Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Minnesota State Fair Homebrew Judging

Just a quick one for today, but I wanted to cover the judging session I took part in this past weekend.  The Minnesota State Fair (The Great Minnesota Get Together don't ya know...) is kind of a big deal.  Thousands of hearty, stoic Minnesotans gather together on the grounds that spread city blocks wide, crowding in amongst the masses of humanity for a collection of foods served on sticks and a chance to watch the press of people milling around.  I don't quite get it, but people do love their Fair!  My mom will go there every day just for the people watching.  So with the Big Deal-ness of the Fair, the Homebrew competition associated with it is also a big deal.  For the past few years The Primary Fermenters homebrew club out of St. Paul has taken over the running of the competition, a big challenge for a smaller club.  Not to hurt anyone's feelings from the old guard who ran this, but I think the Fermenters have upped the game significantly in terms of organization, prizes, raffles for judges, etc.  This little post is my love letter to them!

I totally missed the deadline for getting my beers in this year, and lets be honest, I didn't have much homebrew that I thought would win me any ribbons.  They started judging in the weeks previous to get some of the smaller categories done, saving the big ones for last Friday and Saturday.  I was unable to judge Friday since it takes me more than an hour to drive to St. Paul in hour traffic from my home. 

I woke up way too early on Saturday morning, after a night of sharing some amazing beers with Derek and Carolyn Allmendinger.  Driving on the hazy fog shrouded rural highways, I was shocked to see something massive and winged lofted itself from the roadside right in front of my car.  Let me tell you that the wingspan on a wild turkey is most impressive when it is six feet from your windshield!  Narrowly missing a collision with this prehistoric beast, my heart took a while to settle down into normal lub-dub patterns once more. 

For those who have beer to the State Fair, one pictures the place as surging tide of human bodies, clustered in amongst the buildings and soaring rides.  Laughter, cries, carnival cacophony.  Heat and tangible sound waves, chaos and convulsions.  But driving in this early, before the Fair has officially opened, it was mysterious and somewhat ghostly.  I got my parking permit from some friendly police at the entrance.  I rode down empty and silent streets past shuttered food booths, closed buildings, and an occasional parked trailer.  Very strange.

I parked my car and found my way to the Horticulture Building where the judging was to take place.  There I once again discovered why I got into the BJCP beer judging in the first place.  I've been gone a lot this summer (fun things!) but have neglected to take part in several of the typical beer events that I usually do.  It was like coming home to see homebrewers and friends from all over the Twin Cities that I haven't seen in a while.  As usual at these events, I also met several new people who were fun to judge with. 

Registration and sign-in was organized very well and took almost no time at all.  I was set to judge stouts right away at 9 AM, not a bad breakfast beer style!  My judging partner and I did have a few unintentionally sour beers in our flight, but a couple were not too bad.  Luckily I was able to judge the mini-best-of-show round and got to sample all the highest ranked beers from the other stout judging groups.  We had a hard time deciding on the best, as a lot of them were excellent! 

After the first round had finished we had a sack lunch of sandwiches on bagels that was above normal competition fare in quality.  Some raffle numbers were read off with folks winning several cool prizes including 55# sacks of grain!  Later in the event I won an Oscar Blues sign for my collection, making this a doubly happy day.

After socializing (as much as I ever do) over lunch I made my way to another table to judge the much maligned Smoke and Wood Aged category of beers.  I actually like judging this category, but many folks specifically ask not to judge it.  I experiment a fair amount with different types of wood and spirits in my homebrewing so the chance to try well (and not so well) done versions of this is a treat to me.  Since I do a lot of these, I almost always have a beer in this category and don't get to judge it!  So missing the deadline on this competition actually worked out OK for me.  I got to try several good examples of smoked beers as well as some strong wood aged beers that I can't tell too much about since the official results haven't been announced yet... No spoilers here!

Mini-BOS for Smoked and Wood Aged: some tasty beers in there!

I really enjoyed this particular competition despite not having a horse in the race.  The Primary Fermenters (specifically Amanda and Tony Kutzke) ran a tight ship and everything was very enjoyable and smooth.  Thanks also to all the judges from various clubs who volunteered their time!

Good luck to all those who put beers in! 

No comments: