Day 2 of the Mash Out began with a bleary breakfast and coffee in the hotel. Several of my friends were hanging out there and looking much more awake and bright-eyed than I felt. Over a lively discussion of all things beer, and more coffee, I started to feel like a member of the human race once more. A brisk walk to Grumpy's and we were ready to start judging beers at 9 AM again.
This day I judged Belgian Dubbels and Dark Strongs for breakfast. Lots of booze to these, but the flavors were pretty good for this early in the morning. At least one I tried would have been fantastic with pancakes. This particular grouping had three tables of judges to share 29 beers, then they found five or six more that weren't on the sheet. When judging beers and trying to not get palate fatigue, (and a sore hand from all that writing,) it is best to keep it to maximum of about 6-7 beers per flight. This would have put us at about 10-11. Too much! Drinking these strong beers and trying to write complete score sheets for all of them while trying not to get drunk and disorderly at 10 in the morning can be quite a chore. Contrary to popular belief, judging is actually hard work...though it can be a fun and rewarding experience to be sure. We managed to wrangle another team to help us with our mystery beers and get through the flight. Then I had a large mini-bos of the best from each table to do. By noon I was tired, but some food and an informative lecture got me going again. The afternoon was filled with judging amber hybrid beers. I thought these were all of very good quality, so it was a nice way to finish the judging of the two day event.
After the final judging session is done there is some down time to deal with. During this time there is a lot of set-up for the award banquet and silent auction, as well as getting all score sheets and medals organized. Meanwhile behind closed doors the second beer from each of the first place winning beers, meads and ciders are cracked and tasted head to head, looking for the absolute best in each category. This is incredibly tough since comparing a great cream ale to a great Imperial stout can be like comparing apples to oranges. Often there is a lot of deliberation in this large of a competition. There are special hand turned wooden mugs for the winner of each Best Of Show (beers, meads and ciders.) Someday....
I hung out with Jeff quite a bit during this time, heading over to Pour Decisions Brewery, and then Ward 6 for more beer and some food. More on those in future episodes... When we had eaten our fill and were still ahead of schedule, we ended up hanging out in a large Supermercado and stocking up on chili peppers, nopales, Mexican cokes made with real sugar, hot sauces and questionable salsas. We might have received some odd looks as the only gringos in the store, but everyone was very nice. Finally we returned to the scene of the crime and things were ready to get rolling.
During the banquet and award ceremony there are several things going on simultaneously, and I do not envy those who are in charge of making them run smoothly. There is a raffle for various beer glasses, shirts, hats, metal signs and more, with Orsi and Amanda handling that this year. There is a sweet silent auction with collections of rare beers, signs, Winterfest tickets, and more. This year they had a giant 50 pound box of bottle caps to guess a number and get rewarded with a large prize package including several bottles of Darkness. I should probably say at this point that all the proceeds from this entire competition, other than what is needed to finance the event itself, goes to a local women's shelter. Drinking for charity! This year in the silent auction I won a set of Lost Abbey beers, with cool glasses and a large Leffe metal sign to hang in my garage. I always make it a point to bid high on the silent auction--it is something I know I can win if I don't do well at the raffle or in the actual awards. And that type of charity is very important to me as well. Dinner this time was a great spread of Mexican dishes with some very authentic sauces and some freaking hot chicken wings.
Once the dinner is over, there is time to get some last bids in and then the action really gets going. They have Jeff Cotton as MC on this, and he can always be counted on to properly tease and roast nearly every winner as they come to claim their prizes. A great guy named Ed is teased mercilessly year after year for wearing a Freddy Krueger sweater, yet still persists in wearing it to this event. As I have spent more time with these people and have become friends with them, this is all the funnier. With breaks for raffle drawings the winners in each category are called out. Many of the winners are from out of state, but a good portion are present at the ceremony. I'm always amazed how many people come from places like Seattle, Wisconsin, Colorado, Missouri and other states to both judge and enter this competition. Some of these folks I see here every year and look forward to the next year's event just to hang out and have a beer with them. Others are more local like my friends with the Primary Fermenters club, who are always a hoot to spend time with. They came in force this year and saved my Jack Of All Brews peeps some seats as well.
Medals!! The Bling!! The Swag!! In the end this is the perceived goal of the whole event. To win a medal amongst such strong competition and against such long odds means you have come to a point where you can play with the big kids. So a win is huge for you as a brewer as well as brewcred for your club. The competitive nature of this event comes out here, but really all in good fun. This year I walked out with two third place medals and was so excited to be walking around with these things dangling off my neck. The PF's brought it strong (Kyle Cisco I'm talking to you) and JAB took home 8 medals. Tim Roets, our resident secret weapon won four of those, including taking home the coveted Eis-Anything special category steam-punk snowflake trophy for the second year running. You rock Tim! Keith Brady and Wayne Doucette also took medals for our club. We also had several of our guys help with judging, stewarding and organizing this year (myself, Tim, Jeff, Andrew, Mike B., Eric-Bob, and Brett that I can remember.) The more people I know at this thing the more fun it becomes--even when someone else wins, chances are I know them and am happy for them. Unless the beat me in a category of course...
At the end of the event this is one of the only competitions that is organized enough to hand you your winnings, medals and score sheets right there. Those folks behind the scenes do a fantastic job and never get enough credit: thanks to you for making this thing really work.
When it all comes down to it, beer judging and this competition in particular have come to mean a lot to me. I take pride in meeting here every year to taste beers, give feedback, meet up with old friends and make new. I am unquestionably excited and proud to have my beers place in the UMMO this year, and hope to increase that number next year. Compared to my early experiments I feel good about most of the beers I put in this year, most averaging a score of mid-thirties to low forties--high praise for this group of hardcore beer experts. I have met those goals set several years ago of becoming a judge and medaling at this biggest of competitions. When it comes down to it though, I am more excited about having discovered this group of passionate and unusual people from all walks of life.
If you haven't ever thought about entering beers in a competition, try it--it could lead you down a whole new road. Or try stewarding or judging to improve your beer and brewing knowledge. You might want to start smaller than the UMMO. I suggest Byggvir's Big Beer Cup (MN Renaissance Festival Comp) as a great starting place since it is much smaller and we always try to encourage new folks to get right into judging in a very relaxed atmosphere. If competition isn't your thing that is OK, but you owe it to yourself to at least give it a chance once or twice.