I had my first chance to do a beer judging last weekend and boy was that a trip. My local homebrew club sponsor a competition every year for the past 11 years now. I believe the entries were limited to IPAs and Pale Ales this year becasue our club is just not big enough to have hundreds of beers to sample. In fact one year they had over 300 entries, with five people judging, which prompted the limiting of categories.
My tasting table was in charge of the IPA style number 14 A-C. Being my first judging I was a little nervous about making sure I did a good job and that my taste buds agreed with the style guidelines. It is amazing to see what people submit to the contest. We had one guy who sent in three bottles that said save for final round on them. Some balls.
I used to be a much bigger fan of IPAs than what I current am. I am just hopped out, but I do have a good background in IPAs because I used to drink them like crazy. My table was made up of 3 people, one of which was extremely skilled in brewing and judging. Surprisingly all three of us came out around the same scores consistently. It is funny how you can pick out the things that take a beer down a few points. Half of the beers I tasted I would of been happy with if I brewed them, but according to the style guidelines they didn’t quite fit.
Being judge is easier than being a brewer. So is running a beer review website. A few things I noticed with almost all of the IPAs we tried. The first was that people often gave too much malt backbone, particularly in 14C the Imperial IPA. The malt should support the hops, but no be equal. The second thing I noticed is how tough it is to properly hop a IPA. Most of them were very harsh and just smashed down on your tongue and left a lingering harsh flavor. Some people like this, I do not, and neither do the style guidelines. The final thing is that you can see the knowledge of the brewer when tasting. We had one contaminated beer so it couldn’t be fairly judged but the differences in the beer came down to slight variations that had huge impacts.
It might be unfair to judge the brewer on the beer they make as I’ve made plenty of great and terrible beers. It just seems like a beer that is more technically correct shows a better skill level by the brewer than his competitors. That skill might not translate into a winning beer but, as a homebrewer, I appreciate it.