Sometimes you have to put quality first. Not that judging fresh beers against beers open for 3 hours isn't bad enough but the situation in NY this year where beers were open overnight and then judged in mini-bos is horrible and would have been avoided with a second bottle.
Hey, I judged that flight! My wife and I were assigned German wheat and rye on Friday night. We got through one flight (14 beers) and then the hall owners kicked us out. Our mini-BoS winners got recapped with plastic temporary caps. Saturday morning we judged the rest of the flight (13 beers). Surprisingly, for a style that demands high carbonation and suffers badly from oxidation, one of our Friday night mini-BoS entries actually took first place!
FWIW, I saw no problems with the quality of the judging; I saw a lot of National and experienced Certified judges at Saratoga Springs. I'm a Certified judge going for National or better rank (I took the exam for the third time this three weeks ago) and my wife is Certified. We immediately recapped all our beers and set them aside. Putting them in a cooler wasn't an option since we were acting as our own stewards. We filled out full scoresheets, discussed each entry, and generally came within 3 points of each other in scoring. I think we did a good job under bad circumstances. If anyone has problems with my judging, please contact me privately.
Honestly once you have the bottles sorted, do they really take up that much space (I've seen 900, I can extrapolate to 1500)? Maybe we should look harder for sites instead of sacrificing quality.
750 entries of 1 bottle each is 31.25 cases. That's a heck of a lot of beer. Our club competition last week had approximately the same amount (2 bottles @ at 325 entries). It would occupy an entire glass-fronted convenience store beer cooler, or about an eight to a quarter of a typical walk-in cooler. That puts something of a limit on club venues since not many places have that sort of storage capacity and don't necessarily want strangers going in and out of their kitchen.
Does anyone want to defend the NY situation as anything other than a horrible judging situation? Does anyone have a better idea to prevent it from happening again?
I think that the NY competition was a debacle because it was a little club that didn't realize that they could actually get 750 entries, then freaked out when they actually did. I saw very little local club support and not a whole lot of advanced planning. Maybe bad local politics happened and some key people decided to stay away. If so, it was a terribly short-sighted decision.
In their defense, I will say that the hall was decent (other than being kicked out at 10 p.m. on Friday before the judging was done) and could have handled twice the number of judges. Also, lack of pull sheets on Friday evening was possibly due to havning to quickly import the club's entry database over to the AHA's format.
Other than that, yeah, it sucked. Huge flights. No stewards. No cellarmaster. No pull sheets ready when we arrived on Friday. The promised dinner never appeared, only lunch and not much of that. The AHA owes a big debt of gratitude to George Di Piro at C.H. Evans/Albany Pump House for taking over judging on later weekends. Also, all the people who stepped into the rubble to judge those flights deserve a big hand.
I'm surprised that the competition didn't pull in more judges from New England. I think that the email plea for judges just went to NY. Either that or everyone in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec had better things to do that day. I also didn't see that many judges from downstate NY - NYC and Long Island. They might have found it easier to go to Philadelphia. Not that I blame them, but some judges I know saw a catastrophe in the making and stayed away. Perhaps they had bad judging experiences there before. The price of gas might have discouraged others.
The lesson for me is that a really big competition either requires several clubs pulling together and also requires the AHA to more carefully investigate a club's ability to handle a big competition. My ideas:
1) Any bid to host an NHC 1st round ought to include total club membership to get an estimate of "passive support" for the competition.
2) The AHA should make the bid organizers for an NHC 1st round jump through a few hoops and submit a reasonably detailed plan in order to get an estimate of potential support. If there's no evidence that there's a planning committee, that's reason to be suspicious of the club's organizing skills.
3) I think that there ought to be more 1st round regional competitions, so that clubs who are only used to handling 200-400 bottle competitions don't get slammed. I think that there are a lot more venues, and clubs, that can handle that sort of volume. My local HB club could easily handle a 300-350 entry competition, but we'd get killed by 750 entries.
4) If the BJCP were to spend money to encourage judges to attend, I'd prefer that it take the form of food or organizational support (e.g., arranging for motel discounts). Paying judges gets into troubles and bad feelings over expense accounts, mileage, out-of-town vs. local status, and all sorts of petty finance/politics. It also might put the AHA into bad legal territory.
5) The AHA should look at national trends in homebrew club membership, competitions and entries to past NHC to determine how to split up regions for future years. It's a great savings in time and trouble if you have a relatively local shipping/judging location. Certainly, the NE region needs to be split into its own territory. I'm not sure if NY could be its own region, but possibly NY and PA could.
6) The level of entries could be due to the economy. More people unemployed = more time to make beer. I have no idea if homebrewing is counter-recessional, though.
7) I'd personally hate to restrict entries or punish people who want to enter every category. If you're that dedicated, more power to you. I'd also be reluctant to punish clubs for entering large numbers of beers. It's not a big thing where I am, but some clubs set great store by collective wins.