A few weeks back, I was invited to be a guest judge for Mac’s Mixed Nuts Relay for Life Brewing up a Cure Homebrew Competition. Of course I said yes, who doesn’t want to drink a bunch of really awesome homebrews? Little did I know that I was getting into a very difficult task.
My Untappd account will show you that I’ve tried thousands of different beers. I’ve tried my hardest to learn as much as I can about different styles, different hop flavors, and what to look for in a beer that just isn’t quite right. I was feeling well-prepared when I walked in that day.
I sat down with the other judges and my samples arrived. I started checking them out, taking notes on aroma, flavor, appearance, etc. I chatted with the other judges and called in for backup when I wasn’t quite sure about things. This was a breeze! Well, it started that way at least. All of my tasting notes were great, but I really struggled with trying to take those thoughts and words and then assign them a numerical value on a scale.
I am not ashamed to tell you that I consulted credible resources online to make sure that my observations were concurrent with stylistic expectations. I wanted to be a fair judge. I cared about doing a good job. I didn’t want to be too harsh or too lenient with the brews. I wanted to provide solid feedback to the brewers so they could improve their recipes.
I really struggled to do all of this.
I tried to look at the weighting for each category and then the range for total point scores and make sure the numbers I assigned reached a total to fit within the range I felt best described the beer. If it didn’t add up I tried again. No one was going to give me feedback on how I gave feedback to others so I had to get it right.
In the end, I had the winning beer on my docket. With one taste I knew that it was basically perfect. True to style in flavor, aroma, body, appearance. That is what wins a homebrew competition in my mind because that what’s make a great beer to me. Sure, weird beers are my favorites, but I respect a solidly-made brew just as much if not more. It’s not very often you see an Irish Red win a homebrew competition over a chocolate mint stout or a chipotle porter, but it was the one. The other judges agreed whole-heartedly with my astute assessment and we crowned our winner.
I think I did a pretty good job of judging the beers, honestly. When I talked to other judges and how they rated beers, I seemed to fit right in with what they were doing score-wise. My biggest advice for first time judges is to research as much as you can. You never know what style of beer or concoction these brewers are going to bring or come up with so you have to be ready. Don’t be afraid to speak up with you aren’t sure about an off flavor, you’re not the only one judging these brews. Be confident in what you do know.