It was the least fun I had drinking beer in as long as I can remember. 6 beers, no references, judge on a 50 point scale in 1.5 hours. Oh, and the beers are 2 ounce samples.
I have my doubts about the Beer Judge Certification Program. For me, I feel like the rigid tasting process takes away from the enjoyment of beer. For those of you unfamiliar, there is indeed a Beer Judge Certification Program with style guidelines, rules, by laws, and a test to become certified (really there are multiple tests). I liken it to Dungeons and Dragons for Beer Geeks.
At any rate, I wanted to try judging, as this was a way to learn and grow as a brewer, drinker, and self described knower of beer related things. A sort of chance for me to put my mouth where my mouth was.
Well, you ask, How'd I do? Seriously, I won't find out for a few months (yes, it is so rigorous and serious and measured that it takes multiple people many months to score and announce results), but I can tell you that I didn't do as well as I hoped, and fear that I must test again.
Let me count the reasons:
1. I can not smell beer. If you happen to read beer reviews by master judges (in Zymurgy, or All About Beer), they seemingly can smell a butterfly's fart and can adequately describe it in three or four sentences. I only get faint whiffs of what might smell like beer, even when I use their techniques (covering, swirling, warming it up in my hand, etc.). I can't tell if a malty beer is roasty, toasty, nutty (let alone what type of nut) or if the hop aroma is tangerine, melon, or cat pee. It either smells like malt or hops or nothing.
2. Phantoms: I can tell a beer is flawed (once I taste it), but had a difficult time pinning the faults down. I was chasing phantoms and multiple issues with beers when they really had one or maybe two nominal flaws.
3. Test Anxiety: I guess I was pretty nervous. If you know me, you know I am a pretty prolific speaker/writer with such a large vocabulary, I can't even pronounce all the words I know. Yet, when pressed to describe the beers I was being tested on, I couldn't come up with adjectives for what I was tasting. I couldn't even come up with adjectives (that I had read someplace else) for styles of beers I knew very well, or adjectives for tastes that I wasn't currently experiencing but knew them to be acceptable for the style.
4. Math. Again, why in the hell was I not able to add up the scores correctly? I am not usually challenged in this area...but had I had the time, I would have gone through and rechecked. I found an error in at least one....but you aren't allowed to go back once they say stop.
Of course, I did do something well: When the proctor spoke to us after the exam, he explained what we tasted. In most of the cases, I was able to identify the flawed beers, and give a correct assessment of each beer's stylistic accuracy. I just wasn't as eloquent as I should have or could have been and could not pinpoint specifics to save my life.
So, with more practice, perhaps I will do better next time, if I decide that there will be a next time, if I decide it is worth the hassle. Seriously, judging beer is a difficult practice, and the certification process is rigorous. I can't decide if that makes me want to quit or try harder to succeed.