I don't know whether it's because often my first thought when I'm unsure about something is to put myself in the other person's shoes and if I had entered some of the categories in recent competitions and heard them so roundly slated before the results were even out I'd be a lot less inclined to enter the following year or whether it's just because I don't think it's professional.
I think the mobile ban at both the GABF and the WBC is well worthwhile, partly because you often think that you know a beer and end up being completely wrong and could tweet about it being in fine form and give false hope too. My best example of this is that one beer competition I was convinced I was drinking Deus, as it's such a distinctive beer, and it turned out I was actually judging Eisenbahn's Lust - so it just goes to show how wrong you can get it!
I think part of the problem I also have with the social networking during competition is the flaw in our systems and this is that the brewers rarely get a copy of the judging feedback in the UK, which is totally opposite to the US, where the judging sheets make carbon copies of all your notes, which also makes me question slightly why you'd even enter as a brewer if you can't find out why or how your beer won/didn't make a medal.
This is not a pop at anybody/competition in particular by the way, quite a few people have done tweeted/Facebooked during these comps and I'm not even entirely convinced I haven't, but I've decided definitively I won't be doing so in future, I'm just airing my views and wondering what you think about my points both below and above?
Brave New World
You may be aware that nothing is done on a small scale in the States and in keeping with that Herculean sense of bigness the GABF is the GBBF super-sized. And I’m not just talking about the festival itself, but also the judging. The sheer level of professionalism at the GABF is something to behold and I believe all of us who run, or participate in, beer competitions can really learn from this.
Here’s just one example: on the night before judging commenced we attended the judges’ briefing session, which took us through the whole process and provided us with our categories. Then, and here’s what let me know straight away I was in a different league, we were given some sensory training using different hop products and asked to rank them in order of bitterness — at this point I’m thinking okay, a little bit nerve-wracking for the new girl, I’ll give it my best shot.
So after tasting all these products and ranking them I begin to relax a bit when the majority of the show of hands in the room agreed with my assessment… only for the presenters to announce that these compounds were actually all the same IBUs and to be careful about using our ‘perceived’ bitterness in beer as an absolute benchmark; this was fascinating, insightful and extremely valuable.
And when it comes to the physical judging itself, there are 78 different beer-style classifications, some with sub-categories, to be judged — and okay we may not have, or be willing to, break down our beers that minutely, in the UK but I feel we are currently failing to accurately reflect the diversity of beer styles available and that this needs addressing. Without doubt the most useful tool of all is the style descriptor sheet you get and this is something I’d really like to see adapted and adopted over here — here’s just one small extract:
Bohemian-Style Pilsner: Bohemian Pilsners are medium bodied and they can be as dark as a light amber colour. This style balances moderate bitterness and noble-type hop aroma and flavour with a malty, slightly sweet, medium body. Extremely low levels of diacetyl and low levels of sweet corn-like dimethyl sulphide (DMS) character, if perceived, are characteristic of this style and both may accent malt aroma. A toasted, biscuitlike, bready malt character along with low levels of sulphur compounds may be evident. There should be no chill haze. Its head should be dense and rich. Original Gravity (degrees Plato): 1.044-1.056 (11-14 degrees Plato); Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (degrees Plato): 1.014-1.020 (3.55 degrees Plato); Alcohol by Weight (Volume): 3.8%-4.4% (4.5%- 5.5%); Bitterness (IBU): 18-25; Colour SRM (EBC): 4-5.5 (8-11 EBC)
Now I’m not necessarily advocating this as the definitive format, as the technical aspect may prove overwhelming for some, but what I wanted it to demonstrate is the gulf between our methods and
those in the US. Here in the UK we quite often don’t even provide the category descriptions the brewers
were given to enter the competition, and whilst I applaud the fact we have significantly more focus on drinkability in most of competitions, there’s also a lot to be said for raising the professionalism of the industry as a whole by ensuring beers do meet the criteria set for their entry.
All this aside, the most lasting impression that I got from the overall experience I feel is the most important one that we can learn from in the UK — and that’s the positive attitude. Glenn uses the word collegiate and I can’t think of a better term with which to describe the brewing community out there; people work together so closely, they care about what happens to their neighbouring brewery and they refuse to give in to any doom and gloom.
I know we’ve been having a rough time here over the past few years but the outlook is brighter now than it’s ever been, with more craft breweries in the UK than at any other time since 1945, and I strongly feel it’s time we started focusing on that and sending out the good news stories.