Monday, June 20, 2016

Pilgrimage to Homebrew Con: Judging at the NHC Final Round

In my first entry of the series I talk about the trip and what Homebrew Con is about. Click here
In my second entry I discuss the first couple days of our trim. Click here
Wednesday was the final round of judging at the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA and BJCP were looking for judges and stewards. Not knowing if I would ever have another opportunity to judge in the final round I really wanted to do it. I also didn't want to ditch my girlfriend for an entire day during our vacation. I ended up volunteering for just the morning session so we could spend the afternoon together.
Given my low rank, I figured I would be paired with an experienced judge. I sat down at my table, and saw I would be judging with Mike Dixon. The name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it right away. Once we started judging I realized he is the admin for the BJCP Facebook Group. When I asked if that was him, he confirmed that he is the Communication Director of the BJCP. During a later seminar, author Denny Conn gave Mike a shout out as the first friend he made in homebrewing.
Mike is a great guy. He is laid back, with a great sense of humor, and will use some colorful language if you meet him in person. It was a great experience to work with a judge that experienced. We were assigned Strong Ales which consisted of American and English Strong Ales and Barleywines. It was reassuring to me as a judge that my scores and thoughts were generally close to Mike's, even if I was usually a couple of points higher.
We went through our flight fairly quickly. This was aided by the modified scoresheets we used that employed check boxes for the different characteristics of the beer, with space to add any comments or feedback a judge might have. Most competitions require the judge to write everything out. At one competition I judged seven Northern English Brown Ales in a row and one every one I wrote out by hand "caramel malt flavor, with a dry finish". That is what the beer is supposed to have, but writing it out on almost every score sheet is tedious.
There were three flights (three pairs of judges) at our table judging the same category. The judges at each flight selected one to three beers to advance to a mini-best of show (BOS) round. The highest ranking judges will taste the beers that advanced to the mini-BOS and determine which beers place first, second, third, and if any other beers deserve an honorable mention. This is done whenever there are multiple flights to ensure consistency.
For example, let's say I gave Beer A a score of 38, and another judge judging another beer in another flight gave Beer B a score of 36. If the award places just went by score Beer A would have placed higher based on scores generated by two different judges. Who's to say that I wouldn't have given Beer B a 39 if I had judged it?  With a mini-BOS judges can taste the best beers side-by-side and discuss which ones are the best and why.
I wasn't selected to participate in the mini-BOS due to my relatively low rank. Initially I was going to observe Mike and the other highly-ranked judges do the mini-BOS, but after waiting for several minutes I decided to eat some lunch and start taking in the rest of what Homebrew Con had to offer.
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