Author Topic: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws  (Read 1176 times)

Offline tomsawyer

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Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« on: October 14, 2011, 06:37:23 AM »
This issue/point of discussion came up in another forum.  The poster said that they did not like getting adivce on how to fix the flaws that were detected in an entry.  At first I thought it was an odd comment but I've already run across several situations where you are limited as far as advice since you really know nothing of the brewer's basic process, namely extract vs AG.  How do judges approach this?  I know you can add body using specialty grains or adjuncts, or you can increase mash temp if doing AG or partial mash.  Do you need to be adding this to a critique?  Aren't we supposed to be offering such advice as part of a routine critique or am I mistaken?  I told the person it was as much to prove that the judge had some knowledge of brewing and that would instill confidence in the reviewee, rather than giving real direction in ways to improve.

I already try to avoid things like adding "add more bittering hops" to a comment on low perceived bitterness, as that is stating the obvious.
Lennie
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Offline blatz

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2011, 06:52:19 AM »
lennie

in my opinion, its all in how you write the comment.  definitive, terse comments are always going to come across negatively.

instead, be a little softer and broad and if possible, give more than one way to address the flaw.
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Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #2 on: October 14, 2011, 09:49:04 AM »
I try not to tell them how to fix flaws, I want to tell them how to improve the beer.  If the flaw is that the perceived bitterness is too low, I would just tell them they need to increase the perceived bitterness.  They can do that by using more bittering hops, decreasing the OG/FG, decreasing caramel malts, playing with water chemistry, etc.  There simply isn't room to explain all of that.

The important information to convey is how to improve the beer, tell them the goal and let them choose the path.  If they don't know their options they can always email me, my address is on all of the scoresheets.

Let's see if Gordon weighs in . . .
Tom Schmidlin

Offline narcout

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #3 on: October 14, 2011, 04:17:25 PM »
I try not to tell them how to fix flaws, I want to tell them how to improve the beer.  If the flaw is that the perceived bitterness is too low, I would just tell them they need to increase the perceived bitterness.

I'm not a judge, but as an entrant, I much prefer what you've described above.   

Offline richardt

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #4 on: October 14, 2011, 10:09:37 PM »
Hmm...

A beer with the perceived bitterness as being too low for that style is not necessarily "flawed", but rather "not to style" (in accordance with the BJCP style guidelines) when sampled by that particular judge.  Short statements like "increasing hop bitterness would bring this beer to style quidelines" would be adequate.

Flaws, on the other hand, may benefit from more descriptions and suggestions, even if they're obvious to the judge.  Recently, I was asked to informally give feedback to a homebrewer within the club who is a good brewer but occasionally ferments his beers and meads too warm.  Fusels just wrecked the beers and the mead.  Had to keep giving the advice I've given before--"excessive amounts of fusels severely detract from the beer/mead.  Pitch adequate amounts of yeast (use starters, for example).  Control fermentation temperatures better.  Ferment at cooler temps." 

I agree there's not enough room on the sheet to write:  "There's no way in hell you're gonna keep the beer or mead at 64 F in the bathtub or hall closet, in the house, in Summertime, in Florida, when your wife turns up the temp from 73 F to 79 F when you leave for work every morning, when the yeast are actively fermenting and raising the heat of the wort/beer even higher than ambient air temps...etc. etc.  I'm gonna hate this headache tomorrow, and it's all because of your damn beer (or mead).  Dude, you gotta get a fridge and a Ranco controller! Don't make another batch until you do!"  But, sometimes I wish I could.

I think some individuals have to have the analysis spelled out for them (repeatedly, if necessary) rather than a cryptic short statement like "This beer has excessive levels of fusels."

Offline tschmidlin

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2011, 11:37:13 PM »
A beer with the perceived bitterness as being too low for that style is not necessarily "flawed", but rather "not to style" (in accordance with the BJCP style guidelines) when sampled by that particular judge.  Short statements like "increasing hop bitterness would bring this beer to style quidelines" would be adequate.
If it is not to style then it is flawed for judging.  We're both making semantic arguments, but I disagree that you should tell them to increase the hop bitterness - the only way to do that is to increase the alphas using more or higher alpha hops.  They need to increase the perception of bitterness, and there's a lot of ways to do that.

I agree though, some people need to be hit over the head with it.  Score sheets are not the place for that though, in my opinion.
Tom Schmidlin

Offline dmtaylor

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #6 on: October 15, 2011, 05:38:08 AM »
We're all men here, right?  Well, about 99% of us anyway.

I think feedback on how to improve the beer in the future is one of the most important parts of the scoresheets.  If an entrant isn't able to handle a little constructive criticism, then they shouldn't have entered at all.  And if a flaw is real and the entrant is subsequently able to detect it and correct it as a result of receiving "negative" but constructive feedback, then he/she becomes a better brewer as a result.  Right?????  I don't see any reason to avoid giving feedback, as long as you don't go out of your way to sound like an absolute prick about it.  Are there going to be sensitive entrants out there?  Yes, of course.  Does that mean I shouldn't judge their beer as well as anyone else's for fear that they might be offended?  I don't think so.  Maybe I'm just a little more fearless than others.  But if I'm going to enter a competition, and I find out that my beer sucks and can be improved, I sure as hell would like to know about it from blind, unbiased judges.  I respect a guy more for being honest than for lying through his friggin teeth.  Because that's what you're doing if you hold back on feedback.  You're lying.  If the beer tastes like crap, then tell them it "tastes like durian fruit" and that they need to step up their sanitation practices or replace all plastic equipment, and be done with it.  I've done it.  It's not easy, but I've done it.  And I would expect exactly the same level of respect if my beer tasted like durian fruit.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2011, 05:43:16 AM by dmtaylor »
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Offline narcout

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #7 on: October 15, 2011, 08:35:33 AM »
Because that's what you're doing if you hold back on feedback.  You're lying.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that you hold back on feedback. 

In my mind this discussion is about using a scoresheet to describe a beer and its flaws versus making assumptions and recomendations about the entrant's brewing processes.

Offline snowtiger87

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #8 on: October 16, 2011, 03:05:11 AM »
Gordan can back me up here if he likes so here are my thoughts. As a BCJP judge we are encouraged (actually, required on the test) to give constructive feedback whenever possible, but to never guess (i.e. extract vs all-grain, name hops, yeast, etc). We should not be demeaning or harsh in our comments. We should also strive to fill out each section of the scoresheet adequately. I am always dissapointed when I get a scoresheet back and there is one word on each of the eval sections (and I have many times). Usually these come from non or new BJCP judges, and pro brewers.

Personally, I can usually taste an old extract and dry yeast in a beer. As the quality if dry yeast has improved I must admit this is getting harder. I can also easily sense if the beer is too bitter, dark, harsh, estery, etc.

Like all judges, I have my own opinions on how beers in certain styles should be and those opinions come out in my evaluations but I try to keep then muted.
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Offline tomsawyer

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #9 on: October 16, 2011, 06:44:16 AM »
So if a beer is too thin, what constructive feedback would be appropriate given the fact that you don't know if its due to mash temp, overuse of sugar or lac of specialty grains?

I do try and fill out each section with a thoughtful and comprehensive response, I suppose I was using the "fixes" as a way to flesh out the responses.  I'll focus more on a detailed sensory response and forget the recommendations for change, assuming the brewer can figure that part out.
Lennie
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Offline skyler

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #10 on: October 16, 2011, 09:09:38 AM »
I have been told to add maltodextrine to a witbier and to add a d-rest to a beer that had a long d-rest and no diacetyl (but a rich-tasting English crystal malt). The problem for me in both cases was that it showed the judge did not really understand beer. Tasting diacetyl where there is none is one thing that seems to happen a lot. Another is just not understanding styles well enough to be judging them. Adding maltodextrine to a witbier? Judges are just people and this is just a hobby, so I take it with a grain of salt, but it does deter me from sending beers into competitions when I know there is a good chance one or more of the people tasting my beer won't really be qualified to do so, despite passing a BJCP exam (frustrating since I have been consistently unable to sign up for an exam).

Offline richardt

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Re: Judging and Offering Fixes for Flaws
« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2011, 09:08:20 AM »
We're both making semantic arguments,
Agreed.  However, as an entrant, I think feedback that says I brewed a good, very-good, or excellent beer that is "not quite to style" is easier to take than "this beer has flaws."  The former could be quite drinkable, while the latter... maybe not so much.
Not to be snarky, but I try to use the phrase "not to style" to indicate recipe-formulation and/or process-related issues that cause a beer to be outside BJCP style guidelines (e.g., usually too little of a particular aroma or flavor characteristic for that style and/or deviations in color and/or mouthfeel attributes).  I reserve the word "flaw(s)" for more serious issues involving a beer (e.g., fusels, phenols, oxidation) that may otherwise be based on a correctly-designed recipe.  I think it shows sensitivity to the brewer's effort if the only thing wrong with a great-tasting pilsner is the color is a little too dark--that's "not to style", not a "flaw".  And, who knows, maybe the brewer likes Amber Pils.  It could be the next Black IPA.

They need to increase the perception of bitterness, and there's a lot of ways to do that.
You're 100% correct.  I didn't want to repeat everything you had just said, but rather make the point that, both as a judge and entrant, I'd prefer to make a few suggestions (but maybe not all of them) and give priority to those I think would make the most difference (or be more likely to fix the problem in future re-brews)

I agree though, some people need to be hit over the head with it.  Score sheets are not the place for that though, in my opinion.
Agreed.  Just trying to show that I always try to keep my verbal and written comments constructive and kind whilst my brain sometimes has a hissy fit.