Attending Homebrew Con as a Newly-Certified BJCP Judge
The National Homebrewers Conference (aka "Homebrew Con") is a 3-day annual gathering of 3000+ homebrewing and craft beer enthusiasts hosted by the American Homebrewers Association. It takes place in a different city each year and consists of seminars, a homebrew industry expo, and LOTS and LOTS of beer. This year, which celebrates the Homebrew Con's 39thanniversary, took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
National Homebrew Competition
Another event that takes place at the Homebrew Con every year is the final round of the National Homebrew Competition. This year's competition witnessed 8,618 entries from 3,530 homebrewers from all 50 states and 13 countries. 1,134 entries were judged in the final round this year by some of the best beer judges in the nation. These judges are certified by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), which requires passing a 200-question entrance exam and a tasting exam to become a certified judge. Becoming a BJCP judge takes work and commitment, not to mention a sharp palate and a sharp mind with the ability to be descriptive and accurate when describing what you are seeing/smelling/tasting/feeling. I had the honor of judging in the competition this year among many of these amazing National and Master ranked judges. Being a new BJCP judge myself ("Recognized" rank), I was pleased to find out I would be paired with a Master Judge. Master Judges are incredibly experienced and have participated in many competitions to gain their rank. They are typically the only judges that can judge "Best of Show" categories (National judges can, too, sometimes). I was excited to be paired with such an experienced judge.
Judges are typically put in pairs during larger competitions to allow for greater accuracy in scoring. Each judge in a pair should be within 5 points of their final scores. If they are outside of this range, then they will discuss the attributes of the beer until they can agree on a final score. Each table consisted of 3 pairs of judges and represented a specific style of beer. The style we were tasting for this round of judging was the American Pale Ale (BJCP Category 18 – Pale American Ales, Subcategory 18B. – American Pale Ales). This is a basic enough style for a beginning judge such as myself, though I would have preferred tasting some of my more favorite styles such as saisons or wild ales.
Scoring and Feedback
Since this was the final round in the nationwide competition, I didn't expect there to be a lot of technical faults or off-flavors in these beers. And as I expected, most of the 8 beers we sampled were decent examples of the APA style, but only 2 would receive 30 points or more, which is the minimum amount required to win a medal. Interestingly, my favorite beer of the 8 samples scored the lowest points. This was because while it tasted great, it wasn't representative of the style we were judging. It was very dry and had a peppery – almost saison-like aroma and flavor. While it scored very low on our scoresheets, both myself and the judge I was paired with offered positive feedback on the beer, but suggested that they enter it in a different BJCP category next time. The Master Judge and I were consistently within 2-3 points in our scoring and we pretty much agreed on every point, while other the 2 pairs of judges at our table were bit more varied and required more discussion. This allowed us to finish our beer flights first so we could get back to the other festivities. The Master Judge was very helpful in walking me through the process and making me feel comfortable so I could focus on the beer. It was an educational and enjoyable experience and I can't wait to judge many more competitions in the future so I can one day earn the rank of "Master Judge". To see the list of all the winners of the 2017 National Homebrew Competition, visit this link: https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/national-homebrew-competition/winners/