Virginia is for Beer Lovers, and Beer Judges
By Diane Catanzaro and Chris Jones
Ah, love those dog days of summer. These are the days when even confirmed wine drinkers admit a cold, refreshing beer is the beverage of choice. And whether you are a confirmed or novice locavore you want to drink a fresh, local beer. Local and fresh is especially important when we’re talking about the lighter beers of summer.
The seasonal Spyhop from O’Connor Brewing is a flavor-forward mouthful of citrusy hops, with coriander, chamomile, and grapefruit notes. Spyhop is easily one of the most exciting beers we’ve had in a while. This love child offspring of a Belgian white beer and an American IPA will get your taste buds singing cetacean style. We think this “white IPA” hybrid is beautifully executed and refreshingly different. Love, love, love this beer! Try it and let us know what you think.
Want a ‘lawnmower’ beer that is lighter-tasting and refreshing to quaff ice-cold? Get a growler of Smartmouth’s new Inappropriate Cream Ale. While the name is “inappropriate” this beer is completely appropriate when you want an easy-drinking beer that doesn’t have a lot of bitterness. This is exactly the type of beer that needs to be drunk when it is absolutely fresh, and it doesn’t get any fresher then straight from the tasting room, open Thursday-Friday 4:30-8 and Saturday 12-7.
There are other great summer beers from Beach Brewing Company, St George, and Williamsburg Alewerks, so when you patronize your favorite restaurant ask what local beers they have available. And remember, summer beers are seasonals that are only available for a short time, and you want to enjoy them while they are at their peak of freshness…right now!!
We are lucky to have these great breweries in our region. But, the brewery-boom is nationwide and people all over the country are recognizing that “Virginia is for Beer Lovers.” Fitting, as some of the first beers brewed in the New World were brewed here. Virginia has breweries popping up all over, like mushrooms after a summer rain. Want to taste beers from as many Virginia breweries as possible, but not have to drive all over the state? Well, August is Virginia Craft Beer Month, and to celebrate, the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild is throwing a party and YOU are invited!
On August 24, Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nelson County, near Wintergreen, will play host to breweries from all corners of Virginia. You’ll get to meet many of the brewers, taste their beers, and enjoy an idyllic day of tasting beer, listening to live music, and meeting beer lovers from all over Virginia in a beautiful outdoor setting. The event is child-friendly, and you can even camp or park your RV on the extensive grounds at Devil’s Backbone. Tickets are already on sale! Check is out at www.virginiacraftbrewersfest.com.
At this event, many Virginia breweries will enter beers to compete for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup. While fest-goers are sampling Virginia’s finest, Diane will be sequestered in an undisclosed location with a group of beer judges, blind-tasting beer samples to help determine this year’s winner of the coveted award. Last year, host Devil’s Backbone took home the Best of Show for their delicious Schwarzbier.
In case you are wondering how one gets to be a beer judge, there is a program called the BJCP, which stands for Beer Judge Certification Program. It’s a tougher topic to master than you might expect. Way more challenging as a hobby than tan-line inspector, not as dangerous as competitive ironing, and easier to explain to your friends than hikaru dorodango (dirt-polishing). Beer judging merges two great human endeavors: drinking and thinking.
Learning to become a beer judge involves studying how beer is made, the different styles of beer and their attributes (for example, the differences between a dry stout and an imperial stout), and how to identify and communicate flaws that go by names like diacetyl, oxidized, and phenolic. I can tell you’re excited already! There are fabulous study guides posted on the www.bjcp.org website.
The best way to study involves actually tasting and judging beer using the BJCP style guidelines. So, studying isn’t exactly drudgery. (“Darling, I’m going over to Joe’s house tonite to study for my exam!”) Experience judging beers can also be gained through volunteering to judge at homebrew competitions. Our three local homebrew clubs, the Hampton Roads Brewing & Tasting Society (HRB&TS), the Beer and Ale Research Foundation (BARF), and Colonial Ale Smiths and Keggers (CASK) all host friendly competitions where members can learn the judging process, gain experience judging, and meet others who are studying for the BJCP exam. New and novice judges are always welcomed.
When you feel that you are ready to take the BJCP exam, you begin with an on-line, 200-item multiple choice screening test. Those who pass this test are eligible to take the practical tasting exam that involves tasting and judging a beer that is an example of a particular style. The style Diane’s examination involved was Octoberfest. You don’t have the style guidelines in front of you when you do the tasting portion of the exam, and you don’t know in advance what style you’ll be judging, so you need to already know the aroma, flavor, mouth feel, appearance, and other characteristics of as many beer styles as possible. The tasting exam requires you to evaluate the beer according to those standards, fill out a score sheet to accurately evaluate the beer sample relative to the style, accurately note deficiencies or off-flavors, provide suggestions for improvement, and assign points for aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, etc.
There are different levels of judge, sort of like advancing to black belt in karate. For those who wish to advance to the higher rankings of beer judge there is a rigorous written proficiency exam. Judge rankings are Apprentice, Recognized, Certified, National, Master, and Grand Master. The Beer Judge Certification Program is a great way to improve your knowledge about beer and brewing, enhance your beer drinking enjoyment, and get together with others who share your passion for learning about and appreciating beer.
Questions about the BJCP, beer judging, or anything else beery? Write us at email@example.com.