The Nose Knows

Judges gathered at the Kentucky Fairgrounds this weekend for two days of popping, pouring, staring, sniffing, swirling, sipping, savoring, scoring, discussing, scribing and truly appreciating entries in the annual State Fair Homebrew Beer Competition.  It was a labor of love.

Or as Paul Young observed, “Have you ever seen this many people drinking this much beer having so little fun?”  Judges had their work cut out for them trying to complete score sheets and provide valuable feedback to the home brewers.  These beer warriors evaluated 529 beers during the nearly sixteen hours of judging.

All the judges that I talked to really enjoy the experience of tasting a wide variety of beers; and the opportunity to compare notes with other judges.  It is not only a good chance for brewers to get objective information on their brews, but inexperienced judges get a chance to work alongside seasoned, certified judges.  Through discussions about each beer everyone develops a better sense for taste characteristics and was able to add to  their knowledge base.

My highlight was following Cece and her band of thirsty, taste adventurous souls as they raided the discarded beers after the judging was over.  We had our own condensed mini tasting session sampling an assortment of Smoked Ales, Porters, Black IPA’s, Specialty brews, Reds and a bottle with a bow on it.  We hit the Belgian Triples pretty hard and fast.  We were stretching our tasting powers.

Team effort at table 5

Team effort at table 5

Well this was more like speed dating then tasting.  Except at the end there was no beer to take home.  The last time I fell in love this many times at the State Fair Grounds was 1974 and that did not end well.  The most interesting brew I encountered Saturday was a cider (not usually a fan), but this was exceptionally light crisp and almost champagne like.

Making better beer is what life is all about.  National Judge, Dibbs Harting, who has been a judge at each of the Kentucky State Fair competitions, thinks the beers have been getting a little better each year.  Harting tries to make sure the score sheet is written top to bottom with as much feedback as possible.

According to Harting there a lot of people who brew a pretty good beer, but enter it in the wrong category.  Saturday morning he tasted a spot on Old Ale.  Unfortunately his table was judging Bock’s.  So what would have been a possible winner didn’t score well.  People could best help themselves by understanding the taste characteristics of the styles as outlined in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines.

Dave Dixon really likes the “brewing family” that competitions like this and his home brewing club, Northern Kentucky Homebrewers Guild, offer.  People are there to help.  You learn something every time you brew with others.  You can tweak recipes, bounce ideas off one another, and get information answered.  Most important competitions like this tend to inspire participants to brew more and better beer.

Dixon also believes that competitions are a great way to have a panel of peers take a look at your beer, critique it, and let you know what your doing well.  It is also fun to show you are the best in the area.

Top homebrewers in the state from left to right are Christopher Owen, Evan Brill and Zane Thorn.

Top homebrewers in the state from left to right are Christopher Owen, Evan Brill and Zane Thorn.

So who did the judges say is the best in the area?  Who earned the coveted Brewer of the Year that is based on total points given for 1st, 2nd and 3rd and honorable mention awards in each of the beer categories?  Well, three great Louisville area brewers tied in the point total at 22 each, Evan Brill, Zane Thorn and Christopher Owen.  And Evan Brill took the crown based on his four first place finishes, including his Old Time Pilsner, Lost Slone Amber Lager, No Coast IPA and FLP Saison beers.

Ian Huber won the Best of Show with his Unblended Lambic Sour Ale.

I will be waiting patiently by my mailbox for the judge’s sheet on my entries because it is all about making better beer.

You can see all the winners at:

More photos of the event at:

What's your take? Please comment below.