This past weekend, I judged at the NHC first rounds in Austin, TX. For me, there was a certain amount of déjà vu. The Austin regionals were again organized by Neil Spake. It was held at a brewery again, although this time it was Independence Brewing. And, weirdly enough, I judged the same flights as last year.
Last year I showed up for the final day of judging (same as this year) and judged the mini-BOS of spice, herb, and vegetable (SHV) beers; and smoked and wood aged beers. This year, I judged those two categories, and additionally the mini-BOS for sours. (Note to self: Get off your butt next year and make it out for every day of judging.)
I really love sour beers, so being on that panel (with Mark Schoppe) was great. After judging, Mark and I blended two of the lambics in the flight into a pseudo-gueuze (I guess you could call it) that was even tastier than the two originals. One was very sour and very dry and the other was a bit softer with a hint of residual sweetness, so it made a great blend.
The sour beer category gets more competitive every year. In the future, I’ll bet more blended beers are entered. If you’re a sour beer brewer, and enter contests, one thing to consider would be to collaborate with other brewers who make sours and see if — from the beers you have available — a blend might result in a better beer than any of the component parts.
I must be a glutton for punishment, because I always ask to judge the SHVs. This is because I’m always interested in what’s new and interesting things brewers are trying. This year’s SHV flight was the best lineup I’ve ever tasted; however, that was mostly because entrants stuck to tried and true formulas, such as coffee stouts, holiday spiced ales, chili beers, etc. (This reminds me that I need to get my catnip IPA going soon.) In this category, Mark was also the other judge.
Smoked and Wood Aged
I also love smoked beers, especially classic rauchbiers, although I’m not too keen on most wood-aged beers. (If I want to drink something that tastes like bourbon, I’ll drink bourbon.) This year, the mini-BOS was all wood-aged. Even though in general they aren’t “my thing,” the beers in the flight were all well done, and the panel of judges took awhile before we finally made our decisions. And by “our” decision, I mean mostly the other three judges — Mark, Matthew Chrispen, and one other guy whose name I forget. They are all into wood-aged beers way more than I am, so I just basically sat and nodded at their comments.
The Austin regional is all wrapped up now. The beers are all judged. The data is all entered — the first region in the US to finish. So congrats to Neil, and all the Austin ZEALOTS who came out to judge, as well as the out of towners who dropped by to help.