Sunday, April 19, 2009

NHC Judging

This passed Saturday I got the opportunity to judge at the first round of the National Homebrew Competition. It was my first time judging since I took the BJCP exam last April, and I had a great time. The primaries for the Northeast area took place at Yard's Brewery in Philadelphia. Everyone gathered around 8:30 am to start. I was assigned category 27, Standard Cider and Perry for the morning. Since my ranking is only Recognized and I was a newbie, I was paired up with one other judge who was a Nationally ranked. We were given 12 samples to judge, the majority standard cider, one each English and French cider, and two Perries. Having never judged, nor knowing the guidelines for cider and mead judging, it was pretty nerve racking. My partner was only a little familiar with cider judging and had only made a couple himself. The majority of the samples were quite good. One was definitely infected and showed a huge Lactic acid bite (I loved it!). The two standouts, however, were the perries. A style of cider I've never had, perry is basically fermented pear juice. Its flavor profile is closer to a young white wine than cider. They were amazingly balanced, drinkable and just delicious. Both ranked first and second in our flight.
The afternoon session, I was assigned Smoke-Flavored and Wood-aged beers, a pretty obscure style with a lot of interpretation and creativity involved. About a third of the samples were classic Rauchbier, while the rest were smoked beers and wood aged. Unfortunately for this flight, the majority of what my partner and I tasted were pretty bad. A lot of "smoked" beers with no distinguishable smoke flavor or aroma, and wood aged beers that were just lacking in any positive character. The highlights of our flight were a couple of sour/wild ales. One was based loosely off of the "American Wild Ale" category (no BJCP style yet, but look for some "Other Sour Ale" category to be added as I think it should be), it was a dark Belgian ale aged with two strains of Brettanomyces and aged on oak. It had lots of spicy flavors of rosemary and sage and just enough funk. The other was a Belgian strong pale that was Brett infected and aged on an American oak barrel that previously held Chardonnay. It was just fantastic; between the two of us, we gave it a 43/50, an extremely high score in BJCP judging. It won our flight and will move on (with the other sour, and a peat smoked Scotch ale aged with oak).
Overall, I have to say this was a great experience. I learned a lot about style definitions and got some great homebrewing tips. My partner who was nationally ranked was impressed with my first time judging and said I had a good palate. It was certainly a congenial group, and the alcohol had taken its tole by 3pm. I look forward to judging, and possibly entering in, the Spirit of Free Beer run by our local club, BURP.

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