Sunday, April 10, 2011

The National Homebrew Competition

Have you ever had it in the Can?
It is 10:30am on a Sunday, and I am sipping beer, and to think, when I woke up this morning, I was thinking I would dry out.  I spent the last two days sipping (tasting) beer in very small quantities, and doing a lot of standing.  This weekend was the first round of the National Homebrew Competition held in the Intermountain (name may be wrong) Region.  At the very last minute, I volunteered to be a steward.  Actually, I volunteered a month ago, the person didn't respond via e-mail until last week, but on Friday evening I found myself amongst some 50 odd serious beer nerds (to put it kindly).

Morning before we started....bottling/kegging (right)
I have been curious (more about curiousness later) about getting into beer tasting and judging, so this was a chance to rub elbows and talk beer with some serious folks to see if I wanted to join.  First of all, I wanted to say, I fit right in.  My job as a steward was to ferry beers to and from the judging table, keep track of the scoring, order of judging, and attend to any needs of the judges (beer, water, bread, stapler, whatever).  I am well suited to this sort of work to anticipate the needs of someone doing a job.  I think I did a great job, and am trying to decide if stewarding or judging would be more fun in the future.  Judging takes a lot of work....try it some time with your favorite beer.  You can download a copy of the beer scoring sheet and the style guideline for any style from the Beer Judging Certification Program ( website....and then try to describe what you are tasting and score the meantime make suggestions how to make the beer better.  After you do this, you will realize how difficult it can be.  Now, try it with 30 different samples of the same style of beer....that is judging in a nutshell.  You try to stay sober, and coherent, but this is challenging.
these are leftovers from the comp....a lot of beer, some quite good

As a steward, you get to remove the tested beers from the table.  If they are not in contention for the best of show round, (not highly scored) you can sample.  It is nice, because you can review comments from the judges and taste the exact beer with the exact conditions that they were.  I have identified Chloropheonols (plasticy band aid taste/aroma) for the first time....not to say that they haven't been present in my beer....I just can't tell what the problems are.  Every once in a while the judges ask your opinion...usually it is no benefit to them, just you.

I stewarded the Stout catagory on Friday, and the Porters on Saturday morning.  These were two of the categories with some of the largest numbers of entries.....and it took a long time.  On Saturday afternoon, most of the tables were taken by the time I got to it (one, my morning session went long, so I there wasn't a lot of lunch left, and then while I ate, I launched into clearing tables, cleaning up, and restocking the tables for the afternoon session).  Most stewards stood around with their heads up their butts waiting for direction....or perhaps they were casing out the categories that they wanted to steward.....either way, I ended up stewarding the dark lager table.  This is not a strong suit of mine, and in fact, except for the occasional dunkel at some random brewery, I haven't tasted much since my Michelob Dark days (brightness in the dark days of beer, for sure) in the late 80's or early 90's...when dark was the only alternative to regular.  This was the most fortunate part of my experience.

National Homebrew Competition in action
I was stewarding for a judge that I was working with on Stouts on Friday....A really, really knowledgable guy from Erie, Colorado, his partner (I didn't get much of his backstory, but super nice), and two younger guys (late twenties or early thirties).  The experienced one was a teacher (of sorts, I think) and also works at a local brew shop (he actually gave me some hose I was looking for a few months back), and his partner was a steward turned judge (learning like me).  He had stewarded on Friday, and was conscripted into judging Saturday, and has been heavily brewing for only about 1.5 years.  As I said, this is hard work, and I don't know if I felt he was lucky or not.....but I thought (from reading his comments) that he did an exceptional job.
me wondering around the brewery alone

I also met a person on Friday who only brewed a batch or two (unsuccessfully, I might add) who was there to steward and showed up Saturday afternoon and was conscripted to judge....I didn't steward for him, but from talking to him, felt that they made a poor conscription choice....I didn't see his comments or hear what his experienced judge said, but felt a little sad that I didn't get the chance, as I know I would have done better than him.

I didn't touch anything
My experience with the dark lager category was helpful, as I got to listen to the inexperienced judge ask a lot of questions as I reviewed everything and tasted my way through the competition...I wished I could have sat and judged alongside him with the experienced guy).  I joked that I was "judging curious" and got a great laugh from the table of judges, that this became our theme....we were "dark lager curious", or you had to be "beer curious" and a number of other inter conversational themes on being "something-curious".  As I said, good guys all around, there to be serious judges, but also have fun.

no really
The judging was held in Brekenridge Breweries production facility on Kalamath.  Our host provided us with dinner both nights (of BBQ) and a limited choice of free beer (Avalanche Amber, Sumerbright (Summer seasonal), Lucky U IPA, and a limited number of bottles of something else....I didn't drink many as you have enough beers of all kinds.  It was nice to be able to "drink" a beer rather than taste it, however.  I give a lot of credit to the guys at Brek to host us so well for this event.....I have nothing but good to say about the Brekenridge Brewery.  As for the comptetion, I thought the organizer did a great job, but it looked like he needed some help.  A co-organizer taking care of organizing the stewards (teaching and overseeing them) might have been better.  More than a few stewards just milled around (assume for free beer).  Perhaps, I took it too seriously (who me, no, never....).
this is where all the magic brewery at home?

In the future, I think I will try to take the test and judge.  But in the meantime, I will see what the next opportunity to steward is.  It is fun, but NHC is perhaps too big an event.

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