Home   About

Thursday, 22 July 2010

SIBA South East Festival - Judging Beer

“If you can see, smell and taste beer, then you’re qualified enough to be a judge” decrees Julian Grocock the CEO of SIBA, as we settle down at round tables with neat little lines of upturned glasses in front of us. The morning sun is shining outside and a cool breeze is blowing through the temporary marquee that houses us. Two long rows of casks span one side of the makeshift room, veiled under cooling blankets they conceal their identities like bank robbers. A detective for the day; it’s my task to command this most delicious of identity parades and split these suspects out into mere foils and actual perpetrators. Some of these beers are guilty of being the best in their region and I’m not about to let them slip through the net, not on my watch.

Appearance first. I want clarity, a head that laces and lingers, subtle carbonation and signs of life. The aroma needs to tease and tantalise, a precis of what’s to come, it must be fresh and vibrant, hoppy, fruity and malty. Taste is personal but off-flavours are universal, we’ll have none of those. I want to drink a beer and be both pleased and intrigued, above all it must make me come back for more.

One by one the inspection is carried out, the same sequence each time, mechanical on the surface but deeply considered beneath. Lift to the light, swirl, smell, taste and score. No time at all passes and the job is done, decision made, judgment cast.

It’s the SIBA South East Beer Festival 2010 and, on this occasion, the offender is easily ousted. Oakleaf Hole Hearted is head and shoulders above the rest. It’s golden, new-penny-bright and peppered with just the right carbonation. It’s toffee sweetness, floral-citrus hop and crisp, refreshing bitterness. Case closed.

Thanks to Eddie for the invitation to come and judge; a great day and an excuse to drink and talk beer with like minded people. Good to see Evin at The Kernel Brewery take four awards in the bottled beer category. The best beer I judged was the Hole Hearted but overall winner on the day was Westerham Audit Ale.


Dominic, Marble Brewery said...

You gotta love SIBA judging, especially that all important category, Saleability...

Mark said...

Yeah, that's a bit of an odd one, I agree. I gave saleability pretty much the same for every beer so that it sort of cancelled out. Very difficult to judge something like that and a completely different skill to judging the actual beer.

Kelly Ryan said...

Gonna go out on a limb here, probably get abused for making beer pretentious and say that I disagree completely with “If you can see, smell and taste beer, then you’re qualified enough to be a judge".

It's important to know a lot more than that if you're supposedly giving out an industry award to a brewery that could potentially improve their sales, have an effect on their livelihood etc. isn't it?

In fact... I feel a blog post coming on... watch this space!


Mark said...

I can see both sides of the arguement.

I agree with what you're saying, but at the same time the opinions of the people that will eventually buy and drink the beer are valid and valuable too ... regardless of their technical beer knowledge.

It's an interesting one. Looking forward to reading your blog on it! :)

rabidbarfly said...

Dude, no mention of the gift that kept on giving, the now notorious 'spoons breakfast!

Mark said...

Haha. That's a good point, I think I've just about got over that bad boy! :P

Kelly Ryan said...

Again, tend to disagree. Drinking beer and judging beer... completely different things. A case in point... a large brewery who I'm not going to name did a bunch of research into the "sunstruck" character that occurs when UV light hits beer, changes hop compounds to skunky thiols and occurs in green and flint (clear) bottles. As a beer judge, you should be able to pick this up and mark a beer down. This brewery realised that the skunky character is what the consumer associates with a premium quality mainstream beer (hence clear and green bottles in these categories) and worked hard to actively get this.

Someone who drinks beer and doesn't know the skunk flavour is negative and denotes aging and poor storage could possibly mark this highly. Someone who judges beer and understands off clavours and how they are developed would mark this beer down.

I know I'm splitting hairs, but I wouldn't (for example) ask my Mum to judge beer just because she is able to drink, see and smell it. Does this apply to sports? I can watch a boxing match... does that mean I'm qualified to judge it?


Dominic, Marble Brewery said...

Just so we're clear, I'm totally with Kelly on this one.

Mark said...

Good points Kelly. I'm not disagreeing with you and the quote in my post was exactly that ... a quote, not necessarily my opinion.

I think you're right, a beer judge should be qualified to judge beer. If that's BJCP or otherwise, they need to have proven that they can judge beer accurately and correctly.

I still maintain that there is value in the "average" drinker's opinion though. Perhaps not as a beer judge, but as someone capable of making a judgement based on their taste. Surely what matters most is that the drinker will order a second pint?

If SIBA are happy to present awards based on the latter, then I don't see a problem with that. Perhaps more should be done to qualify the awards by making the selection process more prominent

To use the comparison to sport: Only a judge should be able to decide the winner of a match, basing the result on their technical knowledge of boxing. However, a group of fans would be more than qualified to decide the winner of a “match of the year” award, basing their decision on the match that they most enjoyed.

Thanks for taking the time to comment by the way, much appreciated.