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 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.
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.
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.