Walking into the World Expo of Beer judging day, a Saturday morning at 9am, 24 judges were prepared to endure three straight hours of drinking where they would taste, eliminate, and award beers in multiple categories, where it would end with five major BJCP judges deciding what beer was going to be the best of the best. With over 600 beers in 38 categories, each group was given task to judge beers ranging from ciders, to porters, to IPAs and even malternatives.
The judging process for the World Expo of Beer is broken down fairly simple. Each table is given a grouping of beers, and some of the bigger groups like IPA’s are split into multiple tastings so you’re not having to personally break down 80 beers of the same style. Each table has a ‘table captain’, typically a veteran BJCP licensed judge. They also have a second BJCP judge, and a third ‘novice’ judge, which allows for a good measure of the beer. They are handed beer a group of beer, told the style, and that is it. Each judge then begins to judge the beer as not necessarily the best tasting, but the one closest to the judging styles. Making sure the color, the aroma, and the flavor profile all matchup to what the style is. This isn’t necessarily the place to bring your craziest creation like a No Rules from Perrin, this is where you’re going to want to see Expedition Stout from Bell’s.
Judges then begin to eliminate beers simply based on off flavors, coloring, and aroma, and begin to taste them even further to decide which ones are the closest. In this competition, you can award a first, second, and third in each category, but you do not have to. This means that in a competition, they could eliminate so many beers that only a first and second are awarded, or if they felt no beers matched the style close enough, they don’t have to even award a first place beer (this happened in Category 20B- American Stout).
Once finished, they eat crackers and bread to cleanse their palate as they are immediately served another flight of beer. This continues for over three hours until all categories have been awarded their winners. A small lunch break is had, as the many of the judges are dismissed. Some come back to see some of the beers they had and match up some of their favorites to names, while a select few judges are still sequestered into the tasting area where they await a task like no other.
Delivered to each of these five judges is a sample of all gold winning beers. These judges are then tasked to decide what is the ‘best’ out of all of the beers. Remember folks, this isn’t a tasting competition, but almost a skill competition, from brew to serve, how well and close to the style did the beer get. This of course means that a lot of specialty styles like cider, specialty IPA, and even historical beers will have an unfair disadvantage as the ability to be a little more creative in those styles allows for more errors.
Slowly but effectively the five judges begin to eliminate the beers, and after the first pass, roughly had fifty percent eliminated. Each judge then began making cases to keep and eliminate beers. After each judge would make a case, the rest of the judges would taste and agree or disagree. In about 45 minutes, the judges were able to bring it down to a final three vote. They were all Michigan beers.
*Category #22- American Strong- Spatial Disturbance by Ellison Brewing
*Category #20C- Imperial Stout- Expedition Stout by Bell’s Brewery
*Category #19- Amber/Brown American- Bonfire Brown- Saugatuck Brewing
The judges truly had a hard time as they began to ask for refills of these beers to taste them a bit colder, fresher, and obviously get a better outlook on the decisions they were going to make. Judges unanimously removed Expedition Stout from the list, and began their struggle between Spatial Disturbance and Bonfire Brown. The argument wasn’t heated as they went over the comparison of the style, and in the end chose the Bonfire Brown as the winner of Best in Show. As the judges awarded the winners, they began to shake each others hands for a job well done (and for five straight hours of drinking, I would have to agree with them).
Coming into the judging competition as a spectator, I was expecting people with a little more full of themselves attitude, but truthfully it was a lot of solid beer drinkers who understand the craft and are knowledgeable of what the beer should taste like. I was welcomed with open arms by every judge, the volunteers, and the staff that make it run, and can’t wait to report back on how the event goes that everyone gets to attend! Don’t forget to look for all three of the top beers at your local store!