You are currently studying for the Beer Judge Certification Program. You like beer. No, you LOVE beer, and you believe this love should develop into a long-term relationship founded on understanding and robust physical attachment. You’ve already decided that you want to take things to the next level.
As part of the curriculum for your online BJCP class, your instructor recommends that you sign up as a novice judge for one of the upcoming homebrew judging sessions down in Berkeley. You have never judged before, but this sounds like a great idea. You’ll get practice filling out scoresheets, you’ll have a better sense of how to normalize your grading criteria, and you’ll get to meet some new people who also LOVE beer. What could go wrong?
But you’re also a bit of a weiner. So do you respond to your instructor by saying:
(B) “Absolutely not. I have a lesser-known phobia against meeting new people who also love beer and talking about it and drinking it for free on Saturday mornings. It’s called “imabigweiner” disease.” OR,
(C) “I have already have drinking plans that morning.”
That’s right! The answer is (D). Nothing. You don’t say anything because you’re taking an online class, and your better half thinks it’s really weird when you talk to yourself while you’re on your computer doing beer-y things. It just freaks her out.
Hurray! You’re going to be a beer judge.
This isn’t like Choose Your Own Adventure, you notice. But then you remember that soon you’ll be a beer judge, and the fact that you’ve been lured into reading something that really only vaguely resembles the Choose Your Own Adventure stories from your childhood – well, that just melts away like butter in the sun.
Things are looking up for you! Someday you will grow up to be Recognized, then Certified, then a National judge, then a Master judge, then a Grand Master, then the ascending levels of Grand Master, until you become the Chuck Norris of beer judges. You’ll soon be capable of roundhouse kicking homebrew bottles so hard that they judge themselves. You have always wanted to do that.
The night before the event, you drink plenty of water, refrain from drinking beer, steer clear of spicy foods and tobacco, and reschedule your scalding-hot-water drinking contest to the following Thursday. You even get a good night’s sleep.
And, despite all odds, you somehow manage to make it to the competition on time. There are people setting up tap lines and eating utensils underneath a small pavilion for the afternoon lunch. There are folding tables piled high with judging sheets, bottle openers, dump buckets, bread, mechanical pencils, and copies of the BJCP style guidelines. There is also free breakfast.
This all strikes you as very suspicious. Is this a trap?
You must plan your next move carefully. Do you:
(A) Head straight to the man with the clipboard.
(B) Find a dark, comfortable corner to hide from the man with the clipboard. OR,
(C) Remove a brown, unlabeled bottle from your backpack, uncap it with one of the at-hand openers, then just casually walk around with it. Suggest to the fine people you meet that they should really go check out the free beer table. Point to the table of competition beers. Recommend things you tried earlier.
The correct answer is (Z). Go to the Judge’s Sign-in Table.
You also make a mental note to purchase a clipboard.
After signing in, you are given a nametag and informed of your assigned flights. The person you have been paired with is an experienced BJCP judge, and even after talking with him or her for only a few short minutes, many of your deepest fears and concerns have already been assuaged. It’s like you’ve been doing this forever. The two of you sample a calibration beer before the judging begins, and, for the first time ever, you start to feel like an honest-to-goodness beer judge.
The only problem is that there’s this strange person sitting next to the both of you. On the one hand, it’s pretty creepy that this person doesn’t really talk much, but, on the other hand, this person does tend to bring your table free drinks. As well as sheets of paper, clean glasses, paper towels, etc. I wish all spies were this cordial, you think, trying to remember who this person could possibly be.
Digging deep into your memory, how should you address this person?
(A) “You must be our steward. Nice to meet you!”
(B) “My feet aren’t going to massage themselves.”
(C) A steady stride, a calm demeanor, and a roughly thrown handful of pocket change are the most effective ways to ward off the homeless.
The answer, almost always, is (A).
The steward is there to essentially manage everything that travels to and from your judging table: transporting beer and sampling glasses, making sure the beers are being served at the appropriate temperature, double-checking and collecting scoresheets, communicating questions to the judging coordinator, and so forth. All of the things you’d, admittedly, rather not have to do yourself.
You will learn to love this strange new person.
In fact, you’ll even want to reward your steward. You’ll think of elaborate steward-appropriate gifts: various pieces of costume jewelry, secondhand paperbacks, snow globes, sweet nothings whispered into a steward’s ear… You’ll wonder, do stewards live in real houses? And if so, can I buy mine a decorative shrub?
But then you will realize that you already have the perfect gift right in front of you. Your co-judge pours the first competition bottle into two glasses, one for each of you, and you realize, man, I bet my steward could go for a cold one right now.
But first, you have this suspicion that there’s something you’re supposed to be doing. Your co-judge’s odd glances confirm this. But what could it be?
(A) Carefully review all aspects of that beer: aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, and flavor, as well as overarching commentary and troubleshooting suggestions.
(B) Taunt your co-judge for the wimpy pour. Lightweight!
(C) Scribble down a handful of crass, lesser-known expletives on the scoresheet before running around the room screaming, “I’m Chuck goddamn Norris!”
Actually, any of those would work, presuming you apologize, erase the expletives (hence the mechanical pencils), and eventually get back around to completing (A). In all seriousness, you’ll learn to appreciate your stewards, respect your co-judges, and dedicate yourself to providing thoughtful, knowledgeable feedback, which is why homebrewers enter these competitions in the first place.
In less seriousness, you are feeling like the happiest thing on two legs right now. Those first two ounces of alcohol always go straight to your head. The elation! The excitement! The hand cramps!
Seriously, you wonder. Why can’t I type my reviews?
For the morale of your steward, you decide to toughen up and push through the anguish of mechanical pencils. You will try to be strong. The morning session comprises eight beers to judge, while the afternoon consists of another nine. Time seems to take on a life of its own. Your scoring aligns reasonably well with the experienced BJCP judge. Despite everything, you refrain from wincing.
When, suddenly, there’s a beer that you and the other judge don’t agree on!
You have the beer rated 10 points higher than your co-judge, which is simply too much. It feels like all your hard work throughout the day is beginning to unravel. Your steward will massage someone else’s feet from now on. You can feel him or her growing more reticent, more detached, more disillusioned by your idiocy – and it’s only been, like, a second or two! My idiocy is compelling, you think.
What do you do???
(A) Collectively agree on the best way to bring your scores within seven points.
(B) Sudden death overtime.
(C) This has actually never happened before in the history of judging. Your palate is unnatural and an abomination to all things holy, your soul is fragmented, and tears in the space-time continuum have you to thank. Nice judging, Ace!
Honestly, I can’t even remember. The answers are all the way up there, and my scrolling hand is also my mechanical pencil hand. I’m sure you understand.
The answer is (A). Be polite, discussing your different interpretations of how the beer fits the style guidelines and where you and your co-judge disagree. This is generally an easy and educational process. Stop staring at your steward!
You might even surprise yourself by the end of the day. While you’re probably still a little slow adjusting to the format of the scoresheets, it’s a promising learning curve, and judging within one or two styles means that you won’t need to flip through multiple subsections of the style guidelines. You’ll remember the style parameters much more clearly after you have to compare multiple things against them. Your steward, occasionally, might glow a little more brightly by the end of the afternoon. Your co-judge will become someone you’ll probably see again within a month or two. And your scoresheets will pass into the mysterious ether.
After two sessions, you’ve probably sampled about 30 or 40 ounces of beer.
At the end of the day, the natural lighting falling through some of the overhead glass panels will have shifted from one side of the room to the other, signaling something happening outside that you weren’t really paying much attention to, and in the parking lot there will possibly be guest taps set up, some pizza and breakfast foods remaining, and more beers being poured by lucky folks biking or walking home. And as you walk out of the judging facilities, you might even see significantly more people (perhaps two, or three!) who you actually know now, and all the way to your car and all the way back home you will be thinking:
(A) Today, I was a beer judge.
(B) Today, I was a beer judge.
(C) Today, I was a beer judge.
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