In April I received an email with the subject line “Invitation to Officiate as an Associate Judge – Perth Royal Beer Show 2015”. I was delighted, a bit nervous and most of all felt pretty lucky to have been considered by the Perth Royal Beer Show (PRBS) committee. Being an associate judge basically means I have my training wheels on. It is an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the business and hopefully I can continue on to become a certified judge.
Judging was held over two days, last Monday and Tuesday, and it was an amazing experience and a surprisingly exhausting one. It turns out that tasting beers from 9am to 4:30pm is a really tiring thing but, as many of the experienced judges told me, no one except the other judges will actually believe you. Judging panels were made up of four to six people with at least three of those being certified judges. There were six panels of judges which, I believe, is an increase from previous years and that is a good thing because the number of entries into the show continues to rise year on year. Each judge has their own table, on it is a number system since the beers are served blind so you need to know which is which. There is also, of course, plenty of water, cheese and crackers to ensure judges don’t end up sideways. I don’t think I’ve consumed so many bite sized cubes of cheese ever before in my life. Beers come out in flights of anywhere up to eight or nine beers within the same category.
I was on a panel with Justin Fox from Colonial Brewing, Brendan O’Sullivan from Mash/3 Ravens and Will Irving from Feral Brewing. In short, some amazing palates and all round good guys.
The judges were all really helpful and made efforts to help me through my first judging experience, something that I very much appreciated as it was a little daunting so it was a lot easier with friendly faces and plenty of advice. Though I have had a lot of beers, written my share of tasting notes for myself and discuss beer in a daily basis, it does feel like a whole different ball game when sitting at a table and blinding assessing the beer in front of you. In fact there is a lot happening when you are judging beers.
It’s one thing to give a rating on Untappd but quite another to allocate scores in a judging scenario. At times I found my notes on a beer didn’t quite meet up to the score I had given so there is certainly a learning curve just in the scoring.
You have to be mindful of how much time you spend on each beer. As much as I would have liked to have lingered on each beer for a long time you just don’t have that luxury. I’m certainly not saying there isn’t enough time but as a beginner it’s something I had to be conscious of. As much as I would have liked to have given each beer thirty minutes of my time I’d still be there now if that was the case; I’d also be very drunk.
There are times when I taste or smell a beer and there’s just something I can’t put a word to. I search my brain looking for the word, it feels like it is on the tip of my tongue, pardon the obvious pun, until I either find it or finish the beer.
Not only does the beer need to be tasting great but it needs to fit within the style guidelines for the category of beer it is entered into. Each style has an acceptable range of appearance, aroma and flavours so you can have a beautiful tasting beer that doesn’t fit into the category and would therefore not be scored as high if it had fit the guidelines.