I’m a BJCP Judge!

It took all of two days from receiving my BJCP test results to get some judging gigs. I needed just one more experience point to get to the Certified level. I was able to get in on one of the judging nights for the Ontario Brewing Awards, and judged Bohemian Pils, Amber Lager and Vegetable categories.

OBA’s, vegetable category

The next weekend, I went with Eric Cousineau, Brandi Lee MacDonald and Victor North to Buffalo to judge the Amber Waves of Grain competition. They did the judging differently than I’m used to, but it’s a format that I definitely prefer – get one beer at a time to taste, judge and discuss rather than the full flight all at once.

A room full of beer judges
I may have been a tad bored at the banquet.

The OBA’s

I was lucky enough to get chosen as a backup judge for the Ontario Brewing Award judging, held this week at the Three Brewers on Yonge Street in Toronto. Everyone showed up the first night, so I decided to help steward rather than head back to Stoney Creek early.  I do like stewarding as it gives you a chance to try some beers during a lull while the judging is going on, and I tried a number that made me sad they were one-offs that were now gone, like Sawdust City’s Blood of Cthulhu and Black Oak’s Epiphany. I really have a thing for cherries in dark beers.

I headed back on Wednesday to be a judge. I was so nervous, as I am the first time I do anything, but quickly found a groove after chatting with my table mates, Brandi from Because Beer and Craig, who has been judging for about 26 years.

First up was dark lagers, a style I was not that familiar with. This was the first time I’d really been able to try this many different takes on one style. and one of the first things that struck me was how incredibly varied the brewers’ interpretations can be. There were one or two that my taste buds preferred, but I told my taste buds to pay attention & do their work because as Ray had said many times in Sensory, tasting for judging is not the same as drinking for pleasure.

My first ever beer judging photograph.

The next category was American Pale Ales. We had 7 samples that had made it through the first round, and it was our job to determine gold, silver and bronze. No pressure.

My last category was vegetable beers. I found this one especially challenging, as we were not told what the vegetable was. It was fairly obvious that three of the five samples were pumpkin beers with variations in spice and we were certain that the fourth was a ginger beer, but I still do not know what the fifth beer was comprised of. Brandi, who has an incredible palate, thought it might be ground cherry. All I know is that it likely isn’t a gose, even though that’s what it kind of tastes like, tart and briny. I can’t wait until the OBA gala, so I can find out what it was.

Vegetable beers



The good, the bad and the ugly of the OBA Gala

As I had helped out with the judging nights and sorting the BJCP sheets, I was offered a ticket to the Ontario Brewing Awards Gala on April 5th. I wasn’t sure if I had anything in my closet suitable for a gala (I’m a jeans and tshirt kind of girl), but a quick look at past pictures on the website reminded me that brewers are pretty much a jeans-and-tshirt kind of crowd. Phew. Off I went to my first beer award event, not sure what to expect.

The Good

Kudos to Roger of Thirst for Knowledge and Jen from Beerlicious for putting on a good event! Everything seemed to run well from my perspective, which really just means the beer was plentiful and delicious, the food was plentiful and delicious, and no one stepped on my toes.

Even though I went solo, I had some great conversations. Roger introduced me to Jon Downing, the brewmaster professor at Niagara and soon to be one of my teachers. I may have gotten a little gushy with my enthusiasm.

I saw someone in a Big Rig sweatshirt, and started the conversation with, “hey, do you work at Big Rig?”. Turns out I was speaking to Lon, the brewmaster. I told him about my experience at the Toronto Beer Festival Spring Session, and how much I really liked his Black Peppercorn Saison. Yeah, I might have gotten a little gushy there too. I was pleased but not all that surprised at how many awards Big Rig received. He was very sweet and gracious when I congratulated him later on his wins, and nicely said that the awards were great but that his best takeaway from the night was my feedback from the festival on his staff and my friends’ reactions to his beer. See – sweet guy.

I got to meet the guys from Stack Brewing in Sudbury. I have family there, and we have drunk much of their product while sitting on the dock or the deck. Congrats to them for winning gold for their Les Portes de L’Enfers.

I also introduced myself to Paul, the head brewer at Flying Monkeys, and had a great chat with him about their markets outside of Ontario. I talked with Robin of Thirsty Wench fame in the bar where we reminisced about the bad old days at the Gladstone before it became gentrified. And I finally got to meet Caroline the Hoppy Beer Witch, who I have been following on Twitter and Instagram for months.

The Bad

I don’t know if I really call something bad when I can’t think of a way to make it good.

In case you don’t know me, I am a fierce advocate of feminism and multiculturalism, and I find it hard to relax in homogeneous gatherings because my brain begins asking why, why is this <insert gathering here> like this? 

My takeaway from the OBA’s is that brewers are not a very diverse crowd. There weren’t very many women there, and it’s hard to say how many of those in attendance were in media as opposed to in brewing. And I don’t think I’m out of line by saying that it was a very white crowd.

I do wonder what are the barriers to entry for people who aren’t Caucasian and male; I don’t get the feeling that it’s top down, that it comes from within the industry itself. I don’t know. It’s definitely something I’m interested in finding out more about, and contrasting that to my experiences in IT.

The Ugly

Warning: I might get a little ranty here, and this is just my personal take. I have to write this so it’s out of my head. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing or my age, but cliquishness and bad manners irk me. Feel free to stop reading now if you are ok with these things. Me, I think courtesy and inclusion should be modeled no matter where you are.

The schmoozing had been going on for about an hour when Roger went to the mic and started his intro the awards. Now, in just about every other event I’ve been to, that’s the cue for people to dial back their conversations and pay attention. If anything, this crowd got louder. I had to bite my tongue to stop the former teacher in me from shushing everyone.

I could be totally reading too much into this, but when Magnotta Brewing won a gold for their True North Copper and the brew went to pick up the award, the applause was just this side of crickets. The applause for other craft brewers was significantly louder. I know I’m fairly new to this industry and will freely admit there could either be more (or less) to this than I am seeing, but can’t shake the feeling that there are some biased opinions in terms of who makes “craft” beer, what brands are the “cool kids”. I hope I’m wrong, because that’s bullshit. Good beer is good beer, regardless of who makes it. I will admit to having certain perceptions about Magnotta, but that didn’t stop me from trying and enjoying their beer, or from congratulating someone who made a beer that won gold in its category.

This is the one that has really bugged me, and made me think less of someone. I was standing in a group near the end of the night, when one person made a comment about how the competition was “totally fixed before hand”  because awards were won by the craft beer divisions of big corporate names like Molson-Coors and Labatts, and then proceeded to imply that money had changed hands.

Listen. If you hold a position in an industry where your opinion is listened to, you really shouldn’t say shit like this when you are at an industry event. It’s highly unprofessional, and unless you have even the slightest shred of proof to back you up, it’s unethical. As someone who helped the nights of the judging and later sorted forms, I don’t believe there is any possible truth behind that individual’s claim. Yes, that person is still entitled to their opinion, but as Douglas Adams said, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

Rant over.

OBA Judging

One of the perks about being in the Prud’homme program was being offered the opportunity to help out at the Ontario Brewing Awards judging held at the Beer Academy.

Yes, it was work, pouring and setting out the beers in order then clearing, but it was also interesting to see how a BJCP judging is done. It was also a lot of fun to hang out with beer aficionados and taste the left overs. Some of the leftovers even followed me home *grin.

Waiting to be taken out
These now temporarily live in my fridge.