Posts Tagged: Beer Judge

Fest of Ale 2016 Judging Experience

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The Judges and Support Crew – Photo from Okanagan Fest of Ale. From left: Warren, Jason, Mike, Me, Kim, Jeremy, Chantal, Joe, Eric, Brady, Jan, Stephen and Jim. 

Starting my blog has a real connection with Fest of Ale, an annual beer festival that has been running for 21 years in my hometown of Penticton, BC. Last year when I joined CAMRA South Okanagan there was a membership promotion that gave new members entrance to the industry event – 2 hours of free craft beer sampling with no line ups! I asked CAMRA’s President, Kim Lawton, how I could get into the industry event in future and I learned I would either need to be employed in the beer or wine industry, or be connected somehow such as being a blogger. Well the wheels started turning and a few months later Brewtiful British Columbia was born!

This year I was contemplating volunteering, as it collecting tokens would allow me to hang out with some brewers for a day and then free entry to the fest the next day. Well, imagine my delight when Warren Everton (fellow CAMRA member and Judging Chair for the festival) sent me a text asking if I would like to judge at this year’s festival. I was speechless for a few minutes, and then replied with “OMG that would be so amazing! I would love to do that!!”. This opportunity totally validated why I was putting myself and my opinions out there with my blog! The very next thing I did was call my parents. I had to chuckle at their reaction, I think they were more proud of me for getting this opportunity than when I graduated college! I waited a few days before posting anything on my blog or social media as I was afraid I might jinx it!

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Even Bohdi wanted in on the Brewtiful British Columbia Fan Club. 

My friends were also very supportive and suggested that we get shirts made with the Brewtiful British Columbia logo to help promote my blog at the fest. I initially only printed 3, but as other people saw them I actually wound up ordering quite a few more and had quite the crew of people sporting my logo and handing out cards and stickers during the festival!

Leading up to the event I was excited, but also a bit nervous. I had learned who the other judges were, and was a little intimidated by their backgrounds and knowledge of craft beer. I was worried that I might not be able to discern the good beers from the bad, or that they would ignore my contributions being both the youngest judge, and also the sole woman of the group. I had a few people leading up to the event joke that I was there as a result of my gender, rather than my passion for craft beer. Whether or not I am the most knowledgeable or experienced representative of my gender, I was glad to be invited, and felt that there should have been a few more women on the panel as well considering that Beer Me BC’s 2015 Craft Beer Survey identified that women made up 29% of the survey respondents. I do know they had asked at least one other women, but she wasn’t available to come this year.

I was able to speak with Kim and Warren about the judging role, as well as connected with Mike from Mike’s Craft Beer to find out more about the judging process, and felt relieved to know that the experience was much less formal than I had been anticipating. I also reviewed the BCJP style guide a few times to try and figure out the standards for the types of beer I would be judging.

The night before the Fest of Ale, Joe Weibe, author of The Craft Beer Revolution and fellow judge, was hosting a seminar on the History of Craft Beer at Bad Tattoo. I missed out on this event last year and went with my brew crew to check it out. Joe presented quite an interesting review of the beer industry leading up from the first European arrivals in Vancouver to the modern day explosion of craft breweries. Several beers were paired with the presentation, intended to match the style of beer that may have been popular during that era. The special collaboration cask titled “The Sloppy Joe” was a different beer experience… I applaud the local breweries for their creativity, but it tasted a bit like something that should be used to marinate meat! Bad Tattoo also served up pizzas at the end of the presentation, which made it a pretty good deal for the $25 ticket! If you haven’t been before, and have any interest in beer or history I highly recommend this experience.

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My Dad and I enjoying the sunshine outside during the Industry Event

Finally the day had arrived! I took the Friday off work in order to start my Fest of Ale experience at 1:00 for the Industry event. I brought my Dad, Ken, along with me, who was pretty excited when I asked him to be my guest for the event. If you follow my blog at all, you know that we home brew together, and usually when we hang out our conversation leads to beer in one form or another. We also share a family trait of sometimes being overly enthusiastic in our beer consumption, and both have some funny tales to tell from last year’s Fest of Ale. This year the theme was to ‘Practice Restraint’ which to those who knew us was going to be hard work!

I started the day by going over to my parent’s house to bottle the Rye IPA I had brewed 2 weeks earlier. I should have remembered that in homebrewing things rarely go as planned, as I had issues with my siphon and wound up being in quite a rush just to get to the festival in time. If I had to go anywhere with Eau du Beer cologne, the Fest of Ale was probably the right place! I met up with Mike briefly to do a beer exchange – let me tell you he is probably the hardest person to buy beer for in the whole province, I really had to search to find a few bottles he hadn’t tried yet! Then over to the Penticton Trade and Convention Center to start our day.

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Enjoying the Phaedra from Four Winds while getting photobombed by Jeff from Cannery Brewing

We were a bit stunned at first walking in, due to the overwhelming amount of delicious beers to sample. Here’s a tip – Read the program! Every year I get one, stick it in my purse, than the day afterwards review it and realize I missed a whole bunch of brews I wanted to try. This year was no different. Next year I will take my own advice, I swear! My first fill was Four Winds Phaedra, a Rye-IPA which I wanted to try to compare mine against. Needless to say theirs was better!

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Cannery Brewing was paired up with restaurant, Brodo, for a delicious local taste sensation

Next up we went to visit our hometown heroes at Cannery Brewing, where my Dad proudly announced to owner, Ron Dyck, that his daughter was a judge this year! Ron is a great conversationalist, and really knows how to chat up visitors to his booth. I got to ask Ron a burning question of mine – how come in some local pubs the only option for craft beer is Naramata Nutbrown? While it’s a good beer, there are some really great offerings from the Cannery that I’d love to see on tap closer to home. We learned that there is still a lot of resistance to craft beer in smaller towns, and that there needs to be more pressure from customers to help the owners learn that there is demand for craft beer. In fact, one pub even told the Cannery that they would have to pay to have their beer on tap! So if anyone is reading this and wants to see more craft beer out there – ask for it! Make a suggestion, and follow up by purchasing said craft beer if it does show up on tap!

I bumped into a few people I have met from my craft beer adventures over the last year. We chatted for a while with David from Persephone about their festival experiences and why they chose Fest of Ale over other events. Did you know that Fest of Ale is a non-profit organization that has donated over half a million dollars to charitable organizations in the Okanagan since their inception? As well, they also pay breweries $0.75 per sample sold, which makes it worthwhile for them to attend this event. In contrast, other for-profit events that charge similar amounts for entrance fees and token prices do not reimburse breweries, and in some cases even charge them money to attend. So if you’ve ever wondered why some breweries show up at some events and not others, there might be some behind-the-scenes politics that wind up attracting breweries with larger budgets rather than smaller, community minded businesses.

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My Dad and Uncle chatting with Geordan at Coal Harbour while he pours from the Friday Night Cask

I got to see Ian, from Coal Harbour (who has previously given me a tour of the brewery), and met Head-Brewer Ethan and Sales Rep Geordan from the team as well. They had a great story about driving the backroad from Princeton to Summerland on the way out… with precious cask cargo taking the bumpy road along with them. They had a delicious and unique cask on Friday – their Powell IPA with cedar boughs, grapefruit zest and juniper berries.

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My Dad chatting it up with JP from Red Collar and Joe Weibe

We also stopped by Red Collar to chat with JP, who we had met at a CAMRA event a few weeks ago. I heard a lot of chatter about their Wobbly Bob strong golden during the fest, which goes down much too easy. We also learned about the mega-hop farm getting underway in Kamloops, which is exciting for the industry to have more locally-available hops given the rumours of a potential shortage of hops this year. I’m hoping to get up to Kamloops later this summer to visit Red Collar in person and also try to check out the hop farm!

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Howe Sound, Phillips, Vancouver Island and Hearthstone in the Sunshine Row outside

Phillips brewing also had some great beers on tap, and their super-friendly representative helped us track down a beer my Mom had tried a few weeks ago at Alibi Room which name she couldn’t remember. He really went above and beyond by calling into the brewery, and trying to figure out what what they had in at Alibi during those dates, and then tracked us down later in the evening to inform us it was The Hammer, a Russian Style Imperial Stout.

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Chilling outside after the Industry Event ended. Probably the last sober photo of me for the night. 

After the industry event was over, there was an hour-break before the Fest got into full swing. We got to listen into the brewer’s meeting which was interesting to hear about the behind-the-scenes organization of the festival. It takes a lot of volunteers to keep the operation running smoothly, but the addition of Direct Tap to the festival helped things out considerably, with the transport, cold-storage and setup of the tap lines at the festival.

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Before the doors opened… 

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After the doors opened. 

The Festival opened the gates at 4:00pm, and people began to pour into the space that felt quite lonely a few hours earlier. The organization of both the indoor and outdoor booths was done really well, it didn’t feel overly crowded as it has in years past, even though over 5,000 people attended over the two days!

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Some of the Brewtiful Crew: Scott, Ryan, Ken and Launa

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Selfie with my Mom, Janice!

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Cosmic Brew on Stage

I reunited with my crew, and from here I think I began to lose restraint a bit. I was getting free tokens from Warren, which made me laugh because each time I had to ask for more I felt like a kid asking for my allowance! I ran into so many people that I knew that time went by rather quickly and had many fantastic conversations that I can’t seem to remember anymore… before I knew it it was coming to a close and we were down to a handful of tokens between us. Cosmic Brew took the stage before closing and the place turned into a headbanging classic rock concert – complete with balloons bouncing in amongst the crowd!

I very much wanted to attend the after-party at Cannery Brewing, as I had sort of invited myself last year, and so I wanted to attend legitimately this year. However, as things can go when you’ve been drinking, getting myself and my guests organized to get up there was a bit more difficult than anticipated. I learned later from Sid of Firehall Brewing that he almost got into a car accident laughing at my 6’9” boyfriend piggybacking our 6’6” friend on our walk over!

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Waiting for Tacos with my two Besties and Brewtiful British Columbia Reps: Tamara and Leanne!

I arrived at Cannery at the time I had planned to take a taxi home at. Promising myself I would just get a taco and a beer, then head home at a reasonable hour, I did get a bit carried away again. The brewery was colourfully lit up and packed with all sorts of brewing personnel from across the province. A band was on stage and it was the kind of party I felt like I could have stayed at for a long time. However, after waiting an hour for our tacos, and Scott nearly getting kicked out for confronting a taco-thief (the worst kind of thief) we decided to make a quick exit home.

Thankfully I had the foresight to load my fridge with a quick snack, and had coconut water on the bedside table. I had to be awake in 7 hours, and thought that would be fine. The quiet countryside is not what it seems when at 5:00am the local pheasant population decided to have a squawking competition. This then woke up my dog, who chased the cat around the house for a while. Unable to fall back asleep, I began to regret my failure to properly restrain myself the night before.

I was able to get to the brewer’s breakfast at KVS Pub before things really started to hit me. I had terrible heartburn from the coconut water, and was so tired I couldn’t hardly talk. Now I was really worried about the job I had in front of me, and cursing the cruel fate of the judges to have to start drinking at 10:00 am. Clutching my ‘magic hangover tea’ I made my way over to the judging area at the Trade and Convention Center hoping no one would ask me to do any complex thinking for a while.

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Eric and Kim setting up for Judging 

Our group of 9 judges was split into 3 groups of 3, each to judge ⅓ of the overall beers in the competition. With 106 total submissions, I was thankful for this strategy! The Festival crew responsible for the judging carefully split up the categories between the 3 judging groups trying to keep the overall amount of beers even, and the style categories complementary to each other.

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Joe, me and Jeremey – Photo from Okanagan Fest of Ale

I found my seat in between Jeremy Nemanishen, from Craft Beer Vancouver and Beer Me BC, and Joe Weibe, author of The Craft Beer Revolution. Both have quite a bit of knowledge about craft beer, and were also very easygoing and pleasant company for the morning. We laughed when we saw the first category Pilsners/Golden Lager, as Joe had mentioned yesterday how he was praying not to have this category due to the differences in taste being extremely subtle. The other categories we were judging included Amber/Dark Ale, Dark IPA (or Cascadian Ale as some prefer), Stout/Porter and Sour.

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The Pilsner/Golden Lager contendors

We got started just after 10, with 13 remarkably similar looking golden blonde samples each. First we went through each category on our own,, to identify what we liked and what we absolutely did not. Then we would share our first impressions and eliminate as a group the entries that we were absolutely not into, and then determine whether we had any similarities in those we liked the best. I was relieved to see that often the beers that I picked for best and worst were also the same that Joe and Jeremy picked. It gave me a bit of confidence to see that although I was new to judging, I could still figure out what a good beer and what a bad beer was. The Pilsner/Golden Lager category was really hard to identify a clear winner, especially for me in my less-than-fresh mental state! In the end the one we picked stood out slightly from the rest of the pack as having a deeper golden colour, a slightly stronger malt profile and a very subtle increase in hops. It was good to get that category out of the way, as the other categories had much more variation between samples and thus were easier to identify top contenders.

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Hooray! Variation within the Amber/Dark Ale Category

I learned quite a bit from Jeremy and Joe as we moved through the judging process. It was interesting to see how our personal tastes, understanding of the style, and experience shaped our impression of the beers. It was easy to eliminate the ones that we didn’t like, but in one or two categories there was a bit of a stand-off in determining which one deserved the honour of winning. Often the conflict was between “would I personally enjoy drinking this” versus “is this a true representation of this style of beer” which is very tricky! The Amber/Dark Ale category was the worst for this, as it is a blend of a few different style categories so there weren’t any clearcut guidelines. Our group had a collaborative approach to this issue, and once we determined what criteria we should be using to judge we were able to fairly quickly settle on a winner and move on.

I was surprised at how quickly we got through the categories. There were only a couple of beers each in the Porter, Dark IPA and Sour categories which made it easier to pick out what we wanted to move forward. After this we all took a break and hung out in the hallway while Kim, Warren, Chantal and Eric setup the samples for Best in Show. I think hanging out and casually chatting about craft beer was the highlight of my day. I just got a real kick about meeting some of these people in person, after having read their books, articles and blogs and now here they are giving me tips on breweries to go to on my next beer-cation.

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Lined up in front of the Best in Show entries! Photo from Okanagan Fest of Ale. From left: Jason, Mike, Me, Jeremy, Joe, Brady, Jan, Stephen and Jim. 

For the Best in Show judging, each group of judges picked the top 2 winners to move forward. We moved the tables together so now we could debate the winner as a group. As before, we each individually went through the 6 beers on the table. We had put forward the winners of the Dark IPA and Sour, joined by a Pale Ale, Wheat Ale, Dark Lager,and Blender (a category for category-less beers).  Again we went through as individuals picking out our top choices before discussing among the group. I chose the Pale right off the bat, andafter some discussion the group consensus narrowed it down to the Dark Lager, Wheat Ale, and Pale Ale. Some of the group quite favoured the wheat as being a very well-executed beer. Some found that the lager was an intriguing beer, and might broaden some horizons while remaining quite easy to drink. When it came to the Pale Ale there was some discussion around the aggressive nature of the hops, with the argument that it should maybe be in an IPA category instead. I found that the hop aroma was quite strong, but not the IBUs, and felt that while it was pushed the boundaries of the Pale Ale category, it was easy drinking, and the kind of beer one could have several of. This again raised the question with the judges of whether best in show should be the most stylistically correct beer, the most interesting to drink beer, or the most drinkable beer. It was really interesting listening to everyone’s perspectives, several times I found myself getting swayed by their arguments and almost giving up on my pick.

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Sampling the Best in Show entries 

In the end it came down to a vote, with 6 people in favour of the Pale Ale. When it was revealed to be Persephone’s Pale Ale I exclaimed “I knew it!” as I had just had it the week prior and remembered being impressed by the hopping techniques that elevated flavour while retaining relatively low IBUs. I think it was well deserved, and when the other winners were revealed they all were quite well-received as well.

At this point we were released from our judging duties until 3:00pm when the awards were to be handed out. I found Scott, my boyfriend, wandering around backstage looking for me. We grabbed a couple beers and some food from Brodo. They did some amazing Cubano sandwiches, but what really was amazing was the Cannery Nutbrown and chocolate cupcakes topped with honey-jack caramel icing and candied bacon. Oh my god, even thinking of it now is making my mouth water!

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The Winners of Fest of Ale – See end of article for the full list. Photo from Okanagan Fest of Ale

Handing out the awards and getting to see the crowd’s reaction to the news and the gratitude from the breweries as they came up on stage was really fun. It was nice getting to be a part of that experience as well, and if you look at pictures online from the awards you’ll probably see part of my head photobombing everyone as somehow I wound up standing right behind where the awards were being handed out!

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The Impressive menu and first fills at Murderers Row

After this I was relieved of my judging duties. I could have gone back to the festival for another 3 hours, but I decided after all this hard work I needed to go home and have a nap. Thanks to this I was able to head back to spend a few more hours drinking at Murderers Row, the cask festival hosted by the KVS Pub every Saturday after the Festival ends. The list of beers was fairly impressive, and it was nice that this year for the first time you could order a tasting flight, rather than having to work your way through cask-by-cask as in previous years. The judges didn’t have a table reserved, which would be one suggestion I would make for next year. We sat with a few of the organizers from the Festival, who all seemed quite relieved to be finished with their duties and done for another year!

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All in all, it was quite an honour to be share the day with judges Joe Weibe (Craft Beer Revolution), Jim Martin (Metro Liquor), Mike Garson (Mike’s Craft Beer), Jan Zeschky (Brewed Awakening), Jason van Rassel (The Daily Beer), Brady Stachan (CBC Radio), Jeremey Nemanishen (Craft Beer Vancouver) and Stephen Smysniuk (The Growler). As well the judging crew from The Fest of Ale Society – Warren Everton, Kim Lawton, Chantal Cloutier and Eric Hanston all worked much harder than we did to make sure everything ran smoothly! Finally congratulations to the Winning Breweries!

Best In Show: Persephone Pale Ale

Pilsner/Golden Lager: Hearthstone Bohemian Pilsner

Pale Ale: Persephone Pale Ale

Wheat Ale: Steel & Oak Smoked Hefeweizen

Belgian Golden/Saison: Fernie Old Barn Saison

Amber/Dark Ale: Russell Wee Angry Scotch Ale

IPA: Fernie Slingshot Session IPA

Dark IPA: Category 12 Disruption

Dark Lager: Tree Black Lager

Belgian Strong: Brouwerji Huyghe (McClelland Imports) Delirium Tremens

Stout/Porter: Ravens Dry Irish Stout

Blender: Coal Harbour Smoke & Mirrors Imperial Smoked Ale

Sour: Old Abbey Ales Sour Raspberry

Cider: Twisted Hills Calville’s Winter

Fruit: Dead Frog Tropic Vice

 

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