Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Judge Dredge

When you have my surname, and you are born in the 80s, there comes a point in your life when becoming a judge holds considerable value.

When I was 14 I was in a ten pin bowling team. I was pretty good; good enough to have my own bowling ball (not good enough to have my own bowling shoes though). My ball wall electric orange and inscribed in it was the name 'Judge Dredge'. I don't really know why I chose that name. I guess it felt imposing or important. I guess that made me better at bowling (I scored 226 in a game with that ball). I also knew there was very little chance, no matter how well I succeeded academically, that I would ever be an actual judge. That was until today...

Judging a beer competition is pretty much the coolest job in the world, ever. Seriously. If I tell my mates that I spent the day judging a beer competition then I get serious man points. I sit at a table, someone brings me beer, asks me to drink it and then requests that I objectively give it a score out of whatever. Essentially my job is to drink beer and find the best ones.

Today I judged the International Brewing Competition. I was faced with a total of 59 individual brews, starting at 10am and finishing at 5pm. The quality was varied. Some were excellent, some were poor, most slotted inconspicuously into the middle ground - forgettable. The best were wonderful but known only by number, the worst were undrinkable and lucky to be unknown by name. A bland quality flowed through many and I found myself writing the word 'dry' way too often; I wrote the word 'excellent' way to infrequently. But judging beer is good fun; it's social and friendly, it encourages you to talk about beer, it's incredibly interesting, it makes you look at beer differently and concisely, using only taste as your guide, and it makes you a more considerate drinker. It also lets you try a spectrum of beers and see just how wide a style can be spread, and that's fascinating.

Every little boy's dream is to judge a beer competition and I've now done it. The next thing on the list of boyhood dreams is either finding a dinosaur skeleton or flying to the moon.

P.S. I wrote this on my blackberry on the train home from London. I was quite drunk.  


  1. Judge Dredge... Brilliant! :D Now I've got that Anthrax song, "I am the Law", in my head.

    Sounds like tough work, that judging :)

  2. What's so bad about a beer being dry?

  3. "Every little boy's dream is to judge a beer competition"

    No it isn't. No such little boy exists or ever existed. It used to be to be a train driver. Or an astronaut. Now it is probably a banker - though maybe not - a software designer? - or mayhap a house husband.

    I better shut up now. Glad you enjoyed it, but don't get carried away.

  4. Barm, nothing wrong with a beer being dry, but when you write it 45 times you start to question something... It also seemed to be a trait of pasteurised beers.

    Tandleman, come on, can't you pick up a little tongue in cheek with that comment?!

  5. I was just thinking it looks like someone needs a hug (or a chill pill). What happened to humour or poetic license? As it happens, my son (5) wants to be a brewer and baker. Oh, and a physicist so he can get his own TV show like Prof. Brian Cox and tell people about planets. :)

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  7. Mark. Maybe your dividing line blurs at times due to your exuberance? That and because as a grumpy old man, I like keep you youngsters on the straight and narrow.

    You'll name me as a steadying influence when you reach the top. (-;

  8. Keep your exuberance Dredge. Don't let miserable old farts knock you. Have you passed the relevant exams to qualify for this sort of thing? See Avery for details.

  9. More importantly, did they pay your expenses? :D

  10. The thing ith these kind of competitions is that the beer is not being served as the brewer intended. I don't know when I saw anything as unappetising as the photo in this blog. All that's missing is a cig butt floating in a glass n

  11. I was a judge at a beer festival once. Small scale tho. Good stuff.

  12. I have noticed that on Twitter some of the Judges were saying this beer was sam adams trippel bock or Utopias. If you think you know a beer do you not mark it as your judgement is no longer impartial?
    Should comments like this be broadcast during the judging of a beer competition?

  13. Tandleman, exuberant? Me...? I thought this was relatively contained...

    Cooking, no relevant qualifications other than drinking and knowing what beer should and shouldn't taste like.

    Barry, expenses? They gave me free beer for 7 hours, that'll do!

    Denzil, the brewer chooses to put their beers forward for this and they know the deal with judging. It's about packaged beer for the IBC, so not the sort of competition where you can pour some from a cask and sit and enjoy for 10 minutes before getting the next one.

    Anon, there were no rules as to using phones or not, plus, in a blind tasting where you only know style, we are only making assumptions. The trouble with beers like Utopias and Triple Bock is that they are very distinctive. As for not voting... the process is that individuals taste and score the beer, then as a group they decide what the overall judgement is on the beer, then it goes forward to a master panel who either agree or disagree. It's not just one person's opinion giving the overall award. I think what's perhaps more important is that we didn't reveal scores that we gave these beers, as that would be unfair. And it's only on a very, very small percentage of beers that 'guessing' is possible. I do understand what you are saying though.

  14. Your own bowling ball? You surprise me, Young Dredge! (Who was it that bestowed the YD moniker on you, anyway? Was it Pete Brown? ATJ? I don't know, but because of them I haven't been able to address you in my brain as anything else for months now.)

    I assume this was the same competition written about by the Fabulous Melissa Cole (copyright Laurent Mousson), and I agree with her entirely about how judges shouldn't be tweeting during the judging. Seems rather callous, I think. And somewhat misguided, too, seeing as the tweeter could be wrong about Beer X, as Melissa admitted she was at one point (though not while tweeting).

    At any rate, I think that Denzil has a point, no matter how up front the competition organizers are about the judging process. I don't believe you can accurately assess pretty much any sort of session beer unless you sample more than a sip or two, and if you do it properly, then you wind up with serious palate fatigue. The best judging experience I have ever had has been at the GBBF, where the ales are served in half-pints, with a maximum of six or eight sampled, topped up if necessary. But you can't do multiple rounds of that, lest you wind up with pissed judges, so you're stymied if you want to manage a competition of hundreds of beers.

    I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that as beer competitions continue to proliferate, it's an issue that needs addressing.

  15. Stephen, I was pretty good at bowling! And Old Pete was the chap who bestowed me with YD.

    As for tweeting, that was excited immaturity on my part, I realise that, but hopefully no harm done and like I said in the earlier comment, there's no indication to score and it still has to pass through other judges. Put it down to inexperience and don't black list me from judging again :)

    GBBF judging sounds sensible but how is it whittled down to just the last 6-8? Or are there just hundreds of judges? This was an seven-hour judging session and it was hard work (good fun, though, of course). How can judging competitions improve? I don't know.

  16. No worries, Mark, I won't drum you out of the corps, yet. ;o)

    I believe that CAMRA sorts out the GBBF finalists through regional voting, although I must admit I'm not entirely sure of what format such prelims take.

  17. I also have fallen into calling him Young Dredge.

    Also, I'm worried about the UK bowling scene where a bowling ball is less elusive than shoes. My wife refused to bowl because she had to wear someone else's shoes. Now, she owns her own bowling shoes, but the house bowling balls are fine.

    What did this have to do with beer or judging? Nothing.