Sunday, April 21, 2013

AHA NHC Zanesville 2013 Beer Judging

Ah, beer judging. Promise me you’ll never let me down. This weekend featured the opening round of the American Homebrewers Association National Homebrew Competition in Zanesville, OH. Sadly, my beers didn’t make it here—they ended up in Milwaukie. Oh well. At least I got them entered. Judging was held at Weasel Boy Brewing. The good thing about Weasel Boy Brewing is that it has nice spaces for judging. And since there was lots of beer to judge, Jeff Fortney and I got a room at the luxurious and fanciful Baymont. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Saturday morning started early. I mean real early. On the road at 6:15 am to be in Zanesville by 9:00 am. Can you feel the dedication, dear reader? Once the coffee kicked in, though, things got better, especially since I was to be judging 16. Belgian and French Ales in the morning, followed by 17. Sour Ales in the afternoon. Perfect judging selections as far as I am concerned. The only downside to the morning session was that none of the good beers came my way. While I sampled several well-made beers, nothing really stood out: the two beers we passed along to the mini-BOS got booted right off the bat, much as I suspected they would. Still, an enjoyable set of beers. After a quick lunch, it was on to 17. Sour Ales. Again, another pleasant round of beers. I got to try several different cherry lambics, which was nice, but the best beer of the lot was an unblended lambic (17D) that had nice tartness and complexity mixed with a fresh oak vanilla oak bite. Sadly, the judges for the mini-BOS put it in third. But it is still moving on the final round, so I won’t complain. Much.

My new insight from today’s judging: Gordon Strong might be on to something when he argues that brettanomyces doesn’t belong in saisons. While I’m not yet fully convinced, between the 16E and 17D & E beers that I tried today, too many of the saisons with brettanomyces tasted more like lambics than saisons: while the flavors were interesting, they had lost the characteristics that would make them saisons. While I do still think that there is space for a saison with brettanomyces, to be successful it will need to maintain hop bitterness to accompany the dryness and tartness. Because without that—as with the samples I tried today—the dryness and tartness come across more like a lambic/gueuze than a saison. The two flights back to back highlighted this quite well.

After we finished judging, Fortney and I headed to the Baymont for a quick nap before dinner. After all, a day of beer judging + an early early morning = nap time. You try that math. By the time we got back, Weasel Boy had started to swing: the new flavor of the evening was ironic mustaches and patchouli. After dinner and doling out the awards for the day, Jeff and I did our best to introduce several new people to the appropriately patented and trademarked “Worst In Show” beer drinking game (the dump bucket was for the “Worst In Show” winners not even worth drinking). After a couple of rounds, we headed back over towards the band and the influx of ironic mustaches. More discussion was had, which led to the following snarky gem of the evening comes courtesy Frank Barickman. We were discussion IPAs, and someone mentioned Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. Frank’s response: “90 Minute IPA? Guys that like that are the guys who trade beer on RateBeer.” I offered a high five for that one. Not surprisingly, it continued to go downhill from there. No wings, though.

The Sunday morning flight was quick and easy: 1. Light Lager. I ended up judging with Fortney, which made the whole process run even smoother. After all, once you drink beer with some one for several years, you start to pick up on the way they will respond to beers. So after rolling through our section of the flight and passing along our beers to the mini-BOS (nice beer, Phil), it was time to hit the road and roll for home. We did stop in Columbus for brunch at the Northstar Café. Who can resist the sweet siren song of brunch? Not this guy. And since I was driving, neither could Fortney.

(4/20 & 21/2013)

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