For those not involved in homebrew clubs or members of the American Homebrewers Association, I'll give a little background on this first. Each year the AHA hosts several club only competitions (about one every other month) based on a specific style or type of beer. These have included meads and special categories like session beers and extract beers, so they aren't always a BJCP style. The idea of these competitions is to have each interested club vote for their members' best beer of the selected style and then send it on to this national competition. The cream of the crop gets sent in and the winning clubs get points toward winning the much coveted Club of the Year award at the National Homebrew Conference. Each of these mini-competitions are hosted by a different club across the USA. This month's competition was barleywines, and was hosted by my good friends and sister club the Primary Fermenters in St. Paul, Minnesota.
On a certain dreary and grey Sunday morning, after losing an hour to the dreaded Daylight Savings Time Demon, Sj and I began our hour-long trek to Roseville despite heavy eyelids and black ice. We made it in plenty of time due to a distinct lack of traffic, (decent people still being asleep or in church at this time of the morning.) We entered a side door to the darkened Pour Decisions Brewery, owner and brewer Kristen England being kind enough to provide us space and libations for this particular outing. After fumbling around a bit to figure out lighting we settled in to the bar and "helped" Drew Boxrud to set up (i.e. drank Pubstitute and watched him scramble about.) Other judges trickled in, mostly from the Primary Fermenters, but including representatives from The Minnesota Homebrewers, St. Paul Homebrew Club, and of course Jack Of All Brews (Sj and myself.) The brewery is a large warehouse and was a bit chilly at this time, but we managed to get one large heater/fan going to avoid frost-bite. The chill did preclude us from having to keep the beers in a cooler though, making the job of cellarmaster easy to handle! The judges at the bar directly in front of the fan would periodically have all their papers flutter away whenever it cycled on, creating a blizzard of paper towels, score sheets and labels. Note to self: get me some of those fingerless hobo gloves...
There were a total of 52 beers in this particular competition, split fairly evenly between English and American barleywines. The morning session for all of us was the English version, a very nice breakfast beer with raisin, molasses and sweet malt flavors abounding. Most of the beers I judged were very good with only one that may have been infected. I judged that round with Tony Kutzke (co-founder and president of the PF's.) Always a good time judging with him and his wife Amanda, whom I judged with in the afternoon session. Their little girls discovered pink scooters and spent much of the day zipping around the brewery on those. Being a national ranked BJCP judge has its privileges so I was able to judge the mini-best-of-show, picking our top three beers to go on the the final best of show that afternoon. During all of this Sj helped us by stewarding, checking our math, making snarky comments, and playing Angry Birds.
After a brief but tasty lunch of Jimmy John's subs we stepped into our second flight--American barleywines. I was feeling pretty good about my knowledge of the style at this point. I recently hosted a small barleywine tasting at my place where the majority were of this style, and I have been making one of them every year. These were more hoppy than the English, and overall were of very high quality. My beer, The Kraken, was in the running for this and Drew made sure that I didn't judge my own. Mine made it to the mini-BOS but didn't travel all the way to the finish. To make it to the top 16-18 beers of 52 from around the country is still pretty flattering.
After tasting a lot of good barleywines and Pour Decisions beers, I was able to help judge the Best Of Show round with Al and Kristen. It was a tough choice and Kristen dug a couple commercial examples out of his cellar for us to compare with these. Thanks for sharing! We ended up with an One English and two American as our three winners, though I'm not sure who they belonged to. I got my scores back and had a 37.5--judged by two of my favorite judges--and I'm pretty happy with that result. I'm only sorry that I don't have enough bottles left to get it into the NHC this year, since this was a 3 year old vintage. Overall this was a very laid back and fun judging session, peopled with good friends and rambunctious children, situated in a great venue. A perfect way to spend an overcast and lousy looking winter day!