This month I judged at the Sam Adams Longshot Competition. It was an awesome weekend. Sam Adams put me and my wife up in the 5-star Hotel Nikko in San Francisco. They paid for meals, parking, rounds at the bar and provided beer (Sam Adams of course). In total the hotel bill was $12, only because I used their gym on Saturday morning. All they wanted was my opinion on some beer. Before I describe the weekend in detail, I’ll tell you a little about how you too can be a beer judge.
The Beer Judge Certification Program is an organization that promotes beer literacy and the appreciation of real beer, and recognizes beer tasting and evaluation skills. (That’s the answer to question one of the BJCP test.) It is a hierarchy of some 4,200 judges worldwide that rank beer at competitions. To become a judge you simply must take a test. I took a class before the test and am ranked at Apprentice. After getting some “experience points” I can re-take the test and advance in level. I received 2 points for the Longshot Comp.
Sam Adams holds a yearly competition where they call homebrewers to submit their beers for the chance to have it produced and sold by the company. Losing money on the promotion, Sam Adams gives back to the homebrewing community and promotes the craft. Each entry is submitted under a beer style by the entrant and judged against the guidelines for that style. The Bostonian reps, Rob and Kelly, were great and Adie and I got to know them a little over the weekend at meals and the bars.
On Friday the 1st I played hookey and we drove up to The City. 50-some judges were already pouring flights so Adie and I helped out with the stewards. She got right down to the business of handing out entries, double checking scoresheets and managing the judged beer while I grabbed a Boston Lager with the cellermaster and his assistant. Soon enough there were enough judges to start another flight.
The table I sat down at was tasked with tasting category 17 beers – Sour Ale. This category is often used when a beer is infected but the brewer still wants to compete. Fortunately, this time around there were no examples of that behavior. I tried 3 Flanders Red Ales (17B) and one Fruit Lambic (17F). One of the Flanders had far too much brettanomyces, often described as “horsey”, sometimes appropriate, but not in this style. The cherry lambic had an awesome cherry blossom aroma, but a disappointing taste. None of the entries stood out for good or bad reasons.
After judging concluded on Friday the hotel catered dinner then many of us went out to the Rogue Brewery’s pub. With so many brewers and homebrewers in one place, the conversation was almost strictly beer and BJCP-related topics, but that’s to be expected. We chatted with the reps about working at Sam Adams and the beer scene in Boston.
Saturday morning I got up bright and early to check out the hotel gym. It was small but adequate. We mingled with friends and judges at a well-laid breakfast. Everyone was excited. Moving on to the first flight, I chose to sit down at the category 8 table – English Pale Ale. It was still morning – 10 o’clock – and I did not want to start off with something heavy; plus it’s one of my favorite categories. That round there were no extraordinary beers for me to judge, each one as unmemorable as the next. I finished disappointed, but glad I didn’t have to sample any hideous brews.
The hotel fed us lunch before the second flight. With the event at full steam on Saturday there were at least 125 judges who had made the trip from all over California, many with wives and kids in tow. (There were a good number of women participating in the judging, but the majority of judges were men.) With so many volunteers I had the option of slacking off for the second half of the day. I decided to get some experience with Spice, Herb, and Vegetable Beers -category 21. Always different, this category is a place for brewers to experiment with stuff you wouldn’t normally think. The only beer that stood out was a licorice-spiced beer that was really on-balance with the right amount of anise bitter-sweet.
If you are in San Francisco with people who know beer inevitably you end up at the Toronado. Many of the Sudzers in attendance decided to set out for an evening on The Haight. After a debate on transportation, we decided to take the 71 up Market st. When it appeared that the bus wasn’t coming the group split into walkers and cab’ers. As city-dwellers, Adie and I took to our feet for the two mile walk.
The Toronado is famous for its great selection of beers from Belgium. The group picked out something exquisitely sour, the name of which escapes me these two weeks later. My wife and I didn’t say long, being worn out from the day, and ditched the group shortly after arriving. We made it back to the hotel in time to have dinner and relax in our room with a good view. By dinner, the best in show had been selected – an Imperial IPA brewed by Mike McDole.
With all of Sunday left and no schedule a group of us bid goodbye to the hotel and headed back to The Haight, this time to Magnolia for some brunch and beer. Their Prescription Pale was excellent and I would make a special trip to the city just to drink their Blue Bell Bitter on cask. Sudzers members Guy, Matthew, Pete, Rahgu, and the two of us were there and we met a pair of judges that came up from San Diego for the event. The eight of us sat at a cluster of three tables, drinking and chatting for a few hours.
Thanks to Samuel Adams for holding the competition and treating us judges to a memorable weekend.