Start-up brewery: judging beers and giving back

As a homebrewer for more than 2 decades that is making the move to being a professional brewer and opening up a nano-brewery, one of the first things I did was take a look at my recipes. Like most other all-grain homebrewers, my recipes started from my old copy of the Bible: Charlie’s Complete Joy of Homebrewing.  I’m not sure which volume my first copy was—pretty sure it was the Second—but it’s a fantastic book that every homebrewer should have.

So I brewed Charlie’s recipes, following each line and ingredient exactly and would compare the results to commercial versions.  That lead me to look for clone recipes, which I would also follow exactly.  Eventually, I was adventurous enough to tweak and add/subtract/substitute depending on what I liked at the time.  I brewed some beers that I was proud of and made some mistakes that frankly wasted my money.

I got to the point were I was happy with my home-brew and submitted some into competitions.

My first submission (It was to Sam Adams) brought me more than anticipated—feedback.  The judging sheet was a fantastic gift to me, as it was judged with both passion and knowledge.  It pointed out ways my beer was different than the “standard” for the style.  The sheet also suggested how I could improve my brewing techniques.

The recommendations weren’t long, but gave me enough ammunition to look further into technique and processes.

The comments weren’t harsh, but were straightforward.

The advice was specific to my beer, but independent from friends and family.

I’m ashamed to say that I took advantage of the gift of feedback and produced better beers and tweaked recipes for about 10 years before I realized I needed to give back to the community.  Last year, I started studying for the Beer Judge Certification Program and took a pretty intense 10 week course thru a local home-brew club.  I passed the online exam and sat for the actual tasting in 2015.  Very happy to say that I passed with a score high enough to be “Certified” (though I know I left points on the table), and look forward to improving my score down the road.

I’ll write about my first experience as a judge sometime soon, but the gift of feedback from this great all-volunteer group has helped me volumes.