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Judging at the 2018 NERHBC

by Rob Friesel

Yesterday, I judged at the New England Regional Homebrew Competition — earning my 5th judging point, which should put me into the Certified rank. It was a great experience, and I wanted to jot down a few notes while they were still fresh in my memory.


Photo blatantly swiped from Facebook, but 100% credited to Paul Hayslett, who published it publicly for all to see.

  1. Two-and-a-half hours each way is about as far as I want to drive (and/or carpool) for a judging event all in one day. In the future, I may try to convince the family to come with me and they can go explore whatever town we’re in while I cramp up my hand on scoresheets.
  2. Twelve moderate gravity beers in a flight is manageable. But I’m still looking at about two hours if I’m trying to give quality feedback. Not sure how I could go faster, even with the new scoresheets (vide infra), assuming I’m trying to give full sensory impressions and a constructive critique.
  3. Ten (11?) strong beers in a flight approaches brutal. By the end of the Belgian Strong Ales flight, there was some definite palate fatigue. And maybe I was glad I hadn’t been the driver on the way to/from the event.
  4. Getting the assigned styles ahead of time was great. But ultimately a mixed bag. I prepared for “Belgian Strong Ales” and “Light Hybrid Beers” only to have the latter switched to “Amber European Lagers”. And then the day of the latter was switched again to “British Pale Ales”. My take-home lesson for that was to not over-index on the pre-assigned styles, as they might still get reassigned the day-of.
  5. Don’t forget about the bottle inspection. It could save you from a gusher. Not that that happened to me, but I very narrowly avoided getting caught in the geyser from the judge immediately next to me.
  6. Don’t be fooled into thinking you (or anyone else) is 100% objective! Your personal preferences for a given style will absolutely influence your assessment of a beer. No matter how hard you try to align it to the style guide, there are going to be all these little grey areas where you interpret things one way but your co-judge does not. Listen to you co-judge. Stick to your impressions if you feel strongly, but be open to other interpretations. (Maybe you’re allowing for too much bitterness? Or maybe you’re “diacetyl near-sighted”?)
  7. I still haven’t found my rhythm with the new scoresheets. I suppose they’re meant to be faster, but I still find myself giving thorough sensory descriptions with the feedback. I guess, for me, it isn’t enough to put a little X on a line for malt flavor intensity — because what if I’m getting “background caramel” and “moderate toast”? It wouldn’t be enough to just put my little X in the moderate range. (Clearly I’m still struggling with this).

All things considered, NERHBC was a well-run competition, where I felt welcomes and well-supported. There were some great beers that we judged, and I was happy to be a part of it. I learned a ton, and I got to meet a few new people.

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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