I was a judge at the 2014 World Beer Cup in Denver, CO, USA 7th-9th April.
It is a privilege to be selected to judge in this competition, as it is considered the Olympics of Beer. The World Beer Cup is held every two years, and I first started judging WBC in 2006.
4,754 entries from 1403 breweries in 58 countries
2014 saw a record number of beer judges judging at the World Beer Cup. 219 judges from around the world. 166 judges (76%) were International, and 53 judges (24%) were US based.
Best quote from Chris Swersey, Competition Manager, as he addressed all of the World Beer Cup judges was..
“..this is a room of the most highly trained beer judges in the world.”
First day of judging. Have a good breakfast. Make sure you don’t use scented shampoo, after shave, or deodorant (anything that is highly scented is not allowed to be used by judges or stewards on days of judging, any scent could put a judge off). The bathrooms had special non-scented hand soap to use during the judging.
Judging starts at 9am, so people usually arrive at their table about 8.50am. A table will have 7 judges. Generally the judges represented seven different nations. One example of judges countries I experienced at the table was Japan, Norway, Poland, Germany, Brazil, UK, and New Zealand.
This diversity of judges, brings many different experiences relating to beer to the table.
This is one of my favourite parts of being an international judge. Meeting new people from around the world that have the same passion for beer. It is incredible that so many people from so many different countries, have the same level of intensity and passion for beer that I do.
The first round comes out. You potentially get up to 12 different beer samples for the category you are judging. You get plastic cups, branded Brewers Association, and a fill line at 1.5oz (approx. 44ml)
People have been surprised when I say they are served in plastic cups. When you start looking at the numbers you realise that it is logistically impossible to use glass, and get it washed and dried to re-use again in a reasonable time.
So nearly 5000 beers x a first round pour x 3 judges = 15,000 cups. Then there are multiple rounds for some styles and medal rounds include 7 judges, and occasionally repours. So lets say you need 30,000 cups. Plastic seems like the logical way of handling this huge number.
(Security and integrate has become a big part of the competition. You have to power down your phone during sessions. If you are caught using your phone in a session you are not allowed to return to the table to judge for the rest of the session).
The morning session of Judging runs from 9am to 12.30pm. Then there is an hour lunch break. The afternoon session runs from 1.30pm to 5pm. There were two sessions on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th, with Wednesday 9th having a morning session only.
Sometimes session will run long if the job of judging the beers is not complete. Many times when it comes to a medal round, there can be extended debate to discuss which beers are worthy of what medals. (Monday my lunch hour was short as we over ran by 15 mins, and on Tuesday my afternoon session didn’t finish till 5.45pm, as we discussed what medals for which beers)
There can be a number of rounds for a style. For example American-Style IPA had 224 entries. It had four rounds to judge the entries. First round there would likely be 12 beers sent to the table. From this judges select three beers to put forward to the next round. The second round will be 12 beers, made up of the 3 best beers from four different tables. The third round will again take the three best from 4 different tables, and the final round could be 9 – 12 beers which are made up of the best from the previous round.
As a judge who is a brewer, who could enter beers, there are criteria for what you are and aren’t allowed to judge. If a judge enters beers, or is affiliated with a brewery that enters beers. That judge is excluded from judging the categories beers are entered into. So there is no possible influence the judge can have on the beer or category.
As a judge you are presented with all samples in the uniform BA plastic cup, which has a sample number on it. It could be “14909” for example. All you know is the category you are judging, and you use the style guidelines to judge it. You are judging this beer blind. There is no indication of brand or country. It is just a beer in a cup with a number on it.
The fun part comes when you get judges that have differing interpretations of a style, or ranking of the three medal beers. This is when your skills of persuasion come to play. You sometimes have to explain and convince other judges of your point of view, with the backing of the style guidelines to highlight your argument.
The follow video gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like at a table of judges, judging beers. This is from the Great American Beer Festival, which uses the same judging format as the World Beer Cup. Both competitions are run by the Brewers Association.
The following video was filmed with some of the World Beer Cup 2014 judges and was played at the Awards Ceremony prior to the announcement of the awards. It really highlights the global nature of not only the entries but also the judges. The list of Winners from the 2014 World Beer Cup
Here is another recent article about judging from Geoff Griggs, who also calls out the two Kiwi medal winners. Well done Garage Project and Speight’s. It ain’t easy getting one of these medals.
Mitch Steel from Stone Brewing Co. has also just written about judging at the World Beer Cup. He goes into way more detail. – World Beer Cup Judging
P.S. As an International Beer Judge, I got to jump on a bus on the Sunday before judging with a bunch of other international beer judges and visit some breweries. More here…