Monday, August 27, 2012

On the Judge's Bench

Saturday was my kind of day. The temperature was pleasant, it rained for about 9 hours and I was a at a beer festival. The festival in question was the Virginia Craft Brewers Festival being hosted at Devils' Backbone, and I had been asked if I would like to steward at the Virginia Beer Cup part of the festival.

Having driven for an hour or so to get there, Devils Backbone being even further away since we moved into our new house, I got myself checked in and promptly asked if I wouldn't mind being a judge for the day rather than a steward. Thus it was that I found myself in the august company of several BJCP Master and National judges, as well as the executive director of the Brewer's Association of Maryland - who I also enjoyed a good chat with over a re-competition pint in the brewpub itself.

Judging a commercial beer competition is slightly different from judging homebrew. For a start you can generally assume that the brewers know what they are doing, and don't need to be reminded off the importance of sanitation and such like, and using the GABF style guidelines means you don't have to discuss the nature of a black IPA.

With something like 70 beers to judge, in 5 categories, I was very happy to be given the task of judging dark beers in the first session and then lagers in the second. Dark beers covered a multitude of styles, from brown ales to stouts and pretty much everything in between, my personal favourite was an oatmeal stout, while in the lager category a schwarzbier stood head and shoulders above the competition. I am still not sure who the oatmeal stout was from, but the schwarzbier, which eventually took best in show and hence the Virginia Beer Cup itself, was a Devils Backbone brew.

One thing that became abundantly apparent during the competition was that what Virginia perhaps lacks in the quantity of breweries, when compared to say North Carolina, is more than made up for in the quality. We have some damned good breweries in the Commonwealth, and hopefully the many startups that are in the works will add as much to the quality of our local beer as to the quantity.

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