February 12th, I was fortunate to be invited to the Samuel Adams brewery to help judge the final 5 in the 2010 Patriot Homebrew Competition. There were five finalist beers to judge, an Alt, a Marzen/Oktoberfest, a Wheat, an IPA and a Rauchbier, and I was one of several on the panel who included most of the folks that judged this round last year, a couple new ones, and of course Jim Koch, founder of the brewery.
Carolyn Faye Fox (Improper Bostonian) and Gail Ciampa (Providence Journal) whom I had met previously. Dan Hausle of WHDH came armed with some of his own homebrew to share, and Norman Miller, the Beer Nut (http://blogs.wickedlocal.com/beernut), Todd and Jason Ahlstrom of Beer Advocate, Mike Adams (WEEI) were the remainder of the panel. Let me tell you, this was a FUN group! Lots of jokes and personal stories during the tasting.
We tasted each of the beers in the final round and it was interesting to me that the panel members were checking the BJCP guidelines to learn about the characteristics of the beers and whether they were correctly represented. It occurred to me that this step really wasn't necessary, as the original competition had determined that these were good exemplars of their categories, and since they were all in different categories, judging them against style really didn't mean a heck of a lot! When you get 5 different style beers out, the only way to judge them is to say which beers you like best--which brings in a lot of personal taste elements.
After we tasted the fifth beer, the debate started, and we had to pick the top two . We asked Jim questions about what he was looking for in terms of selection criteria. For example, as the brewer, did he want the beer that seemed like it would be the most salable, and would be appealing to most drinkers? Since the previous two beers had been a Black IPA and an Oatmeal Stout, would he really want an IPA again so soon? How daring did he want to be? Lots of great questions--the answers will have to wait until the winner is announced, I think.
At the end of the day (when we got to taste some Mother Funk and some Noble Pils--a really nice beer), we chose a great beer as the 2010 Patriot Homebrew winner. I will be happy to make my way back to the Sam Adams Brewhouse on game day, and say "I'll have one of those!" All of the brewers that made it into the top five should be proud of their beer, as it was all very good--as it should be. This is a great competition, and I applaud Jim Koch and the Patriots organization for this pairing of football and beer, and for supporting the home brewing community! Thanks guys!