Author Topic: first time judging as an apprentice  (Read 1194 times)

Offline homoeccentricus

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first time judging as an apprentice
« on: September 19, 2016, 09:19:20 PM »
Last Saturday I judged beers for the first time. Still as an apprentice, as the judging course is not yet finished, but still, sweat dripped on the paper while I tried to determine whether or not there was a faint mint flavor in some of the beers...

My most important observation while tasting those beers was that almost all of them had a similar dull, faint phenolic-like core, that makes them instantly recognizable as homebrews. Including the beers that had no obvious off-flavors. Strangely enough, I have the impression that no other judges taste that, or, if they do, don't comment on it. I'm pretty sure that it's not the extract twang, since I don't think many people use extract here on the continent. Do I have a permanent phenolic coating on my tongue? And if not, what is it? Is it simply a combination of beers having been fermented a bit too high and/or having a pH that is a bit too high, is it a mild version of oxidation, or is it something else? Maybe I'm just a twerp, is that it?
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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2016, 09:29:08 PM »
Frank, everyone judges for the first time. Congratulations, you are on the path.

I can't answer your question about the flavor. What styles were you judging?
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2016, 10:13:38 PM »
Frank,

Good to see you're on the path.  I happen to be BJCP Certified, took my first exam in 2006 or 2007.

I can honestly say that homebrews do NOT all taste like "homebrews" to me.  Of course some are better than others, and the extract beers in particular tend to turn me off IF I am able to taste "the twang", which is often but NOT always the case.  Meanwhile, some examples are very very good, some even world-class or better than you can buy commercially.  I have judged many 40-point beers in my time as a judge, and maybe even more often than most would expect.  If a beer is really good, I am not at all afraid to give it the score that it truly deserves, and I'll defend it if necessary.  The opposite is true as well.  I'm not afraid to give a score of low teens if it sucks.  However the majority do in fact fall someplace around a score of 28-33 which is about what most judges would expect I think for an average quality beer.  Maybe even higher, maybe 34.  I've found that at least in the USA, average quality of homebrews and commercial beers alike have improved by several points since about 10 years ago.

Phenols?  Gosh... that's got to be either a Belgian thing (you're judging in Belgium -- yes? no?), or a personal sensitivity thing.  I wouldn't be terribly surprised if brewers in Belgium picked up a certain "house" phenolic just by being where you guys are.  But even more likely: Some people are more or less sensitive to certain things than others.

A quick story: I know a National judge who can't taste diacetyl at all.  I'm not hyper sensitive to it either, however I've "defeated" him in battle before where he loved a beer, scored it in the 40s, but then when I tasted it I told him it's alright but has some diacetyl so I'd only score it a 30, then when another Certified judge broke the tie, the third judge agreed with ME while the other guy was forced to confess that he knows he can't taste diacetyl so as much as he personally disagreed, he had to defer to us.  I'm also a little more sensitive than some people to phenolics I think, and maybe DMS but not as much. 

Another example: I absolutely hate that phenolic Carmex lip gloss flavor.  This actually caused some additional hate and discontent when I received the results from my last BJCP tasting exam, where a Belgian dubbel was praised by the proctors for having low phenols, but to me tasted like lip gloss and turned me off, resulting in a difference in proctor vs. my score on the tasting of like 15 points or something, so of course they marked me down for that.  I still think my personal opinions are more important than others' sometimes, and for that I guess I'm paying the price, as I'll have to take the exam again if I'm ever to become National.  Oh well, someday maybe I'll learn.  For now, sorry no, I've not learned yet.   ;D

You may be onto something very real.  Maybe all the beers you tasted really do have something off.  Or maybe they don't.  I wish I could taste them right there alongside with you.  In fact, don't be afraid to table-talk with higher ranking judges after you each take your notes.  You might learn something but also you might even TEACH THEM a thing or two that they might otherwise miss.  Personally I don't respect a Recognized judge's perceptions any less than a National or even a Master.  We can all pick up on different things, and sometimes a new guy's perceptions can be refreshing and educational if they can describe well enough what they are tasting.  "Sour Cheese Nips" has been part of my vocabulary more than once, and occasionally someone else will say "Yes!  Exactly!  You hit the nail on the head!"  Trust your perceptions, because hey, they may very well be right.

Cheers.
« Last Edit: September 19, 2016, 10:18:05 PM by dmtaylor »
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2016, 10:30:23 PM »
"You are on the path." What is this, a sect?
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2016, 10:45:45 PM »
I co-judged some dubbels, (Dutch style) bock beers, quadrupels, and in the second round a series of beers sub 30 EBC, sub 1.060 gravity. Not sure whether the term is phenolic. There is some common dull flavor that I cannot describe. My prejudice says it's a combination of high temperature fermentation, too high pH, some oxidation maybe (though not recognizable as papery), and the prejudice of my prejudice says that it may also be dry yeast. Absence of crispness, even absence of a certain je ne sais pas quoi "it"-factor.
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Offline chinaski

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2016, 01:24:57 AM »
I'm not sure what you tasted either & I am a certified judge who doesn't judge as often as I perhaps should.  But one thing I think is appropriate to mention is to cautiously limit your assumptions about the cause of the off-flavor as you perceive it.  You will not know if they brewer: used dry yeast, used malt extract, fermented warm, had high mash pH, etc.  Unless you can link specific off-flavors to specific processes (e.g. fusel alcohol flavors often are the result of warm fermentation temps), then just state your perceptions on the score sheet.  Doing otherwise doesn't help the brewer, which is the entire point of judging (IMHO anyway).

Offline santoch

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2016, 03:45:13 AM »
Congrats on judging your first competition!  You've gotten a lot of good advice here already.
Comment on what you detect.  Don't put your OPINION in there, keep it based in the guidelines.  "I'd like to see ...." should be replaced by "The best examples of the style exhibit ...". (Of course what you write in place of the 3 dots should be accurate, too :-D)
Finally, don't speculate. Offer suggestions but don't overreach.  That rauchbier may already be 100% smoked malt. They may have used a no-sparge process, or went with a hopped extract kit for all you know.  Tell them what to correct and offer potential solutions, but don't use absolutes.

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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2016, 11:29:31 AM »
Don't put your OPINION in there, keep it based in the guidelines.

Obviously I didn't do that. I didn't speculate either. My observations have nothing to do with what I put on paper.  I'm a well trained monkey.
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Offline hopfenundmalz

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2016, 12:02:34 PM »
"You are on the path." What is this, a sect?
No, sort of like the long journey starts with the first step.
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Offline reverseapachemaster

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2016, 03:03:10 PM »
I don't think it's always one specific reason but rather any number of minor problems independently or in combination that muddles the flavor of an otherwise good beer. These can include chlorophenols, low level infections, mash ph problems, minor oxidation, excessive trub in the bottles kicking up yeast into the beer, use of unusual sanitizers/cleaners leaving residual flavors, poorly stored/old grain or extract, fermentation too cold/too hot, excessive specialty malts that produce muddy grain flavors and so on. At low levels the products of these issues could easily be indistinguishable from one another and many could have a generic phenolic or phenolic-like flavor.

There will always be a threshold to how much effort a given homebrewer will put into the quality of their beer. For many homebrewers there is a "good enough" attitude where many of these minor problems aggregate into a less than stellar beer either because they do not observe the flaws or are unwilling to admit to them. The brewers you find regularly on forums and social media groups working to perfect recipes and improve processes are generally not in that camp (although there are a few forums where that's not necessarily true).
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Offline denny

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2016, 03:59:11 PM »
Congrats on judging your first competition!  You've gotten a lot of good advice here already.
Comment on what you detect.  Don't put your OPINION in there, keep it based in the guidelines.  "I'd like to see ...." should be replaced by "The best examples of the style exhibit ...". (Of course what you write in place of the 3 dots should be accurate, too :-D)
Finally, don't speculate. Offer suggestions but don't overreach.  That rauchbier may already be 100% smoked malt. They may have used a no-sparge process, or went with a hopped extract kit for all you know.  Tell them what to correct and offer potential solutions, but don't use absolutes.

HTH-

Great info, Steve!
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Offline ynotbrusum

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2016, 06:39:09 PM »
I would add that you have the palate you have - for better or worse, so try to see what others think - I find the younger judges to have highly perceptible palates, but often struggle with articulation of what they experience...but that comes with time and practice.  Me, on the other hand I have an old palate - I am crazily sensitive to clove-like Phenols and must concentrate to find levels of diacetyl that others readily perceive.  You can get better and judging with others helps - I frequently ask the other judge if he or she is picking up some clove.  If not, then I restrain myself in scoring that defect.  Lastly, FWIW, I think a lot of phenols come from low fermentation temperatures for ales (think Hefeweizen along the clove to banana spectrum of fermentation temps).
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #12 on: September 20, 2016, 07:42:03 PM »
FWIW, the course I'm taking is in the Netherlands. There is no beer judge program in Belgium AFAIK. There's also no national homebrewing competition. Belgians don't seem to believe in having their beers judged or brewing to style :)
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Offline dmtaylor

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #13 on: September 20, 2016, 07:50:02 PM »
FWIW, the course I'm taking is in the Netherlands.

Oh, the Netherlands.  So then maybe the common off-flavor you are experiencing is from the water.  I'm actually half-serious --- if I recall correctly, I believe the hardness and for lack of a better term "filthiness" of at least one of their water sources might give Heineken its unique flavor profile, which actually I think turns out kind of tasty as long as you don't get it out of a light-struck green bottle.  Or, this theory might be entirely incorrect.  Just something to think about maybe.
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Offline homoeccentricus

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Re: first time judging as an apprentice
« Reply #14 on: September 20, 2016, 07:59:12 PM »
FWIW, the course I'm taking is in the Netherlands.

Oh, the Netherlands.  So then maybe the common off-flavor you are experiencing is from the water.  I'm actually half-serious --- if I recall correctly, I believe the hardness and for lack of a better term "filthiness" of at least one of their water sources might give Heineken its unique flavor profile, which actually I think turns out kind of tasty as long as you don't get it out of a light-struck green bottle.  Or, this theory might be entirely incorrect.  Just something to think about maybe.

Oh yes, I've been thinking about that too. Almost everyone in the Netherlands brews with plain tap water, as it is chlorine-free.
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