Ask Brewer Jayne: How to judge beers

Ask Brewer Jayne: How to judge beers

August 23rd, 2013 by Crafty Pint


This weekend is the occasion of the next Crafty Pint Blind Tasting Panel. We say “occasion” as it will feature Imperial Stouts and thus is the one causing the most ripples of excitement among panelists.

Usually, we’d run a feature today from our resident Beer Scholar Chris Brady, but as he’s spent the past couple of weeks moving house with two young kids in tow, we’ve given him a little longer to get the piece done. However, in its place we do have something of a preview piece related to the tasting. It’s the second in our regular Ask Brewer Jayne series – see the first here – and looks at how to judge beers, particularly when faced with big, bold styles such as Imperial Stouts.

It was our intention to fill a trough with Stilton for the occasion, but it seems that the strong cheese will have to wait… There’s some great advice here and if you haven’t held a blind tasting of your own, we suggest you do. Grab a few beers of the same style, work out how you and your friends can best present them fairly and blindly and see what comes out. Tasting blind is truly eye-opening…

Don’t forget that if you have a query that’s beery then send them to us at crafty@craftypint.com and Jayne will do her best to ease what ails you.


Question

Here at Crafty Towers, we understand the basics of assessing beers and scoring them (appearance, aroma, taste, etc). But when you’re faced with a list of big beers, like IPAs or Imperial Stouts, how can you maintain heightened sensory perception when your palate is being smashed with tonnes of flavour and bitterness?


Brewer Jayne

Ask-Brewer-Jayne-Lewis-beer-judge It’s hard to get sympathy when you tell someone that you’re spending five days judging beer but, frankly, it is one of the most challenging tasks that I’ve ever been faced with. Imagine tasting 50 to 60 beers in one day, ending in a flight of 20 Imperial Stouts. [Still sounds pretty awesome, Jayne…!]

As a judge, it’s our job to taste and describe the beer in the glass, assess its adherence to the guidelines laid out for that particular style, discuss it with our fellow judges and to determine the outcome for that beer – no medal, Bronze, Silver or Gold. Beer judging takes a stack of concentration to ensure that every beer that passes in front of you is judged fairly. Someone’s pride and joy is in that glass and they spent good money to hear what you think of it, so you need to make sure that you do it justice.

So how do beer judges stay focused and keep their palates fresh? Here’s a few tips:

  1. Keep the distractions in the area where you’re tasting to a minimum. [So there goes the techno soundtrack…] Use the same style of glass for each beer, keep noise to minimum and use white table cloths. This helps to keep you focused on the task at hand – assessing the beer.

  2. Behind every good beer tasting or judging session, there’s a good team. The stewards should try to organise the order of service of the beers, so that the lighter flavoured beers in the class are tasted first, through to the heavier beers at the end of the flight. This can be as simple as arranging the beers from lowest alcohol to highest and will avoid a lighter flavoured beer being swamped by a monster.

  3. In between beers, it’s important to cleanse your palate. Take a sip of water, eat a water cracker and/or have some mild flavoured cheese. This will help to reset your palate for the next beer.

  4. Take regular breaks, generally every seven to 10 beers. Get up and go for a quick walk during the break, this will help to keep you focused.

  5. It is a tiring task and most judges suffer palate fatigue at some stage, it is one of the reasons that we use a panel of judges (four to six is a good number). If you’re struggling, try a brisk walk in the fresh air or splash your face with water, it can help to snap you out of your funk.

  6. Judging is a challenging, but also massively inspiring, thing to be involved in and when the results are announced, it’s an awesome surprise finding out who is behind the amazing beers you’ve been tasting! [You’re not wrong – it’s often the highlight!]

Brown-Ale-1
The debate continues after our Browns tasting

Follow up question

Are there any particular tips when you’re tasting what can only be described as “whoppers”?

Brewer Jayne

There’s nothing in particular that I can advise. Bigger beers can sometimes be easier to judge than the same run of lagers as they are a lot of more robust in flavour and hence the characters are more obvious and easier to differentiate than a flight of clean, delicate lagers.

  1. Make sure you’ve got something in your gut before you start the session. You don’t want to have a massive meal, as it can make you sleepy, but you will need something to soak up the alcohol.

  2. Order your beers as best as possible from lowest to highest alcohol.

  3. Sip water in between and make sure you have the least offensive cheese and crackers at hand and eat the hell out of them. This is probably the key point for tasting the big beers.

  4. Take your time with each beer, don’t rush.

  5. Keep the “drinking” to a minimum until the serious part of the tasting is done, as the booze can creep up on you.

  6. With bigger beers, give yourselves at least one break (after the eighth beer), if not two (three sets of five).


Thanks, Jayne. We’ve got an epic lineup for tomorrow so we’d best stock up on a couple of tonnes of cheese and crackers. Thankfully, we have a strong panel of commercial brewers, home brewers, beer reps and our resident non-industry beer enthusiast – plus the inimitable Prof Pilsner, AIBA Steward and all round legend, with his immaculate presentation and truckload of tasting glasses.

If you have a question for Jayne, don’t forget to email crafty@craftypint.com.

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