Here Comes The Judge

Bev Blackwood - What it takes to evaluate beer.

You may recall that when we first met, I had just finished judging beer with Michael Ferguson at a competition.On Saturday, I was judging in a different capacity, as a proctor for a Beer Judge Certification Program exam.How would that be different than judging at a competition?First, I am being considered the “standard” against which the people who are taking the exam will be judged.What they say on their score sheets will be compared against what I found in the beer and my scores will affect their final grades (and judging rank) when all is said and done.It’s a big responsibility.I am required to judge fairly, accurately and completely.When analyzing any beer within the context of the BJCP, it’s about conforming to style.I can hate American Light Lagers (think Miller Lite) but I need to be able to set aside that prejudice and figure out which beer on a table most closely conforms to style.

In an exam context, I also have to be sure I discuss every aspect of the beer.Malt… (What kind of malt, how intense is it, is it appropriate to the style?) Hops… (Are there enough hops to balance the beer?Are they too bitter or is there too much hop flavor for the style?)The list goes on.I also have to account for the exam administrator’s (well meaning) trickery.Did he give me a German Pils and call it an India Pale Ale?Did he add something, like a sour beer, to simulate an off flavor?Those are the sorts of things that he’s allowed to do, to test our knowledge of style and our palate sensitivity.

With six beers in ninety minutes, we also have to work fast. That is a valued trait at homebrew competitions.Being able to fully evaluate a beer within fifteen minutes and provide accurate feedback is a skill, one that improves with time and experience.

Last week, I was evaluating each beer at the Great American Beer Festival based on three or four sips and you got to see my impressions in this column.Deconstructing a brewer’s contest entry is a completely different exercise, although it uses the same skills in a different way.At GABF, I’m focused on the hedonistic pleasure of finding a great beer and filing away mental notes about each beer for later reference.At the Dixie Cup (one of the world’s most amazing beer events) I’m required to tell every brewer whose beer I judge exactly how to make it better… Unless I give it that elusive 50 point perfect score.(I never have, and I likely never will…)

What you should take away is that there are degrees of beer evaluation.Casual: “I like this!”Tasting: “Wow they did a great job on this beer, especially how the sourness of the cherries mesh with the lactic fermentation” and Judging: “Malt is high, with a toasty character while hops are muted and primarily evident in the flavor, with a grassy character.”All are valid, it’s just a function of how precise you need to be with you language and evaluation skills.I hope I did the best I can for both my examinees and the entrants whose beers I judged this afternoon.

The Author:

Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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