Confessions Of A World Beer Cup Judge

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.

THE STATS:

219 judges from 31 countriesWorld Beer Cup 2014 Statistics

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.

World Beer Cup 2006
Sample glasses for judging at World Beer Cup (photo taken 2006)

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)

Judging World Beer Cup Sample CupThere 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…

BUS TOUR – Brewery Tours For International Beer Judges

Most international judges come from so far, everyone generally comes a day early. This gives you a chance for getting use to the timezone, as well as any possible travel delays.

It has become a bit of a tradition since 2008, for all of us to jump on a bus and visit the best local breweries. This was originally the idea of Carl Kins, who arranged the busses and sponsors to cover the costs. Thanks Carl. This year Carl couldn’t do it, and the Brewers Association picked up the slack. Awesome thank you.

Not only is this a great opportunity for visiting some great breweries but a great opportunity to catch up with the international judges – old friends, and making new friends.

This year we visited Fort Collins – New Belgium, O’Dell and FunkWerks. Fort Collins is an amazing small town. Why so many breweries?

 

 

 

 

APRIL 2014 – Judging 500+ Beers In 68 Hours + 30,000km Travel

As I did last month, rather thank looking back I am looking forward.

So here we go for April, and I’m keeping it brief as I should really be packing my suitcase right now.

2 & 3 April – San Francisco
4 April – Santa Rosa, Russian River Brewing Company
5 April – SFO to DEN
6 April – Brewery tour in Fort Collins, CO with International Judges (I’m guessing it will be New Belgium and O’Dell Brewing, TBC)
7-9 April – Judging World Beer Cup
10-11 April – Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America Trade Show
12 April – DEN-LAX-AKL
14 April – arrive in AKL
18-21 April – Easter (hopefully catch up on some sleep)
24 April – #freshhopnz14 beer launch at The Lumsden Freehouse
26 April – 2 May – Judging AIBA (Australian International Beer Awards)

Beer JudgingAs you can see this month is a lot of international travel and a lot of judging beer. I will have a total of 8.5 days x 8 hours of judging beer this month, which is 68 hours of sitting with some of the worlds best beer in front of me, where I have to write comments about them, and decide if they are worthy of an award.

I am potentially going to taste 500+ different beers in that time. WOW!

And I will have travelled 30,000km in this time.

That is 1000km per day.

[BEER JUDGE] The Tasting Tuesday Challenge

Here is some background information on me which will hopefully make my “Tasting Tuesday” posts more relevant and credible.

There have been many people who have become craft beer drinkers since I have started my career as a brewer in 1997. Many people won’t be aware of my experiences in judging beer, managing beer systems and educating bar staff.

JUDGING

My beers were first entered into competition in 1998 in Australia, all of them won awards that year.

In 1999 I won Supreme Champion Beer at the inaugural New Zealand International Beer Awards.

2000 I was invited to judge in the New Zealand International Beer Awards, (there was no conflict of interest as I wasn’t brewing at that stage, I was working from RealBeer.com)

2001 the industry got frustrated with the organisers of the NZIBA as there were changes the brewers wanted to make, to make the competition even better, but it seemed the organizers (event managers but not involved in the brewing industry) were more interested in sponsors and making a dollar from this event. So the brewing industry formalised a group, and an event called BrewNZ. No judging for me this year.

2002 the first BrewNZ, I was the head steward and organised the entries, and managed all logistics behind the scenes. No judging, just making it all happen for the judges.

(I need to make some time to look back to confirm the years I have judged the BrewNZ vs when I was running the judging, but I think this is right)

2003 – BrewNZ head steward
2004 – BrewNZ
2005 – BrewNZ
2006 – BrewNZ
2007 – BrewNZ

2005 – I was nominated and then invited to be a judge at the World Beer Cup (as they call it the “Olympics of Beer”). I was the first New Zealander to join the panel of international judges. World Beer Cup is held every second year.

2006 – World Beer Cup – Judge – Seattle
2008 – World Beer Cup – Judge – San Diego
2010 – World Beer Cup – Judge – Chicago
2012 – World Beer Cup – Judge – San Diego, (my first year as a table captain)
2013 – Australian International Beer Awards – Judge – Melbourne (first time invited to judge)

This year I have been invited to judge
2014 – WBC Denver
2014 – AIBA – Melbourne

BARS & BEER SYSTEMS & BAR STAFF
I started my brewing career in 1997 at the original Cock & Bull brewpub in East Tamaki. So being the brewer in a brewpub you have to learn alot about the beer systems that dispense your beer. Getting your beer from the tanks and pouring through the taps at the right temperature, with the right speed, with the right level of gas, so it looks great, takes a bit of skill and experience. Plus regular cleaning of the beer lines is important for the quality of the beer too. 1997-1999

After a few years away from brewing doing website stuff, I returned to the C&B, initially on a contract basis, not only to manage quality assurance of the beer (I didn’t initially return as a brewer), but also look after staff training, monitor beer systems and ultimately find ways to reduce beer wastage at the tap. 2002-2005

SUMMARY
I’ve had many years as a brewer, an international beer judge, working with beer dispensing systems, training staff on pouring beers, educating staff on beers, beer styles and the brewing process.

Therefore I think I can add value to bars and bar staff by visiting on “Tasting Tuesday”, discussing the beers on tap, talking about their beer systems, practices, discussing the beers on tap, the beer styles, the aromas and flavours we experience, including off flavours. Then sharing the experience online through this blog as a review of the beers and the bars. Highlighting the points of difference and the reasons why you might want to visit this bar.

Making an effort to make craft beer and bars a better experience. (firstly for me, but ultimately for everyone)