It's become sort of a tradition at our house to watch the National Dog Show after the Macy's Parade on Turkey-Day morning. It's a nice buffer between breakfast, football and dinner. The kids love seeing all the different dogs—the cat doesn't—but who cares, she's been mooching off us for years now. In any case, watching the dogs prance with their handlers, strutting instep, then patiently waiting for their silent judgement, I got thinking about how beer is judged.
Before I get into this, I do have to say that as a general rule I think beer judging is kind of dopey to begin with. I just don't care that much. A gold medal at GABF or TAP NY isn't going to sway me when buying beer. Not to mention that there's like eight-hundred-billion categories and sub categories for judging in competitions like the GABF. It seems like they're coming up with styles just to give out medals.
Here's my issue with beer judging, I've always seen beer competitions—home brew or professional—as not a judge of the beer, but judgement on the beer maker. For me, beer is about how it tastes, not how well it's made. But, I suppose judging is inevitable (and my opinion means diddly, too). Someone must be chosen the "best", right?
I don't want to sound like I'm knocking the Beer Judge Certification Program and their guidelines. I'm not. I think BCJP guides have a place—specifically in brewing classrooms and in apprentice programs. Brewers need to know how to make technically perfect beer. They need to be able to taste the difference in what is an IPA, or a Belgian Tripel, or a Lambic—and what, precision-wise, isn't. Braque and Picasso embraced cubism and surrealism, but both were also masterful at rendering the human figure realistically, as well. Same goes for brewers. BCJP are fantastic starting guides for young brewers or home brewers
So, how do you judge beer without a set of individualized criteria—like BCJP guidelines—per style of beer?
Fortunately, beer already has its own set of criteria by which to be judged—in two specific and un-arguable ways, actually—fermentation and strength.
Why not simply judge beers in categories of either top-fermenting or bottom fermenting styles, with ascending Plato (or gravity, or even just ABV)? Judging on those criteria makes style irrelevant. Why not judge a 6% IPA against a 6% Stout on the merits of which one tastes better—whoever gets the most votes wins. You wouldn't have to judge the IPA on whether it had met its "predetermined" IBU levels or if the Stout was dark enough. Isn't that a lot simpler?
I think that's my biggest beef with BCJP guidelines—when used for judging. The guides were set up to eliminate as much subjectiveness as possible, yet they don't really do that. They sort of skirt around it and convolute everything with unmeasurable benchmarks—like SRM or IBUs. Why not embrace subjectiveness? Cut out the middle man and stick with strength and fermentation for the categories, and just trust your taste buds.
Better yet, how about we all just drink our beer.