Judging Setup at NHC Round 1

Judging Setup at NHC Round 1

On Saturday I had the pleasure of participating in the 1st round of judging of the National Homebrew Competition. This was my first time judging at NHC and I was very excited to say the least. The first round of NHC is held at 12 different judging location centers across the country over about three weeks. My local regional judging was at Singlecut Beersmiths in Queens, NY. Each region evaluates about 750 entries over the 28 BJCP categories. The top three placers in each category then advance to the final round which is judged as part of the National Homebrewers Conference. This year’s conference will be held in Grand Rapids Michigan and I will be attending with some friends from my homebrew club.

The drive into one of the boroughs can always be a bit hectic for me but it went pretty smoothly at 8 in the morning. I arrived at Singlecut and my good judging buddy Tom pulled up and parked behind me. Inside the brewery we were treated to some bagels and coffee for breakfast and got to mingle with the other judges. There were a lot of familiar faces from when we judged at Homebrew Alley in February. After some milling about we finally got down to business and Chris Cuzme announced the judging assignments. I was sent over to category 16, Belgian and

Judges in Action

Judges in Action

French Ale, with 7 other judges. There was something like 50 entries in that category. I sat next to Josh who was judging his first competition so we went over the process a bit before jumping into our beers. For this competition we used the BJCP checklist style score sheets instead of the standard written score sheets. Click the link to see what these sheets look like.

There was a bit of a learning curve at first with this style score sheet but once we got the hang of it we seemed to cruise right along and it probably saved about 2-3 minutes a beer. My only problem with this style score sheet was that, at first, it made me hunt for some of the flavor descriptors in the beers. For example, I might not have necessarily written that I perceive a grainy malt aroma, but since the word was put in front of me I thought, “hmm yes I do slightly smell a grainy malt flavor”. So I checked the box. After I got through the first one though, I became more comfortable with the sheet and checked boxes as appropriate. There was also a lot less room to write brewing feedback so I feel I didn’t provide as much as usual.

The category had some really excellent beers with the majority of entries being in Saison 16C and Belgian Specialty 16E categories. Some of the 100% Brett Fermentation examples were particularly exciting. My judge partner and I chose three beers to send to the mini best of show, which I had the privilege of sitting on. For the mini BOS there were 8 beers in total.

Mini BOS for Belgian and French

Mini BOS for Belgian and French

We poured samples of all 8 and made our own personal notes. This is such an exciting process especially knowing that the chosen three get to move on to the finals. I won’t go into who won since the results are not posted yet but I will say that the caliber of beer was pretty awesome! My flight was one of the last to finish up since there were so many entries. I really needed to get some lunch so I immediately went and at the sandwiches provided when we were finished. After what felt like only 15 min we jumped into the second round.

Both Tom and I were assigned to the Specialty category and we decided to sit down and judge together. This ended up being really fun since we did all of our studying together and were really comfortable sharing our perceptions. Specialty is a fun category to judge since it is basically a catch all for all for any beer that does not fit in another

Judging the mini BOS for Specialty

Judging the mini BOS for Specialty

category. One of the keys to being successful in this category is what information you give the judges about what makes the beer special. Sometime too much information does not help since, if it is specified, the judge should really be able to perceive it in the beer. The beers that were the most successful only specified the dominate flavors. Two of the beers we judged were clear standouts and it was an easy decision on what to send to the mini BOS. Our table of 6 judges decided to have 4 judges sit at the Mini BOS so Tom and I flipped a coin for which of us would take part. He won, but I got to sit and watch. It was a good thing I was there because I got to be the tie breaker for one of the final placement decisions. There were some heated and exciting discussions on which beers to place and which to send home. The two that Tom and I judged ended up placing which was pretty exciting.

Mini BOS for Specialty

Mini BOS for Specialty

After all of the judging was over, Tom and I stuck around for our free pint from Singlecut. I had their 19-33 Queens Lagerrr which was a much needed clean and easy drinking beer after two long flavorful flights. All in all I evaluated 25 beers over the two sessions. Sitting around the towering conical fermenters at Singlecut was a wonderful judging setting. Once in a while a waft of co2 blowoff from fermentation would hit us, but that was easy to judge under. The Judging seemed well organized and well run. Thank you to all of the folks at New York City Homebrewers Guild for putting on a successful event. Now we just all have to wait for the results to come out!