Friday, 13 June 2014

Montreal part 2

The reason I am here in Montreal, Quebec, is to judge beer. It's all done now. I had to taste and evaluate a total of 48 beers. 10 of us were involved, each beer being tasted by three judges each. A total of just short of 130 beers.

View from our hotel room
My airfare and hotel have been paid for by Mondial de la Biere in exchange for bringing my experience in beer to the judging panel. I now get a few days to enjoy Montreal, the beer festival and relax for a few days before returning to what I expect will be a busy time back at the brewery. It is not for me to say why the folks here feel I'm a good candidate for inclusion in their panel of judges. None-the-less, I feel honoured to be included in a multinational team. Judges included Canadian, Italian, Swiss, American and Brazilian.

It is inevitable that when the judges have been flown from various parts of the world we are all taking the judging very seriously. Add to that the obvious care and attention given by the organisers, and a heavy implication of how serious this should be taken. Despite a serious approach the whole affair was conducted with a friendliness and good humour one would expect from any international beer event. Indeed, the humour in which Serge, the facilitator of proceedings, repeated at each round, in his charming Canadian-French accent, and with a comic lilt, "Oh, and I almost forgot to say, don't forget to put the number of the beer on the sheet!"<1>

One of the things that struck me about this judging was the focus and intent by all involved. Equally, the lack of discussion during judging was very definitely to my liking. I know that I sometimes detect different things in beer compared to other people's perceptions.  Sometimes I miss defects that others pick up in low concentrations. Equally, a very competently made beer can sometimes for me be just a little too flavourless or lacking depth. I like flavour bombs, and so a beer not only needs to be well made, but in addition needs some depth of flavour, originality and integration for it to score highly for me.

When I have judged at UK festivals there is inevitably a discussion occurs between judges. I would be sure, irrespective of how competent any table captain was at trying to ensure the less confident judge had his say, dominant personalities will bias the result. I know, I've been there and seen it happen.

Serge Noël (rear left)  and (most of) the judging team
This competition also has another interesting difference - the removal of unnecessary preconceptions. Firstly, we are not told the style of the beers we are judging. On the one hand this makes it difficult to know what the brewer intended. But the real positive for me is that nothing could be marked down because it was "not true to style" - This I very much liked. I've heard of, and witnessed, many great beers being marked down, or even thrown out of competitions just because the beer was deemed "not true to style" I'm a big style sceptic anyway. Perhaps this is one reason for choosing me.

The other thing I liked was the use of "black glasses" not completely opaque, but certainly giving a much reduce idea of colour and clarity. "It's all about the flavours Dave" Serge had explained to me, and even though he has some personal doubts about the smoked glass, he has the commitment to ensure the competition is run to the collective agreed rules of their organisation.

Le verre noir - along with our beers and AllBeer's French book
Judging without any peer assistance, any clues to style and without seeing the true colour or clarity is a bit daunting at first.  Equally, the pressure to do the best job I could felt quite intense. After all, these very good people have flown me 5 times zones and put me up in a very nice hotel. They deserve my best efforts.

I'm sure the reader might have various questions to ask regarding the methods used. My biggest question would be that if every beer is tasted by only three judges, is this a satisfactory cross section? However, we only had a fairly small time-slot within which to conduct the judging. Certainly after the first day, when we each tasted 36 beers and thought very carefully about each one, my palate and my concentration were jaded. Some of the last beers were 10% plus on that day. There is a possibility that my concentration could have been impaired due to the consumption of 36 different beers, even if the volumes were quite small.

 I have enjoyed the experience, even the challenge. Because my beers were not in the competition, and indeed I believe very few, if any of the beers presented I have tasted before, it made for a really refreshing experience as a brewer. I'd even go as far as to say that it has helped me to appreciate beer even more and still widen and deepen my skills.


<1>It is quite obvious that if a judges assessment cannot be paired with a beer then that beer will lose marks.


StringersBeer said...

Do you reckon that beer judges are any better than wine judges?

Unknown said...

Wow, that's an interesting academic analysis.

I think in conclusion there are many things effect the perception of a beer drinker. Judges are just people after-all.

I know for a fact that previous drinks vastly effect my perception of some beers. I think mood and tiredness do too.