In defence of beer judges

2017-09-16 12.15.11

I’ve been umming and ahhing about posting anything for over a week now but I feel I need to get this off my chest. After every beer competition, I regularly see comments about how the judges are wrong, how a brewers beer is perfect and couldn’t ever have any possible issue. These comments normally start the very second a score lands, before they have even seen the judges feedback on the beer and often once they get the feedback sheet and read it, silence is all we hear. By that time the judges have been dragged through the mud accused of all kinds of things.

In other cases, we have people who have seen feedback and disagree with it. Not just in minor detail but in all details. Because someone said that one bottle of their beer was a 38 point beer 6 months ago, it seems that it must still be a 38 now. This is despite the passage of time changing the beer, and it being a different bottle that may have had issues the original one didn’t.

Worst of all there are the self-appointed “experts”, who despite never actually trying any of the beers in question, seeing any of the feedback, or being at the event, in fact being completely devoid of any knowledge at all of the situation, are still insistent that the judges were wrong. Just based on someone else saying their beer once scored higher than it has now. These people are just trolls and should be treated as such, If you are prepared to slander people without any evidence and without being in possession of any facts then I truly hope someone drags your arse through court.

The truth of the matter is that when a beer is judged, all the judges can do is evaluate the bottle of beer that is in front of them. In the case of most reputable competitions, the judge should have absolutely no idea who has entered that beer or any knowledge of what it is, what it may have scored before, or what went into it beyond the info given on the sheet. The judges being completely blind to who entered the beer is just one of the checks and balances in ensuring fair judging of all beers. If the judges know the person who entered a beer, either because it is too distinctive, or they happen to belong to the same club as the brewer and have tried the beer before, or the brewer wrote a novel in the special ingredients section detailing how they used the only drop of special honeybee nectar from the wreck of the Titanic, after also posting that all over social media, then the judging is not going to be fair and unbiased. In cases where the judge has any suspicion at all who entered the beer they are supposed to flag that up with the head judge and not judge the beer. Unfortunately, this may not happen reliably.

2017-09-16 12.42.00 HDR

I find it interesting that some brewers have no issue at all deciding that judges are wrong, however, it always seems to be the judges that score the beer lower who are wrong. If every bottle is consistent and there is no issue with the beer in either case, why is it never the judges who scored it highly that are wrong?

If the judge starts their feedback by saying a beer was a gusher then you can be pretty sure there was some issue with the beer that was in front of them, and it wasn’t just the judges making it up to upset you. It was because that particular bottle, or bottles of beer sprayed the table or filled the slops bucket just in the act of opening it. This has knock-on effects that change the scores on all sections of the scoresheet. It stirs up sediment affecting appearance, the suspended yeast and sediment changes aromas, and flavours. If there was enough sediment in the bottle it will most certainly also affect mouthfeel as well as the over carbonation and all this will affect the overall impression of the beer.

I’ve personally been in a situation where bottles of my beer that I had judged to be 35 – 38 pointers at home got judged far lower in competition. As I was actually at the competition, I was able to go and get the bottle of beer that was judged and sample it. I had to agree that the bottle in front of the judges was not as good as the bottle at home, which had never left my fridge. Instead of the bright fresh flavours that I was used to at home, the bottle at the competition was tired and muddled and the score it was given, was fully justified.

It is safe to say that I have never judged alongside anyone who tried to be less than fair to the beer in front of them, rest assured I would flag it up immediately if I ever was. In every occasion we have given the beer due care, time and attention to describe and score it as accurately as possible. It is rare that the judge’s impressions differ by more than 3 or 4 points for the same beer, so to say that the difference in scores between events is due to judging issues instead of due to differences in the beer judged doesn’t ring true to me.

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There is an easy way for brewers to assure themselves that the beer is being judged fairly, and that is for them to volunteer to assist at the competition, this way they will be at the venue, get a chance to see that the beers are treated with care and attention, and also get a chance to try the bottle or bottles of their beer that were judged for themselves. This way they can be fully aware of the condition of the beer at the time of judging. Unfortunately, few brewers will commit to offering their time.

About

Sarah is an experienced home brewer, a qualified BJCP beer judge, organiser of the Welsh National Homebrew Competition and sometimes Brewtuber under her home brewery name, Daft Cat Brewing

Posted in What's Brewing