So you know that saying “It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it…” Well when I got invited to be an associate judge at the recent Australian International Beer Awards and although I joked around in the lead up to the competition telling everyone who’d listen about my good fortune, it really is not a simple task…
The judging took place over three days and it really is a serious business – every beer you taste, you have the fate of someone’s personal creation of beer in your hands. Kick off was 0800 sharp and went on all day until about 5-6pm, depending on the speed of your table. So that’s a whopping 80-100 odd beers to taste a day, with a couple of short coffee breaks in between.
Each table had about 6 or 7 people on it, including an experienced team captain, several qualified and highly skilled judges mixed with some first and second year associates. It’s a fantastic system and I had the great privilege of sitting next to some expert beer tasters and learning more about sensory analysis, beer faults, individual style requirements and how to taste a beer properly than I have in my entire adult life.
When you judge a beer in a big international competition such as AIBA, you only have about 5 minutes to look at, smell and taste it, noting what you observe before moving on to the next one. If tasting something like light Australian lagers, it’s quite easy to move through the beers as you are concentrating on one particular style and the alcohol is not too strong. However, certain categories such as “Barrel Aged” are more difficult because the base beer can be anything at all so you are constantly switching from one style to the next, cleansing your palate with crackers in between beers.
It’s so interesting to be an insider on the judging process as a beer producer. There are multiple experts at the table who all rate your beer based on appearance, aroma, flavour, style and technical quality. This is followed by a discussion between panel members, particularly if there are big differences in opinion and the table captain will mediate and guide the team members towards the best decision. Your beer is in good hands (or should I say mouth!).
So any beer that has an off flavour fault will generally not make it through as a medal winner. If a beer is a good drinkable beer, but doesn’t meet the style requirements for example – not enough hop aroma, colour too dark etc… - it would generally receive a bronze medal. To win a gold medal, the beer must be perfectly true to style and technically outstanding.
Thanks to the AIBA and RASV, especially Damian Nieuwesteeg from RASV and special thanks to brewer Jayne of Two Birds Brewing for being a legend and putting my name forward as an associate.
For any budding beer judges out there, a good first step is to volunteer as a steward pouring and serving the beers to the judges. Check out http://www.rasv.com.au/Events/AIBA_Home/ for further information.