Homebrewing Conversations (The Session #132)

The Session #132 on Homebrewing Conversations is hosted this month by Jon Abernathy at The Brew Site.

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

The Session, or Beer Blogging Friday

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.

Another example:

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.

Beer book reading update

Yesterday on my other blog I posted about some issues in life and letting some things go, hopefully in a non-judgmental way. But it is difficult.

I am currently having to let go of some things that are part of how I have defined myself lately. That hasn’t been going all that well and letting things go will most likely mean any “progress” will also be delayed. Which complicates things. ::sigh::


Anyway, in the spirit of disclosure in that post I want to do the same here. The following is a list of beer-related books I have read sometime in the past 17 months or so and have not yet reviewed.

Some will not be. Even though I am not a huge believer in “Don’t say anything unless…,” I will not be reviewing some. Besides, often my gripes aren’t as generalizable as I would hope, which is a good reason to (sometimes) keep them to myself.

Some I definitely hope to still review. No idea when though. Or if. I said “hope to.”

[Dates are date finished.]


On the same note, the same needs to happen with so many blog posts. I am so far behind. I don’t know how I’m supposed to be a beer blogger if I don’t actually blog about the beer things I do.

Things from two years ago. Things from two days ago. … [I was going to make a list but not sure I see the point right now.]

Letting go

I must come to grips with letting much of this stuff go, at least for a while, for the sake of my health.

Maybe some of the reviews and/or posts will get written some day. For now, I am moving them completely “off the table” though.

If you don’t feel the need to follow a beer blogger who isn’t really blogging much of his beer events or beer-related musings I fully understand.

Is Beer-Drinking Injurious? (Science, 1887)

Is Beer-Drinking Injurious?, from Science in 1887 is a very interesting article, indeed.

Being the librarian that I am, I did some poking around in various databases, including one of my favorites—JSTOR, and found a few articles on beer or brewing that I would like to share here. I am beginning with one that is in the public domain and is available to one and all. This article is available to you via the JSTOR Early Journal Content program as are many other public domain articles. So, without further ado, here is the article in its entirety (with some minor reformatting).

Is Beer-Drinking Injurious?
Science, Vol. 9, No. 206 (Jan. 14, 1887), pp. 24-25
Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1761606


We have before us a direct and unqualified challenge to the prohibitionists in the form of a pamphlet on ‘The effects of beer upon those who make and drink it,’ by G. Thomann (New York, U. S. brewers’ assoc., 1886). The writer boldly presents the following propositions.

  1. Brewers drink more beer, and drink it more constantly, than any other class of people.
  2. The rate of deaths among brewers is lower by forty per cent than the average death-rate among the urban population of the groups of ages corresponding with those to which brewery-workmen belong.
  3. The health of brewers is unusually good: diseases of the kidneys and liver occur rarely among them.
  4. On an average, brewers live longer, and preserve their physical energies better, than the average workmen of the United States.

The writer claims that beer is a perfectly wholesome drink, and, in support of this claim, refers to investigations made in Belgium, France, Holland, and Switzerland. He quotes also from the report made by a sanitary commission appointed by President Lincoln to examine the camps of the Union army and their sanitary condition. In examining the condition of regiments in which malt-liquors were freely used, the commission found not only that beer is a healthy beverage, but that it possesses hygienic qualities which recommend its use for the prevention of certain diseases. Mr. Thomann states, that, wherever the effects of the use of beer upon the human body have been examined methodically by competent physicians, it was found, to use the words of Dr. Jules Rochard of the Académie de médecine of Paris, “that beer is a very healthy beverage, which helps digestion, quenches thirst, and furnishes an amount of assimilable substances much greater than that contained in any other beverage.”

The charge is often made that American beer is composed of so many poisonous ingredients that it is thereby rendered unfit for consumption; that, while pure beer may be harmless, such beer as is supplied by brewers at the present time in this country is positively injurious. This is met with a reference to the report of the New York state board of health, in which it is stated that an analysis of four hundred and seventy-six samples of malt-liquors had been made, and that they were all found perfectly pure and wholesome, and to contain neither hop-substitutes nor any deleterious substances whatever.

The most interesting portion of Mr. Thomann’s pamphlet is that which deals with the statistics of the physicians under whose professional care the men employed in the breweries are placed. About five years ago the brewers of New York, Brooklyn, Newark, and the neighboring towns and villages, established a benevolent bureau for the relief of their sick and disabled employees. Physicians are appointed, whose duty it is to attend the sick members of the bureau, and a record is kept of all cases of sickness and death which occur. The number of deaths which took place among 960 brewery workmen in five years was 36,—an average of 7.2 per annum, or a death-rate per 1,000 of 7.5. The United States census gives the rate per 1,000 of the urban population of the same ages, as 12.5; or, in other words, the risks incurred in insuring the lives of habitual beerdrinkers are less by forty per cent than the ordinary risks of such transactions. The death-rate per 1,000 in the regular army of the United States in 1885 was 10.9; so that, even as compared with the soldier in peace time, we find that the brewery workmen have a great advantage in point of low rate of mortality.

Mr. Thomann gives us a number of interesting facts connected with the breweries and the workmen engaged therein. In every brewery is a room, called the ‘Sternenwirth,’ in which beer is constantly on tap, to be used by every one at pleasure and without cost. Every one drinks as much beer as he thirsts for, without asking, or being asked any questions as to his right to do so. The average daily consumption of malt-liquors for each individual is 25.73 glasses, or about ten pints (emphasis mine). In the statistics which are given we find that a considerable number of the men consume forty and fifty glasses a day, and two are reported as drinking, on an average, seventy glasses daily. With a view to ascertaining, in the most reliable manner possible, the effects of the use of malt liquors, the physicians of the benevolent bureau examined one thousand of the brewery workmen as to general state of health, condition of liver, condition of kidneys, and condition of heart. In addition to this, they weighed and measured each man, and tested his strength by the dynamometer. These examinations showed that there were, in all, twenty-five men whose physical condition was in some respect defective; and the remaining nine hundred and seventy-five enjoyed exceptionally good health, and were of splendid physique. There were 300 men who had been engaged in brewing from five to ten years, 189 from ten to fifteen, 122 from fifteen to twenty, and 46 more than twenty-five years. One special case referred to is that of a man fifty-six years of age, uninterruptedly at work in breweries during thirty-two years, who drank beer throughout this time at the rate of fifty glasses per day, yet has never been sick, and to-day is perfectly healthy, vigorous, and active.

The statistics are, to say the least, very surprising, and, unless refuted, will result in modifying to a considerable degree the generally accepted views of the influence of malt-liquors on the health of those who drink them habitually. Mr. Thomann has boldly thrown down the gauntlet, and we shall watch with interest to see who will take it up.


“The average daily consumption of malt-liquors for each individual is 25.73 glasses, or about ten pints” (25). Now, clearly, this must have been some form of small beer at ≤ 3.5% ABV. Still, that is a fair bit of beer consumption a day, especially considering that that is an average and some outliers were drinking twice to almost three times that much.

The pamphlet on which this article is based is available via Google Books: Gallus Thomann, ‘The effects of beer upon those who make and drink it: a statistical sketch.’ (New York, United States Brewers’ Assoc., 1886). It is a 46 page pamphlet that I hope to delve into soon.