So in this spirit of homebrew education and evangelism, I want to open up this Friday’s Session topic to be on homebrewing—the good, the bad, your experiences, ideas, (mis)conceptions, or whatever else suits you, as long as it starts the conversation!
Here are some ideas and questions to get you started:
Do you homebrew, and if so, for how long? How did you get started?
Talk about the best beer you ever brewed at home—and your worst!
Are you a member of a local homebrew club (or even the AHA)? Tell us about your club.
Describe your home set up: do you brew all grain? Extract? Brew in a bag? Unusual mashing/sparging/etc. methods?
Have you ever judged a homebrew competition? Talk about that experience.
Are you a BJCP or other accredited beer judge? Talk about the process of becoming certified/official.
Never homebrewed/not a homebrewer? No problem! Consider these questions:
Do you know any homebrewers?
Have you ever tasted someone’s home brewed beer?
Would you ever be interested in learning how to brew? Why or why not?
I have about 12 pages of draft posts, one started as far back as December 2015, on the topic of homebrewing but I am going to forgo those for now and go with something else I have had in draft since September on judging at homebrew competitions and the massive ask that takes place for judges to consume large amounts of alcohol.
As of today, I have judged at 6 full-sized homebrew competitions, 2 smaller homebrew comps, 2 commercial craft beer comps, and 3 quarterly club comps for my local homebrew club, COHO.
I started judging before I was BJCP certified and before I started homebrewing. The latter bit puts me in the weird column compared to most judges who start out as homebrewers first.
I have also taken two formal beer sensory analysis classes, one informal, have done a 12-week BJCP Exam Prep class, and have participated in an analysis of the Siebel hop sensory kit, amongst many other smaller sensory learning experiences. I also became certified as an MBAA Beer Steward and as a Certified Beer Server by the Cicerone Certification Program.
There are scores of homebrew comps all over, all the time, and they almost always needs judges. Being certified as a BJCP judge seems to carry—at least for me and the ones who trained me—an ethical commitment. To use your knowledge to serve others, I guess. Perhaps that’s just me (as career military) and a couple of my fellow judge peers/trainers (as career law enforcement).
Competitions need a lot of judges. Logistically this is the case for several reasons. First and foremost though, ought be the realization that you are asking these people—people who are donating their time, energy and bodies—to ingest large amounts of alcohol. Often for more than one consecutive day. That is a big ask.
I have rarely been shy about ingesting large amounts of alcohol over a sustained period of time but I try to be a lot smarter about it than when I was, say, 25. Also, my almost-60-year-old body does not process alcohol as well as it used to do. Most of my judge friends are my age or getting there quickly. No idea how their bodies are doing but I can guess.
Here is an example from the most recent competition I judged:
Friday evening [2 5A, 3 5B, 2 5D] [1 13A, 1 13B, 2 13C]
Saturday [1 2A, 4 4A, 2 4B, 1 4C] [2 17B, 1 17C, 1 17D] [21B 5 Be black, red, black, 2 NEIPA] [30 6 assorted; Eng brown with chocolate, blonde w/basil & honey, Am wheat w/cucumber, Am wheat w/habanero, dark lager w/habanero, Eng BW w/pumpkin & spice] [BOS 33 beers]
To make it more understandable, I had 2 flights on Friday evening. The first was 7 pale Euro beers, the second was 4 brown British beers. Not too bad of an evening quantity-wise.
Saturday began with 8 pale malty Euro Lagers, then lunch after I think. Then 4 strong British ales, followed by 5 specialty IPAs, followed by 6 assorted spice, herb or vegetable beers.
Then it was time for the best of show judging at the end of Saturday. Thirty-three (33) beers to be tasted in rapid succession and whittled down to just the top 3. Thankfully, this doesn’t take near as many sips of each beer as does a full judging of that beer but it is still a lot more alcohol to ingest.
Short recap: Friday night I tasted/judged 11 beers. I felt a bit off Saturday morning but quickly recovered and got to business. We started a bit later than originally planned on Saturday, which we knew in advance, so those both helped. Then I tasted/judged 23 very different beers. And then I had 33 even more varied beers to try.
I was a wreck Sunday and my lips were radically chapped for a couple days after.
January 2017, I judged at a commercial craft comp. I had 2 full flights of IPAs, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. [~11-13 beers/flight]. This also means the mini-BOS round for IPA is not included in my count of flights as I also judged that. So three large flights of IPAs over the day.
I got up Sunday morning to begin my prep to return for a second full day of judging but was clearly not well. Besides barely being able to, much less wanting to, function–putting another drop of alcohol in my body was both physically and mentally a non-starter of the highest degree. I let the organizers (my friends, which made it worse) know that I was unable to judge as I had committed to do.
All of which is to say, I am going to radically begin considering when/where I judge anymore and will begin curtailing it. I will continue to judge at my local club’s quarterly competitions as they have yet to be an issue since the number of entries is quite manageable usually. I will also probably switch to only committing to one day of judging at both Spring Fling (COHO’s annual large comp) and Best of Craft Beer (commercial comp). I will also consider comps like the Worthy Garden Club fresh hop homebrew comp, and local pro-am comps like BBC, Silver Moon, and Three Creeks have done. For the near-term future, anyway, I think this is my plan. The larger question of how long I can do even that still looms.
Most recent update: I was planning on doing one day of judging and then one day of stewarding at the 2018 Best of Craft Beer Awards at the end of last month but I ended up doing neither this year, for reasons outlined above.
There are other issues with judging that also have an impact—questions of ethics, objectivity versus subjectivity, styles of judging, attitudes to the process, etc.—but none is an issue as large as the one that is the sheer amount of alcohol one is ingesting.
One of the driving issues is that these competitions are generally put on by a local homebrew club and the competition is usually their biggest money-making event of the year. This drives them to grow and, perhaps, allow more beers to be entered than can be adequately judged by the pool of available judges.
I am not claiming that any particular individual or any particular club is intentionally doing this, just that the money-making angle has the potential to negatively influence competition planning that includes proper care and concern for judges.
I used to enjoy the (potentially deep) philosophical issues, such as the completely inadequate but necessary codification of styles and other issues mentioned above, but the far more immediate dangers and potential health issues–short- or long-term–have taken a much greater share of my attention.
Judging homebrew (and commercial) competitions can be fun and are usually a definite and valuable learning experience. But there are issues.