, meeting new people, and tasting new beers. So it was in no way, shape, or form amusing when the air conditioner stopped working on Tuesday night. At 7AM Wednesday I called the repair service, I was relieved when I was told I would receive a call between 1 and 5PM for a tech to come out to repair our system. We had planned to get on the road at 6PM to drive to Montgomery so we would be half way to Asheville, a logical break in the drive. It all still seemed possible...

Needless to say, the owner arrived at our house at 9PM. 45 minutes and $352 later, we were ready to get on the road. Well, if I could just pry the 85lb Chocolate Lab (who had figured out that mommy was leaving) off my legs. We pulled into the Sonic on HWY 42 at 9:59, only to be told that they were no longer taking orders for the night. Since when in the hell does Sonic close at 10PM? 6 hours later, we pull in at the Courtyard Marriott in Montgomery to catch some sleep, so much for missing Atlanta traffic on Thursday, but at least we could get 6 hours of sleep before getting back on the road.

12 noon on Day 1 of vacation, all I want is a 44oz diet coke with lime from Sonic. Really, that's all...So we pull off at the next exit that had a Sonic and go through the drive through.  An hour later we are back on the interstate, some how we ended up in a mad rush hour traffic jam at the Sonic, don't ask...I heard about my "need" for a Sonic drink for the rest of the trip. I know I will never live it down. We hit Atlanta just in time for a pile up caused by multiple wrecks and were treated to a high speed pursuit with arrest in the middle of the interstate in broad daylight. That's the kind of stuff you only see on the news, film at 11...

When we arrive in northern Georgia and the curves and hills and drop offs begin, I am so glad we are driving this in daylight. I do not like this part of the drive at all, even though it is quite beautiful. We roll up at the Four Points Sheraton in Asheville at 9:16PM. So much for an afternoon of brew hopping. But we unpack and get settled in and take a late night stroll to Wicked Weed for a late dinner...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Beer Bloggers Conference 2015 Preview

This July, a group of both citizen and professional bloggers in the beer world will be converging on Asheville, NC, to discuss all things blogging and beer.  My wife and I attended last years conference in San Diego, and it was a great time.  This year's agenda should be shaping up to be great as well.  A few highlights that I'm looking forward to include touring the Asheville branches of both Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada as well as the Social Expo and Speed Blogging.  One other thing I'm curious about will be a "3PM Tasting" hosted by a certain megabrewer.

The conference is about beer, so there are always brewery visits involved.  Two on the agenda this year are Oskar Blues and Sierra Nevada.  Considering Louisiana is about to start getting Oskar Blues, I'm pretty stoked to be touring their Asheville location.  They were one of the first craft brewers to embrace the canning movement including their fantastic imperial stout, Ten FIDY.  Sierra Nevada's Asheville location is new (just opened this year), so I'm expecting it to be a great experience and we'll probably have Ken Grossman himself showing us around (he is typically a speaker at the conference).

The Social Expo is going to combine the Trade Show and Beer Social this year.  It will basically be a mix of vendors promoting their wares (last year included items like the Spirited Shipper and an app to suggest similar beers to the one you're checking in that are in your area), and breweries giving some samples of their beers.  Last year included Lagunitas, Goose Island, and Firestone Walker (mmmm Double DBA).  Speed blogging was a similar thing where 10 breweries bring your table a different beer every 5 minutes.  They have 5 minutes to explain their beer, have everyone taste it, and discuss or blog about it.  Some people make one big blog entry for everything, and others go pro level and live blog each one in series.

Finally, the other thing that I'm interested in will be ABInbev bringing their 3PM tasting to us.  This may wind up being a little controversial considering their Super Bowl ad last year talking about how their beer isn't meant to be 'fussed over' or picked apart.  The description of the 3PM tasting, though, sounds like exactly that, where their tasters meet and analyze current batches and ingredients to make sure they meet their standards.  I hope the Bud guys are ready to get some ribbing.  Cheers!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Drink Like A Beer Judge

When people find out I’m a beer judge, they usually have a wide array of responses.  Anything ranging from “Lucky you! Free beer!” to “Aren’t all beers the same?” to “What’s that supposed to mean?”  Sometimes there are even people who are aware of beer judging and have negative opinions of competitions due to prior bad experience.  Well, some of that is certainly justified.  I’ve gotten quite a few awful score sheets in my days as well.  In my opinion, there are two primary reasons to enter competitions: receiving feedback and winning medals.  In both instances, however, I think a little look behind the curtain of what’s involved in judging might help both camps.

The first thing to consider is the environment your beer is in.  Make sure to clean and sanitize whatever your bottling system is thoroughly.  Nothing is worse than having a beer that tastes phenomenal coming out of your kegerator getting a 29 out of 50 picking up some sort of infection or off flavor going into the bottle.  Next comes transportation.  If you ship your beer, you have no control over what happens to it when it gets to the shipping company.  If you really want to see how a judge will receive your beer, take a bottle with you in your car to work for two or three days.  Then stick it in your fridge for a week or two.  That’s probably what the judge is going to experience.

If you’re going for medals, there’s no better way to improve your brewing than by learning to judge your beer like the judges will.  Unfortunately, the nature of the beast with competitions is style guidelines.  No matter how great of a beer you may make, if it doesn’t fit the style, you won’t win anything.  By that same token, judges can’t give you feedback without having an idea of what you were shooting for.  If you enter a Pale Ale brewed with Belgian Yeast, it’s not going to taste like an American Pale Ale and will come off as though it was infected or fermented too warm.

In the meantime, you can get the things you’ll need assuming you don’t have them on hand.  Get a copy of the style guidelines from the BJCP website (  Also, while you’re there, download a copy of the beer score sheet (  Get your hands on some clear 9 ounce plastic cups.  These are the same cups they give you on an airplane.  Basically a plastic cocktail glass.  Most independent grocery stores will have them.  I don’t usually see them at big box stores except for Sam’s.  A small LED flashlight and a mechanical pencil will also come in handy.  Now, I would assume you already knew what style you were going for when you put together your recipe or found it.  In this article, I’ll be using a beer sent to me by HomeBrewTalk’s nukebrewer as an extra in the Make A Wish (Easy Version) thread.  It is an Imperial Flanders Red.  That technically isn’t a style in the 2008 guidelines, but we’ll consider it part of category 16e (Belgian Specialty) for this exercise.  It could also be considered a Specialty Beer in category 23, but since it’s a bigger version of a Flanders Red (a Belgian Sour), 16e will probably give it the best chance.

Always consider the BJCP guidelines when entering.  They are irrelevant to commercial brewers and people who don’t enter competitions, but they are the only things the judges can go on when they review your beer.  All scores are based upon the conformance to that style.  For this beer, we would also reference category 17b since it’s a bigger Flanders Red.  Basically, it should show most of the characteristics of a Flanders Red with a higher alcohol content.

When it’s time to taste the beer, you want to have a quiet space with as few distracting aromas as possible.  Also, most beer competitions are judged starting around 9 AM.  Your palate and senses will generally be more sensitive at this time.  So, if you want the full experience, pick a Saturday morning to eat a decent, but relatively bland, breakfast and get ready to taste your beer.  Set up your stuff in that quiet aroma-neutral space, and sit the beer out on the table.  Keep in mind that most competitions will bring out a flight to the judges all at once in a Styrofoam cooler which generally won’t have ice in it.  Your beer may be first in the flight and still relatively cold, or it may be last in a flight of 10 and have been sitting in the cooler for a couple hours.  For the sake of this exercise, leave it out for about 20 minutes.  The first thing you’re going to want to do is visually inspect the bottle.  It should be free of any markings or labels that could be considered identifying.  A quick shine of the flashlight through the bottle should reveal any sediment or floaters.  Judges will use this when marking the first section of the score sheet:

Now, we can finally pour the beer.  Pop the cap and pour about 2 or 3 ounces into the cup.  You want to do this relatively vigorously.  Since you’re not pouring much, you want the beer to have a chance to create foam and aroma:

The first thing a judge is going to do at this point is smell the beer.  You’re looking for any fleeting aromas that may show up.  You want to write down everything you smell.  Every characteristic of the malt, hops, yeast derived esters, and anything else.  Whatever you smell just write it down.  In the case of this beer, there were moderate dark fruit aromas like dark cherries and plums, medium low acetic acid aromas (think vinegar) with a touch of lactic acid, low spicy phenols (similar to clove), not much hop aroma to mention, and no diacetyl detected (the smell of movie popcorn butter to me, but others describe it as butterscotch).  A good general guideline in a competition is to be able to do all of this in under a minute.  We don’t want to even consider score at this point.

Next we move on to the appearance.  You want to look at the beer color, clarity, and head retention, head color, and texture.  This should be an even quicker section.  The beer I was sampling was a coppery amber in color with a very slight white head, good clarity, and a light ring of many fine bubbles ringing the edge which did persist.  A quick look at the style guidelines for Flanders Red show that it hits most of those marks although the head was a little lacking.  Appearance is only 3 points total, so we’ll knock a point off for that and call it 2/3 for appearance.

We’ve had the beer in the glass for a few minutes now, and it’s finally time to taste it.  You want to inhale through your nose as you take a small sip (maybe an ounce) and swish it around your palate.  Take note of everything you’re tasting.  Just like aroma, we’re looking for characteristics of the ingredients and fermentation characteristics, but now we’re also looking for balance and finish/aftertaste.  This beer had moderate high dark fruit (dark cherry and plums) with a medium low chocolate flavor that came through mid-taste.  Medium low spicy phenols with a low alcohol sweetness were also there.  Finally there was a moderate and drying sourness that finished similar to a red wine.  No hop flavor or diacetyl came through.

At this point would be where we would start considering score.  Think about the overall beer as well as how it comes off within the style.  Using the style guidelines and considering it a bigger version of a Flanders Red, this beer was in the high end of the “Very Good” range.  It was generally within style parameters, but could have used a little more carbonation and complexity.  With that in mind, we can score aroma (after noting any changes in aroma as it warms, i.e. the light chocolate aroma).  The high end of “Very Good” is about 75% of perfect, so we’ll call this one a 9/12 for aroma and a 15/20 for flavor.  Flavor should take you 3 or 4 minutes in a competition since it’s the biggest percentage of overall score.

Mouthfeel should be another relatively quick section.  You want to consider body, carbonation, warmth, creaminess, or any other palate sensations (harsh astringency or soapy slickness from diacetyl for example).  This beer was medium bodied with low carbonation.  It was tart and moderately acidic with a medium low warming sensation from the alcohol.  Despite the tartness, there was no astringency (suck on a tea bag for this mouth-puckering feeling).  There was no diacetyl slickness.  The dryness lingered only slightly.  When taking style into account, the carbonation was a little lower than expected, so we would only dock it a point and score it 4/5.

The final comment section is overall impression.  This is where the line is usually drawn between a good judge and a great judge.  All the rest of the sections should only address what you can sense (see, smell, taste, or feel).  Overall impression is where you address the drinkability and feedback.  This is where you tell the brewer how they can make the beer better fit the style.  The most important thing is to be constructive.  The brewer paid money to enter the competition, so give them some common courtesy.   In this case, it was a very good beer, but the carbonation seemed a bit on the low side.  There are a few ways to fix this, but since a judge has no way of knowing the brewer’s specific process, we have to offer up multiple possibilities.  If the beer was bottle conditioned, the carbonating sugar could be increased, or if the beer had attenuated so low that there was very little sugar left, krauesen from a similar beer or starter sized batch can be added to produce the same effect.  If kegged, the PSI on the CO2 should be raised about 10-20% higher and the beer agitated to allow it to dissolve in solution.  Another thing that would have helped it would be a little more complexity and character.  Since a Flanders Red would have some Munich or Vienna or possibly a specialty crystal malt like Special B, either substituting a portion of melanoidin malt (10-20%) for some of the Vienna or Munich malt or adding ½# of Special B per 5 gallons of beer would give it a little extra character to help it stand out.  I scored this one 7/10 overall based on the overall “Very Good” range I put it in.

The final step in a real judging competition is to tick the checkboxes for any descriptors.  Some of these are neutral or expected depending on style, and others are generally bad.  For this beer, the Alcoholic, Phenolic, and Sour/Acidic boxes were appropriate for style, so did not signify a bad thing.  This beer wound up being a 37/50 at the end of it.  Depending on what it was up against in the flight, it may have advanced to mini-Best of Show (where a big category will have the medals picked from the best of each of the flights) or even placed in a small category.  The interesting part of the mini-BOS is that if a beer advances, scores go out the window.  A subset of judges (usually the higher ranked judges that judged the flights) will take the top 4 or 6 beers and taste them side by side to determine which beer best represents the style guidelines.  Hopefully this information helps you out when deciding to enter beers in the future.  If you want to score well with a judge, you need to learn to drink like one.  ;)