Our notes just came in the mail from the Judging at this year's GABF. I'm always excited and nervous to read the notes because I have a hard time being objective about my own beers. In a blind tasting with judges from all over the world, a lot of them being fellow brewers, it's always great to get feedback. In '06 when we "won it all" the notes were overwhelmingly positive. We sent six beers and won medals with four of them. Last year we sent eight beers and "only" won one Gold Medal. This year we also sent eight beers and again, we "only" won one medal but the notes were again very positive. I want to try to give you a little insight to the process and show what's it's like to those who choose to participate.
When you get your envelope it has stapled packets with a cover sheets like this:
The first thing I always dart my eyes around for is that first "yes" "no" check box. Yes means that your beer went on past the first round of judging. We entered eight categories (with number of entries in parenthesis): 75 Barley Wine (55), 14 American-Belgo Style Ale (36), 38 Baltic Style Porter(18), 48 American Style Amber/Red (65), 17 Wood-and Barrel-Aged Strong beer (79), 35 German-Style Schwarzbier (23), 15 American-Style or German-Style Sour ale (34), 76 Pro-Am (58), and 64 Belgian Style Strong Specialty Ale (44).
Every year the competition gets bigger and therefor harder to win. As far as judging goes, categories with 12 or fewer entries are judged in one round, 13-48 entries are two rounds, and larger than 48 are three rounds. The Yes or No check box lets you know that you beer went past the first round at the very least. If you entered American IPA with 104 entries and your beer made it out of the first round, that might not mean nearly as much as a category with smaller number of entries. Some judges just try to wean out the beers with faults first. Any dink can be a reason to knock it out. But I've never judged at GABF so maybe Matt can chime in later to give a different perspective.
The beers that we had go on to the next round were Sheol, Killer Kowalski, Panama Red, Black Wolf Schwarz, 12, and Collaborative Evil. When you're at the awards ceremony and you're mentally biting your nails you hope that somehow all of your beers will win. Normally there isn't much chance of that. Winning even a single bronze is a great accomplishment that many people can't or don't fully understand. These are the best beers in the country, and to a large degree the world. Winning an award feels great. It gives your ego a boost. It makes cleaning kegs for hours on end or bottling until you're numb in the mind worthwile. You can tell people that, "Yes, I did make the best such and such beer in the country." So having said that, when you "only" win one award after winning more than one in the past, it can be a little dissapointing. Not as much as getting shut out; because that really sucks. However, this brings me back to judging notes.
Six of the Nine beers that we sent out went on to the next round. That's awesome. The judges for the most part really seemed to like our beers. The fact that only one meddled doesn't hurt nearly as much once you see that in the judges minds you had a really good beer. Some of the notes are great, like this one:
Some of them are entirely unhelpful, like this one:
Can you read what that says? Because we can't. Thanks for the silver medal but I can't tell if you liked our Baltic Porter or how we can improve it back to Gold status.
Regardless, my point is that if you are submitting beers to the biggest and best Beer Competition in the US, it's great to know that you were really close to winning on a bunch of your beers. Once you get past the first round and there are four or five or six beers that the judges are trying to decide on for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, it can come down to the smallest thing. It doesn't mean that your beer is bad but it's up to the people at the table at that point and if your beer gets that far you've done well.
I think we did well this year. I look forward to next year as we begin planning and plotting on how to take back the mantle of "Best Small Brewpub" in the country. Hopefully. If we're lucky enough. If our beers all taste great. And I guess if the judges like them too.