Week 12: Journey's End

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike.

Well fellow travelers, we have done it.  The journey to my becoming a BJCP certified judge has come as far as I can take you.  We have covered the characteristics of beer (aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel), the ingredients of beer, the basics of judging beer and we also touched on a couple of aspects of the craft of brewing.  At this point, I have taken the tasting exam and feel that I have done quite well.  All that remains for me to complete my goal is to accumulate five experience points and receive my score.  The receipt of my score can take anywhere from a month or two, up to six months and will decide my ranking.  

Moments prior to taking the exam

Moments prior to taking the exam

The tasting exam was held at the brewing facility and taproom of New Helvetia.  Thanks New Helvetia for allowing use to use your space.  Our steward was none other than David Teckam himself.  I would like to thank David for all of the time and effort that he put into this class.  He is a great teacher and is very passionate about beer.  I am very glad to have taken the course and I know that I would not have done as well as I feel that I have without taking it.  Here's to David Teckam, CHEERS!

Week 12: Journey's End

There were 6 beers to be judged and 90 minutes with which to do so.  I honestly didn't think that I would be nervous going into this exam.  I mean, it is just drinking beers right?  There is some truth to that, as one must drink beer to judge it; other than that, there is much more to it than just drinking beers.  The exam was taken closed book, no style guidelines or notes of any kind.  Additionally, we were given no advance knowledge of which styles we would be judging.  In a competition setting, judges are given a copy or at least allowed access to the style guidelines and they can discuss the beer being judged.  Not so in the tasting exam.  I utilized each and every one of the allowed minutes, and while I can't go into too much detail, I will say that the beers to be judged ranged from very poor to excellent.  I would divulge more information about the beers that I judged were I in the last grouping of peoples to take the tasting exam.  Let's just say that I certainly used a vast majority of the knowledge that I have gained over the last few months and that taking the exam preparatory course was more than helpful.  I am excited to be finished with this aspect of my goal, now to just earn some more experience points.  Congratulations to all who have taken the tasting exam and good luck to the rest of the class who will take it in December.

Here's to a great group of potential beer judges and best of luck to the remainder of the class, cheers!

Here's to a great group of potential beer judges and best of luck to the remainder of the class, cheers!

Shortly after completing the tasting exam, I meet up with Ted and Scott of Beers In Sacramento to talk about continuing writing for them.  Ted brought up a question that begs answering; what is my biggest take away from this experience?  I could not give an answer on the spot as I feel that I have taken away so much.  I have given Ted's question much thought over the last couple of days and came to the following conclusion: lagers are not for losers, sours are not scary and ales are for all.  What that means is, this experience has opened my mind even further to the great wide world of beer and I can appreciate many more beer styles now than I had prior to taking the course.  I cannot thank Beers in Sacramento for providing me with this platform to share my journey.

Check back with Beers in Sac for more from me in the future and follow me on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

Cheers!  

Week 11: She's Crafty

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike.

Fellow travelers, thank you for sharing this journey with me; its end is just over the horizon.  The tasting exam and five experience points are all that separate me from my goal of becoming a BJCP certified judge.  As is stands, I have passed the entrance exam and am now a provisional judge.  This means that I can judge competitions and gain the experience points that I need to become certified.  I am feeling pretty confident that I will do quite well on the tasting exam and will be celebrating with UnderGroundBrewSquad at Oak Park Brewing Company's Preview Weekend when the exam is finished.  Over the last few months we have covered the characteristics of beer (aroma, appearance, flavor and mouth feel), what ingredients are needed to make beer and what it takes to judge beer. This week we will discuss how brewing techniques influence the beer.

Where I practice my craft

Where I practice my craft

Class was held, yet again, at BFD.  I think that we owe Tim a case of beer by now.  Thanks so much BFD!  Tracy Bethune, whom you may recall taught the class on water, was back to share her knowledge with us.  As I had mentioned before, Tracy is a prominent local beer judge and has been involved in brewing since she was a small child.  She is a great teacher and is very knowledgeable about the craft of brewing beer.  I would like to thank Tracy again for sharing her time and knowledge with the class.

Tracy pointing out something (it's probably in my notes)

Tracy pointing out something (it's probably in my notes)

 Week 11: She's Crafty

Brewing beer is both a science and an art; I call it a craft.  In very simple terms, it is cooking.  I often say that if you can make boxed macaroni, you can make beer.  Just follow the instructions; it really can be that simple.  However, if you're anything like me you'll want to develop your own recipes, which is where the craft aspect comes in.  There are a vast variety of malts, hops and yeast strains to choose from, and endless combinations to play with.  Then there are the tweaks in the brewing process that can make subtle or major changes in the finished product.  Let's look at my blonde ale as an example.  It is a very simple recipe of Maris Otter malt, East Kent Goldings hops and British Ale yeast.  I brewed it twice in a row and ended up with two different beers.  The second time around I inadvertently raised the temperature of the mash (the process of getting the fermentable sugars from the grains) by a few degrees and ended up with a fuller bodied beer that was more of a pale ale than a blonde.  This is but one of the many possible minor tweaks that can change a beer even though the ingredients haven't changed.  Small adjustments of the temperature of the mash or of fermentation temperatures, can both make big differences in the beer.  Making the same beer consistently can be quite challenging and is what makes it or breaks it for professional brewers.       

 

They're on to me

They're on to me

Speaking of professional brewers, this week's commercial samples were examples of hybrid beers, ranging from a Kölsch to a Bière de Garde.  This week's thirst quencher was one that I used to drink much more often, Alaskan Brewing Amber Ale, which I learned is actually an Altbier. It's moderately caramel, bready malt and low plum aromas are inviting.  The brightly clear amber colored beer is topped with a creamy off white head that hung around long enough to leave its traces on the glass. The flavor followed the aroma with emphasis on the bready malt, which was balanced well with subtle spicy hop bitterness.  Its medium body and carbonation make for a nearly creamy mouthfeel that is quite satiating.  Altbeir is a prime example of switching things up in the brewing process.  It is an ale that is fermented at nearly lager like temperatures.  This is what makes the beers flavors and aromas so well balanced.  Alaskan Amber would likely pair well with your Thanksgiving meal.

Cheers!

Week 10: Feedback

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike.

I completed this score sheet in 12 minutes

I completed this score sheet in 12 minutes

I am happy to have you all along with me on my journey to becoming a BJCP certified judge.  Our journey is coming very near its end with only one more class and then my taking the tasting exam.  We have covered the general ingredients of and characteristics of beer.  We have also gone over some basics of judging beer; one must note the style criteria of the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel of a beer.  The most challenging aspect of judging beer is providing feedback with tips to improve the beer.  This is also a major reason behind brewers entering their creations into competitions and doing so well is what makes for an excellent judge.  


Class was again held at BFD; Tim, the shop's proprietor, is most certainly deserving of a beer or four.  Thanks Tim!  David Teckam was back for this week’s class sharing with us his vast knowledge of brewing and beer styles.  I came up the stairs to be greeted with congratulations for my passing the entrance exam and to the familiar faces of my fellow soon to be judges.  I look forward to judging beer with the people in this group and to meeting more people within the community.   

David Teckam back at the helm

David Teckam back at the helm

Week 10: Feedback Loop

The sensory aspect of judging beer is the easier part.  Note that I said easier, not easy.  One should record their experiences with the aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel of the beer.  While doing this, it is important to use quantitative and qualitative descriptors (how much and what kind) and to be specific.  The real challenge is providing feedback that is inclusive of tips to improve the beer as well as your overall impression of the beer.  In order to do this well one needs to be able to detect off flavors, know whether a characteristic of the beer (i.e. aroma, appearance, flavor or mouthfeel) is out of style, and understand what small improvements could take a beer from 'Very Good' to 'Excellent'.  For example, imagine that you are judging a stout and it has an aroma of burnt toast, an acrid bitterness and is astringent (puckering similar to an over steeped cup of tea).  These are all signs of the use of too much roasted barley or other highly kilned malts.  It is then the judge’s job to make suggestions to fix this flaw.  In this case I would suggest that the brewer reduce the amount of the highly kilned malts and to keep the sparge water below 170° F.  This is but one small example of the most challenging aspect of judging.  By practicing this, not only will I become a better judge, but a better brewer.  Better judges make for better beer.

Class held at BFD

Class held at BFD

Speaking of beer, our samples this week were all in the Belgian family ranging from a Belgian Pale Ale to Belgian Dark Strong.  My favorite and the thirst quencher of the week is St. Bernardus Tripel.  Its aromas of pear esters and citusy hops are balanced with moderate crackery sweet malt.  The appearance is slightly hazy, pale amber topped with a bone white head formed of fine bubbles.  The head lingers on the beer and clings to the glass on the way down producing a beautiful lacing.  The sweetness in the flavor is more bread like than the cracker noticed in the nose.  The pear esters come through with the orange in the flavor and are well balanced with the bready sweetness of the malt.  The effervescence dances on the tongue creating a nearly creamy mouthfeel that finishes dry.  Other great options for a similar beer are Russian River's Damnation and North Coast's Pranqster.  In my opinion, these beers go great with spicy foods and sweet fruity desserts.

Cheers!

Week 9: Balance

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike.

Greetings travelers!  It is good to have you back.  I took a little vacation last week and missed one week of class.  The week prior to that there was no class due to the Queen of Beer Homebrew Competition.  That being said, I don't have a whole lot to discuss this week.  However, that does not mean that I haven't been doing some practicing and studying.  The end of the journey, to my becoming a BJCP certified judge, is right around the corner.  We have only two classes remaining until the tasting exam.  That's one test that would be detrimental to your health to cram for, but certainly one that must be prepared for by tasting many beers.

bjcpweek9.jpg

Photo Credit: A great friend, Janie (I pronounce that  as starting with an H) 

The little vacation took me to Palm Springs; where the wife and I spent a few days with some great friends at a rented house with a pool.  I took it upon myself to provide the beer selection for the long weekend.  My favorite of the pictured line up is the second from the left, the Houblon Chouffe.  This beer is, in my opinion, a perfect Belgian IPA.  Its aroma is balanced between cirtusy hop characteristics, enticing fruity esters from the yeast and a sweet biscuity malt.  The puffy cloud like head rests upon a pale golden beer that just shy of clear.  The citrusy hop flavors are in the forefront until they fade to a light tropical fruit character.  This is paired with a malt flavor that is reminiscent of a biscuit with honey.  Houblon Chouffe is wonderful by its self or paired with a meal.  We had ours with my wife's scrumptious butter chicken.  We also made a stop at Ritual Brewing on our way down to Palm Springs.  Look to my blog in the next week or so for a post regarding my visit to the brewery

Week 9: Balance

I take judging beer seriously and I work toward maintain a separation of drinking beer for pleasure and judging beer.  In judging beer one must pay strict attention to every detail of the beer and its conformity to style descriptors.  While drinking beer for pleasure is best done with a group of friends and maybe discussing what you like about the beer, or possibly while getting caught up in a hilarious round of Cards Against Humanity.  After my short vacation, I took the BJCP Entrance Exam and passed which gives me the rank of "Provisional Judge".  The last remaining steps to becoming a "Certified" BJCP Judge is obtaining 5 experience points and passing the tasting exam with at least a 70.  Here's to exam preparation!

 

bcjpentranceexam.jpg

I might have this framed and hung in my brew space

Follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page for sneak peeks into upcoming posts.

Cheers!

Week 8: Grist Opportunities

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike..

Salutations fellow travelers, I am happy to have you with me on this journey.  Our journey thus far has taken us through beer's characteristics, the use of hops in beer, off flavors (phew, that was a rough one), an intro to judging, the importance of water to beer styles as, well as touching upon on what yeast can contribute to beer.  The last remaining ingredient to the beautiful beverage know as beer is one that contributes a substantial amount to the flavor and mouthfeel; that being grain.  We are but a few classes away from the end of the quest.  Fret not, for if you'd like to continue with me on other beerventures, you can at Insatiable Thirst.  

This week's class was held in the brewing space of Bob Horst, a local BJCP judge and homebrewer of 24 years.  He took this same class some 10 years ago with the goal of bettering his craft.  While I cannot attest for the beer he was brewing back then, I can say that the beers that he shared with the class were all very tasty.  Thanks Bob for allowing us in your brew house and for sharing your knowledge and beer with the class.

Our host, Bob Horst

Our host, Bob Horst

A portions of Bob's brewing space and bottle collection

A portions of Bob's brewing space and bottle collection

Week 8: Grist Opportunities

Our focus this week was on a variety of malted grains, known to brewers simply as malt.  The mixture of different malts used in brewing is known as the grain bill, or grist.  The primary grain used in brewing beer is barley.  Wheat, rye, rice, corn and other grains can also be used in conjunction with barley.  In order to efficiently obtain fermentable sugars from barley or other grains, they must be malted.  Malting is done by steeping the grains in warm water, allowing them to germinate and then drying them.  At this point they are known as base malts and will make up the majority or at times the total of the grist.  From there, malts can be roasted to certain levels creating subtle caramel like sweetness at low levels to rich coffee like flavors at higher levels.  In this week’s class, we discussed the flavor components that malts provide to beer and touched on how malts can define beer styles.  This can vary from the light grainy sweetness of the pilsner malt used in Pilsners to the rich and roasty flavors of roasted barley used in Stouts.

Our samples this week were geared toward the medium to darker malts which are more observable than the subtleness of lighter malts.  They ranged from an American version of a Schwarzbier to Bob's homebrewed Doppelbock.  The Schwarzbier displayed the chocolate and rich coffee characteristics of malts roasted to a higher level, while Bob's Doppelbock displayed the caramel sweetness of a slightly higher than mid-range roast.  Its aroma was that of golden raisins and pleasant alcohol sweetness.  The color was a copper that verged upon red.  The flavor was akin to the aroma with the addition of slight dark fruit and caramel.  Its light carbonation, full body and almost port like mouthfeel make it, in my opinion, a great desert beer.  While you can't get Bob's delicious Doppelbock in stores you can find Paulaner Salvator, which is the classic example of the style.

Class in Bob's place

Class in Bob's place

Malt is the backbone of beer that hops and yeast characteristics are balanced toward or away from. The regional water supplies, or water additions, help to showcase or minimize the flavors that malts contribute.  A beer that showcases the malty side of that balance is Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel.  The aroma is prevalent of Munich malt, with bread crust and plums.  It is a clear deep copper with a persistent off white head.  Pair these characteristics with the medium body and moderate carbonation and you have one thirst and hunger quencher perfect for early fall.

Cheers!

Week 7: The Far Yeast

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike..

I am happy to return to the journey and to have you all with me as I get closer to becoming a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certified judge. Beer is made up of four basic ingredients: water, grains, hops and yeast. Each of these contributes to the flavor and style of the beer and can be specific to styles of beer. We have already gone over hops and water and their contribution to beer styles. This week we travel yeastward to discover the microorganism partially responsible for many aspects of beer, including aroma, flavor, appearance, mouthfeel and the production of alcohol (and carbonation in the instance of bottle conditioning).

Martin Lodahl, sour beer in hand.

Martin Lodahl, sour beer in hand.

This week we met at New Helvetia Brewing Company; a big thank you to New Helvetia for allowing us to use their space. It was a beautiful morning, so we took the class to the courtyard. We were met there by this week's guest teacher, Martin Lodahl. Martin was aided in stewarding by master, single vessel, blender and prominent local BJCP judge, Dwight Bradish. Martin has a history book worth of experiences with and knowledge of beer styles. He has been involved in the BJCP since its inception. Martin's love of Lambic and Sours is apparent when he speaks on those subjects. Our focus this week was on that section of the BJCP Style Guidelines along with Belgian and French Ales. The reason for focusing on those styles was to accentuate the obvious characteristics caused by different strains of yeast and/or Bacteria.

This week all of the samples were from the sour spectrum, ranging from Flanders Red to Gueuze. Of these beers, I was most pleased with Liefmans Oud Bruin. The aroma was of dried sour cherries and toffee. Its appearance was a translucent brown with an off white crown of fine bubbles. This beer was a perfect balance of sour and caramel sweetness. The tartness and moderate low carbonation make this a very approachable and refreshing sour beer.

Class in the courtyard of New Helvetia Brewing

Class in the courtyard of New Helvetia Brewing

Yeast has much to do with beer styles, flavors and aromas. It amazes me that when people were originally brewing beer, they had no idea of yeast's existence. The beers were fermented with whatever wild yeast made its way into the beer, either via the air or on the brewing tools. This fact has contributed to the older beer styles of the world and I am thankful for those pioneers of brewing. Lambic is one of those old styles and is still brewed in traditional open vessels and with wild yeast.

This week’s thirst quencher is Lindemans Framboise an easy to find and very tasty Fruit Lambic. The aroma is of ripe raspberries with a hint of sourness. The rose color and thin pink lacing are enticing. The tart raspberry sweetness is quite appealing in any weather. This beer has champagne like dryness and effervescence. I think that this beer would be a wonderful substitute to champagne in a mimosa.

Cheers!

Week 6: Practice Make Pourfect

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike..


bjcpscoresheet

There was a lull in the journey this week as there was no class.  There is still much to learn and plenty of practice to do.  It is often said that practice makes perfect.  I had a music teacher who said, "Perfect practice makes perfect".  What he meant by that was, if your practice is not perfect then the results will not be perfect either.  In fact, if you practice poorly your results will be poor.  I took that to heart and try to apply it to daily life.  So what does this have to do with beer?  Judging beer and completing score sheets take practice. So, with the lack of class this week I took some time to practice.  Granted some of that practice was just drinking beers, but hey who's judging.  Oh wait, I am, or I should be.

 A score sheet should be completed in 12-14 minutes and while that may seem like plenty of time, it can be a bit stressful.  Completing a score sheet in that time frame is important to competition organizers.  They generally like to get through 4 beers an hour per panel of judges.  12-14 minutes should allow time to discuss the beer and time to be sure that is no more than a 7 point variance from judge to judge.  The 7 point variance is to ensure that there are no extreme deviations in the score sheets and that the judges are, for the most part, in agreement.  I have my time to roughly 15 minutes; I'd like to get to 10-12 minutes on average.  Here's to more practice.

Cheers!

Mike was generous enough to show us a few sample scoresheets that he completed. Check them out below:

Scoresheet 1

Scoresheet 2

Week 5: Water You Saying?

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike..

 

Greetings travel companions.  I am happy to have you with me on the journey to my becoming a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certified judge.  This week the journey continues by water.  Water makes up a vast majority of our planet and only a small portion of that is drinkable.  Water is of the utmost importance to us; life on our planet would not exist without it.  No creatures, plants, nor people could survive without water and one should note that there would be no beer without it.  No beer!  That’s frightening.

Manresa State Beach

Manresa State Beach

We met yet again at my local homebrew supply shop, Brew Ferment Distill (BFD).  It is downright neighborly of Tim to allow us to use his space.  I think that we owe him another beer.  Tracy Bethune, a prominent local beer judge and avid brewer, took the helm of the class this week. She has been involved in beer brewing and wine making since she was a small child and is very knowledgeable.  I would like to thank Tracy for sharing her knowledge with the class.  We probably owe her a beer too.

Week 5: Water You Saying?

   Trace Bethune enjoying a beer

   Trace Bethune enjoying a beer

The focus of this week’s class was water and its importance in beer.  Water tastes different in different areas of the world and partly because of this fact, beer does as well.  Every region of our earth has a specific beer to claim as its own.  Ireland, for example, is known for its Dry Stout, not only because the people love it, but because their water is well suited to making stouts.  The mineral composition of the water is of the right alkalinity to balance with the acidity of the darker grains needed to produce a rich, stout beer.  The Czech Republic has fairly neutral water which is ideal for making Pilsners.  In many areas of the U.S., there have been chlorides added to our water supply.  Chlorides are detrimental to beer flavor and should be removed prior to brewing.  This can be achieved in numerous ways: the use of a carbon filter, the addition of Campden Tablets or allowing the water to “gas out” (letting it sit in an open container for 24 hours).  One could go on and on about the mineral compositions of regional water supplies, but I shall not as it would be too much for this post.  Learning in depth about this and understanding which minerals play what part in making a beer authentic, allows one to better understand styles of beer and therefore be a better judge.  Better judges make for better beer and better beer makes for happier people.

Water tastes different in different areas of the world and partly because of this fact, beer does as well. 

This week all of our samples were on the darker side, and with reason; it helped to showcase the importance and difference that water has in beer.  We had a few different styles of stouts ranging from Milk Stout to American Stout.  We also had two English Brown Ales and couple of one my favorite styles, Porter.  The beer that I found most intriguing was the Robust Porter from Anchor Brewing.  Its aroma was of dried stone fruits and dark chocolate with a hint of roasted coffee.  The near black hue of this beer had subtle ruby edges and a light coffee colored head that faded, but remnants hung to the side of the glass.  The flavor reminded me of a burnt currant scone and a dark roasted coffee.  I was not at all surprised by this beer as it is one of the reasons I enjoy Porters.  It is a great beer for fall drinking and pairs wonderfully with rich, chocolaty deserts, or as a dessert itself.  My mouth is watering as I type, mmm…Porter.

                                                                Class in session at Brew Ferment Distill in Sacramento, CA

                                                                Class in session at Brew Ferment Distill in Sacramento, CA

If beer is proof that God loves us, then the role of water is proof that we need to do for ourselves and not rely on fate, but shape it.  In that regard, great beer styles of the world can be recreated with the understanding of a region’s water and can be enjoyed as they should be, close to the source.  For a thirst quenching example of water turned beer, head to Bike Dog Brewing and try their Milk Stout.  Its aroma is reminiscent of a creamy mocha and has an opaque black hue that is crowned by a persistent tan head.  The flavor follows the aroma with roasted coffee and dark chocolate balanced by a malty sweetness.  This beer has a creamy texture that lingers on the pallet and would be fantastic paired with vanilla ice cream.  I dream of stout floats.

Cheers!

Week 4: Judge Dread

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...

Ladies and gentleman of the journey, may I have your attention please.  Thank you for continuing with me on the road to becoming a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certified judge.  Passing judgment is something that we as humans do second nature.  Passing judgment on a beer is not a difficult task; doing so with knowledge of beer styles and brewing techniques, all while providing tips to aid the brewers in perfecting their craft, is a different story and is what being a BJCP certified judge is all about.  Better judges make for better beer.  This week, the judgment began.

Week 4: Judge Dread

David Teckam's White Board

David Teckam's White Board

We reconvened at my local homebrew supply shop, Brew Ferment Distill (BFD).  It is very kind of Tim Clark, the proprietor of said shop, to allow us to use his space.  I think that we owe him a beer.  This week, we took our first real look at filling out score sheets for competitions.  These need to be filled as completely as possible, be thoughtfully descriptive and provide feedback on the beer being judged.  The feedback should include one's overall impression of the beer and possible improvements to better the beer; whether that is a tweak to brewing techniques or possibly a minor change in the perceived recipe formulation.  It is important to remember that all senses are used in judging beer; aroma (smell), appearance (sight), flavor (taste), mouthfeel (touch), and one should listen (hearing) for signs of carbonation levels when the bottle is opened.  It is imperative to practice focusing on both the beer and the proper filling out of the score sheet.  In a competition a judge should be able to fill out a score sheet in 12-15 minutes, as is it typical for organizers to want to get through approximately 4 beers an hour.  Training one's self to quickly fill out score sheets will require one to drink a few more beers.  Darn, more beer.

Speaking of beer, we had an assortment of beers to sample this week; a few from the Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer category (SHV), a couple Fruit Beers, an Amber Ale, a Blonde Ale and a Rauchbier.  With exception to the Amber and the Blonde, I had not tried any of these specific beers and I had never tried a Rauchbier.  The beer that I found to be the most interesting was the Ruachbier.  It had a smoky, bacon aroma with a hint of bready malt character.  Its appearance was similar to root beer, with a nearly opaque brown hue that was topped with a thin, beige head.  The flavor was akin to slightly sweet, smoked meats on burnt toast.  It was fairly heavy on the pallet, with low carbonation and finished dry.  This is not a beer that I want to drink pints of, but certainly one that I would sip on a cool fall evening, maybe paired with a good cigar.

 

Class held at BFD

Class held at BFD

Giving this deposition to the court is thirsty work and requires a refreshing beverage to satiate ones thirst. This week’s thirst quencher is a fruit beer, Dogfish Head's Festina Pêche.  This Berliner Wiesse is a great starter beer for those interested in acquiring a taste for sour beers.  I have tried a few sours in recent months and I found Festina Pêche to be the most approachable.  Its aroma is of ripe peach and apricot with a subtle sourdough note.  It was a crystal clear yellow with a faint pink edge.  The tart, fruity flavors paired with a fair amount of carbonation and a dry finish, made for one refreshing beverage.  I think that this beer would make for a good session on a hot summer evening.  Again, I thank you for your attention and for now, court is adjourned.  Next week we will discuss a very important aspect of beer; water.

 Cheers!  

Week 3: Aromatic Exercise

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...

Welcome back fellow travelers.  Our journey continues with some serious sensory training; stretching is advised.  Exercise can be fun and at other times it can be grueling.  While I surely can't describe tasting beers as grueling, this week’s class was at minimum, a challenging exercise routine of aroma and flavor.  I discovered some figurative muscles that I have not used in a while, or at all, in the sampling of nearly all of the 24 standards in the comprehensive Siebel Kit.  I will share with you some of the pains and challenges faced in this week’s class.  Pardon my limp.

Susan Kelly and David Teckam, pregame strategy

Susan Kelly and David Teckam, pregame strategy

Week 3: Aromatic Exercise

We met this week at the brewing facility and taproom of Lockdown Brewing Company  in Rancho Cordova, CA.  Thanks in part to the help of Susan Kelly, we dove head first into the tasting of doctored light base beers.  There were 20 total samples poured, which were infused with nearly all that the Siebel Kit offers.  This ranged from subtle flavors and aromas to the nearly putrid.  Subtle flavors and aromas tend to be on the more agreeable side.  Banana and clove for instance, are a natural byproduct of the strain of yeast used in Hefeweizen.  This certainly can be pleasant and is important to be able to detect.  Banana and clove are appropriate to Hefeweizens and should be detected when judging that style of beer.  However, it would be inappropriate to detect those flavors or aromas in an IPA; while other fruity esters would perfectly acceptable in small amounts. 

It became apparent to me this week that judging beer, which can be fun, will also include sampling some things that one would rather not put into their mouths.  Imagine if you will, a convalescent hospital or diaper bin.  Try and place those aromas; now picture wafting those smells in a beer that you are supposed to taste.  The fecal scent is caused by a compound called indole, which stems from an extreme contamination of the beer.  In this case, it came from a small vile and it was vile indeed.  Aromas like sour milk, rotten veggies, or in the extreme case fecal, are all signs of contamination in or infection of the beer.  The introduction of oxygen to beer also causes off flavors and aromas, like that of wet cardboard and a dirt like flavor.  As we were nearing the end of the Siebel Kit, I began to experience palate fatigue.  I really need to work on my stamina.  I guess that means more twelve ounce curls for me.

Photo Credit: Susan Kelly

Photo Credit: Susan Kelly

Thankfully we only had a few commercial examples to sample this week, all of which were on the lighter, lager end of the spectrum.  I was pleased to sample beers that were not infused with anymore of the Siebel Kit.  We tasted a few varieties of lagers; Czech (also known as Bohemian), German, and Classic American.  All of these were refreshing and tasty, but one stood out to me.  The standout beer was Weihenstephaner Pilsner.  The aroma was an inviting blend of grassy citrus and a sweet graininess.  Its appearance was a crystal clear golden yellow with a bright white head.  The flavor was reminiscent of lemon drops, but balanced with a slight mineral quality. Its light body and moderate carbonation made for a very drinkable and refreshing beverage.  Weihenstephaner Pilsner is a classic example of a German Pilsner and will most certainly be on my radar. 

I am happy to have your company on this journey and I hope that you stick with me along the way.  The journey can work up a mighty thirst.  This week’s thirst quencher is Session Lager from Full Sail Brewing.  This beer is what American beer was prior to that horrible, dark age known as prohibition.  It has a subtle grassy and herbal hop aroma.  Its appearance is typical of a lager, pale yellow and crystal clear with a thin white head.  The flavor is balanced well by a grainy malt sweetness and slightly floral hop presence.  It has plenty of fizzy carbonation which aides in the refreshing aspect of this beer.  I think that this is a great summer beer and would suggest grabbing a few while we still have some summer left to enjoy. 

Cheers!

 

Week 2: Loopy for Lupulus

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...
Photo Credit: Peter Wisham

Photo Credit: Peter Wisham

I am happy to have you all on this journey with me and I hope that you enjoy yourself and learn some things along the way.  One could say that I am a hop head, which is to say that I love hoppy beers.  I crave the aroma and balanced, or unbalanced, bitterness of English and American Pale Ales, ranging from a light English Bitter to an over the top American India Pale Ale.  I am excited to learn more about the wonderful, miniature pine cone shaped, green flower that we call hops.  I will peel back a few of the pedals in this week’s quest.  Let’s hop along, sorry, I couldn’t resist the bad pun. 

This week’s class was held at The Shop, the garage based nano-brewery of Stacey Collins.  He is the President of the Elk Grove Brewers Guild was very kind to share his space and knowledge with the class.

Brewmaster Stacey Collin

Brewmaster Stacey Collin

When I first walked into The Shop, I was greeted with a very tasty homebrewed beer, by our host and this weeks instructor.  When the rest of the class settled in we began discussing this week’s focus, hops.  The latin name for hops is Humulus Lupulus, which is a bit of a mouthful so I’ll stick with hops for the purpose of this post.  From Amarillo to Zythos, there are far too many varieties for me to recall from my hop head.  For our conveniance, hops are put into the three basic groupings: Noble (Central European in origin), English and Amercian.  In more recent years, there have been quite a few exciting hops coming from Australia and New Zealand; Nelson Sauvin being my personal favorite for its tropical fruit, and white wine like aroma and flavors.

Hops are used in three forms in the brewing process: whole cone (plucked and dried), plug (think small hockey puck) and pellet (these look like rabbit food).  They add three important aspects to beer, aroma, flavor and bitterness.  Hops can be, and are used throughout the brewing process.  Mostly during the boil of the soon to be beer, called wort.  The earlier additions of hops provide bitterness, hops added somewhere around mid-boil provide flavor and the additions nearing the end of the boil provide aroma.  They can also be added to beer a few days before it is bottled or kegged in a process called dry hopping, this adds outstanding aroma and is used in many styles of beer.  I could go on and into more detail, but all this talk is making me thirsty.  On to the samples.

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This week’s group of samples were all, you guessed it, hop forward in either flavor, aroma or both.  We had 8 samples in total ranging from Stacy’s, oh so drinkable, Kolsch to the very familiar to me, Racer 5 IPA.  I am quite fond of English Ales and have been trying my hand at brewing a solid ESB (Extra Special/Strong Bitter).  I may have found my muse in Landlord from Timothy Taylor & Co. Ltd.  This Best Bitter had an aroma of a warm biscuit with honey and a touch of peach perserve.  It’s apperance was a bright, clear copper with a thin, white head that lasted longer than the beer did in my sample glass.  The flavor was spot on what I smelled, but with the addition of an earthy hop character that was balanced by a soft caramel sweetness.  The medium body and moderate carbonation, paired with the lingering hop presence demaded that I have more, but my glass was empty and I had to move on to other samples.

Class at The Shop

Class at The Shop

Thank you for sharing in my journey.  I hope that you continue with me over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I have a beer suggestion to quench your thirst for a hoppy, but balanced brew.  Fuller’s ESB is a favorite of mine and is a great example of what can be done with hops is a subtle way.  The aroma of this beer is like a biscuit with a thin layer of marmalade.  Its crystal clear, copper coloration and thin white head are enticing.  The aroma does not disappoint in the realm of flavor.  Floral, spicy and citrus English hops are certainly present and well balanced with a caramel sweetness.  Fuller’s has a medium, smooth mouth feel with light carbonation.  This beer is, in my opinion, quite satisfying.  So, the next time you are in a good pub, or at your local specialty beer store, grab yourself a Fuller’s and enjoy.

Cheers!

Did you miss Week 1? Click the link below to check it out.

Week 1: Introduction and Beer Characteristics

Week 1: Introduction and Beer Characteristics

Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...

My name is Mike Ungerbuhler and I am passionate about beer. I am part of a Sacramento, CA homebrew club called UnderGround BrewSquad and have been brewing for nearly two years. One could say that I am a bit beer obsessed; I know that my wife would attest to that, especially during that magical time of the year known as Sacramento Beer Week. We’ll let that bottle of splendor cellar a while, for I am on another journey. A journey that I’d like to invite you on; I am going to become a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) certified judge. This means that I will be in the pool of qualified peoples who are invited to judge beer competitions. Over the next three months or so I will be taking the BJCP Exam Preparatory Course with David Teckam, a BJCP Regional Training Coordinator, and other guest instructors from within the brewing community. Let’s crack this bottle.

Week 1:

This week’s class was held at Brew Ferment Distill (BFD), a local homebrew supply store. I arrived a few minutes early and as I walked up the stairs I saw a couple of members of my homebrew club and a few familiar faces from local beer related events; good people = good times. I’d like to start off by saying that David Teckam is very knowledgeable about beer and I am thankful to be in this course.

We started by talking about the BJCP and the necessity for quality judges, better judges make for better beer. The discussion then turned to characteristics of beer: aroma, appearance, flavor and mouthfeel. The most challenging of these to ascertain and describe being mouthfeel. There are subtleties that are very important to be able to distinguish, between mouthfeel and flavor, one being the difference between astringency and bitterness. Astringency is a tactile sense of puckering where bitterness is a flavor, both of these can be observed in an over steeped cup of black tea, the flavor will be bitter and the mouthfeel will be astringent. 

Beer Flavor Wheel

The class would not be complete without tasting beer, and taste beer we did. This week we had eleven samples. Three of which were a light, base beer that was infused with flavor and aroma compounds designed to mimic off flavors, aroma, and mouthfeel. It is very rare that I leave a sample of beer unfinished, but these remained in the sample glass. We then tasted several wonderful wheat beers ranging from an American Wheat to a Weizenbock. The sample that stood out the most was a homebrewed Belgian Wit that had an aroma that was bursting with citrus blossoms, and a slightly cloudy, pale yellow appearance. The flavor followed the aroma, but with less floral emphasis and a subtlety sweet, light malt character that was well balanced. The mouthfeel was silken with a touch of bubbly carbonation. This beer was, in my opinion, fantastic.

I can say that I am eagerly awaiting the next class and look forward to sharing my journey with you.

Cheers!

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