|Heads down judging|
|A mini-best-of-show to determine a category winner|
|Some of the samples for a mini-BOS|
Judging To Style Guidelines and Judging Commercial Beer
The primary purpose of judging beer within the BJCP rules is to help homebrewers make better beer. Experienced judges can identify flaws or inadequacies in the brewing process, or in a recipe, or in handling/storing a beer, and advice is given accordingly. Awards are mostly for bragging rights & prizes of free equipment or ingredients. Homebrewers put a lot of time and effort into their beer, paying an entrance fee and carefully shipping their beer to a competition - so we judges need to provide the best advice we can via our evaluation sheets (which are sent back to the brewers after the competition).
Beer is judged according to its intended style, largely out of necessity - you need to know what the brewer was trying to achieve before you can determine if he/she was successful, and you need a uniform method of comparing and ranking similar beers. The BJCP provides detailed sensory evaluation guidelines for dozens of styles of beer; competition entries are judged to those guidelines. If you create a unique beer that doesn't fit a usual style, you can enter it into one of the catch-all "specialty" categories.
While there's a subjective element to all beer judging, the BJCP rules are designed to make judging as objective as possible. Without predefined style guidelines to judge to, the only questions would be "how good is this beer?" (and the answers would be entirely subjective, according to each judge's personal preference), and "which of these 300 wildly different beers is best?" (to which each judge would answer differently, and there would be no clear winners).
Some people (usually beer consumers rather than homebrewers) don't like the idea of judging to predefined styles. Some perhaps think that certain great beers would "fall between the cracks" style-wise and score poorly as a result. This isn't necessarily true - some styles in the guidelines are quite broad and encompass many different expressions, while styles with very specific attributes might be narrow. And there's always the "specialty" judging categories, which are catch-alls for unique beers. Some people might think that the closer a beer matches the published style guidelines the higher a beer will score, regardless of its overall quality. This is also not necessarily true. A beer that is radically off-style with respect to the guidelines can expect a terrible score (e.g. a really great stout is always a really terrible pilsner). But if a beer is on-style with respect to the published guidelines, and is free from flaws, the score is not determined by the degree to which it matches the guidelines; at this point the score will be related to the overall balance, the sum of the parts, the drinkability and other intangible elements that separate truly world-class beer from only decent beer.
Judging commercial beers is decidedly different than judging homebrew. In no particular order:
- It's a given that the vast majority of commercial beers will not have major flaws - and it takes a lot more effort to judge beers that are all pretty good than it does to judge homebrew that varies from bad to excellent.
- Commercial breweries brew for profit, not to win competitions - so they don't care about brewing exactly to a set of style guidelines, though they will likely brew beer that their drinkers can recognize with a couple-of-words description (e.g. "Dry Irish Stout" or "Dry-Hopped Saison"). Many commercial beers fall within the guidelines for common styles, while others are best entered in the "specialty" (catch-all) categories.
- Commercial breweries enter competitions to win medals that enhance their image & can be used for marketing - and to enter costs them almost nothing in terms of money or effort. They lob a six-pack of beer at a commercial competition and hope that they get a medal out of it, easy peasy. If they don't medal, no problem, they're still selling beer.
- Professional brewers are very sophisticated and generally don't care what a bunch of judges think about their beer; they brew exactly what they want to and need to, and generally do it well. So the primary "feedback" and "advice" function of judging is not of value to them. (The BC Beer Awards uses checklist-style judging sheets - these allow faster judging because they eliminate the detailed written feedback that homebrewers expect and professionals don't want/need.)
- Beer judges are not saying your favourite commercial beer is inferior just because it didn't win a medal in a competition. (e.g. Driftwood's Fat Tug IPA is a fantastic IPA, regardless of whether or not it won a medal.) If a great beer doesn't medal, it probably means competition was stiff.
You can be confident there are solid reasons behind beer judges' evaluations, based on a significant amount of knowledge, experience and judging effort - especially if a judge has a BJCP rank of some sort. In fact, every judge provides his/her email address on every judging sheet so the brewers may contact the judge if they have any questions about their evaluation - which provides extra incentive to judge accurately and constructively!
I was busy judging beer rather than taking photos, but fortunately @sujindertakeaim tweeted some much snazzier instagram-ed pictures, which I've included below.
|Hard at work judging|
|Entries are organized in another room, out of view of the judges|
|Best Of Show evaluation - the winners in each style category are compared|
|Deep thoughts (and arguments) about the Best Of Show contenders|