Sunday, January 21, 2007

Falcon for a day: Who me, judge beer?

Judge Dean , beer steward Diana and a big jug of porter
No sooner did I resolove to lay off beer this year than I was invited to be a guest judge at a homebrewing contest. Having long ago brewed a few batches of "Monsterbrau, fine beer of Hollywood" myself, I couldn't turn down the chance to taste some master brewers' entries in the experimental beers category for the Maltose Falcons brewing club. As I drove to the Home Beer, Wine and Cheesemaking Shop in Woodland Hills, a promo for KCRW's Good Food came on the air. "Beer for breakfast? It was a popular breakfast drink in the middle ages," said Evan Kleiman. Prophetic words, for the judging started at 9 am. The setup was a bit medieval too, with about 20 guys sitting at long tables and two wives fetching bottles of beer for the judges. There was just one other woman judging, and she was learning to be a real beer judge by taking the official exam. I was a rank novice, but after the initial shock, the experienced gent I was paired with took pity on me and explained the process. It's similar to coffee cupping, with a sheet to be filled out for each entry describing the aroma, appearance and taste of each entry.
Despite my lack of judging chops, my long beerdrinking experience served me well and I was able to more or less identify which entries had a chance, or at least whether I would want to drink them again. I'm not usually that wild about flavored beers except for really good lambics, but I got to judge blueberry, raspberry, pumpkin, ginger and even lemongrass entries. The lemongrass seemed astringent at first, but it grew on me and I realized it would be awesome with Thai food. There's no spitting in beer judging; but you don't really drink that much of each entry and a pile of bread rolls on the table helps sop up the suds.
Some were more successful than others, and it was a real test of the palate trying to taste individual ingredients like vanilla or nutmeg. My one slip-up was when I enjoyed the warm feeling one beer gave going down my throat; apparently the "warming effect" is a bad thing caused by overfermentation and too much alcohol. I also got to taste an amazing smoked porter that I would love to try with some aged cheddar cheese. However, I didn't get around to tasting the 1st runner-up, the crazy-sounding Gonzo Hemp Poppy Spirit beer with hemp, tequila, bourbon and mushroom flavorings, dedicated to Hunter S. Thompson. They ought to market that one! I wish I had time to get back into homebrewing, because it looks like they cook up some great food at the club meetings and homebrewers are really doing some creative beers these days.
The judge in the picture above is Dean from The Great Beer Company, brewer of Hollywood Blond ale, who told me there's a new microbrewery opening in El Monte this weekend called Skyscraper -- I'm not sure where they'll be selling it, but they're starting with two beers, Bulldozer Honeyweizen and Lug Nut Lager.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Pat, Congratulations on your trial by fire as a beer judge! It should be noted there were 5 folks there pulling beers for the judges and Ting is already a recognized beer judge.

I'm glad you had fun judging and don't forget to check for upcoming events.