This past weekend, the Austin ZEALOTS homebrew club hosted one of the regional first-round judgings for the National Homebrew Contest. The local contest coordinator was Neil Spake and the judging was held at Rogness Brewing Company. Judging sessions were scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and one additional judging session was added on Monday night to determine the winners in 4 categories. By Monday night around 9 PM, all the judging was done.
I went to the Monday session and judged Spice/Herb/Vegetable Beer (BJCP Category 21) and Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beer (BJCP Category 22). Spice/Herb/Vegetable, sometimes called the SHiVs, is frequently a very uneven category. Occasionally, you find a beer with a spark of brilliance. More often, you encounter a series of beers that are absolute train wrecks. I actually like this category, because you never know what you’ll encounter. [For what it’s worth, as someone who has judged this category a lot, I have three recommendations brewers entering beer in category 21. 1.) Stick to one spice or flavoring unless you know the different flavors work well together and be detected individually. 2.) Don’t overdo the level of the spicing or flavoring. 3.) Taste your beer before you enter it. If one of the spices or flavorings is not easy to detect, leave that information out of your description (or give a vague description, like “wee heavy with spice blend”).]
This year, there were some very good beers in the mix. Beers for which the base beer was well done, and the spicing worked well with it. Of course, I was judging the mini-BOS, so the worst beers had already been weeded out. The smoked and wood-aged beers were good, but less impressive.