World Beer Cup Journal, Part 1

The Inner Sanctum

Gothic towers harbored ghosts of so many dead journalists. Judge right lest ye be judged.

Last month the biennial World Beer Cup took place in downtown Chicago. In two amazingly relaxed and well-orchestrated days, about 180 judges from 26 countries meted out judgment on over 3,330 beers entered from 44 countries.

It may not be a secret society of Ivy League insiders, but judging the world’s largest and most intense beer competition is a private affair shared by a fortunate few. Sure, it sounds like a great gig – 50, 60, 70 beers a day – but truth be known, it is a very sober and nerdy process.

Here’s the math. Even if a judge were to consume one ounce of each beer during the day’s judging, total alcohol consumed would be no more than four 12-ounce bottles over an 8-hour period. Many judges, including yours truly, usually draw conclusions from even less, perhaps only a tablespoonful. Do you know what judges do after a long day’s judging? That’s right, they head out for a couple of beers. After all the little Dixie cups, that first pint begins to look terribly appetizing.

Not anyone can judge. You must have beer cred. Industry peeps need to give aspiring judges props. Some sort of covert BIA (beer intelligence agency) maintains your dossier. Show up five minutes late, twiddle your iPhone during judging, or argue im-peaceably with other judges and you will likely not be invited back. Yes, judges have disappeared.

Judge calibration on the eve of judgment day is one of the few places where photography is permitted.

The culture and ritual involved in what might seem a simple matter of taste is, in fact, quite a structured affair. Here the dogmas of beer are parlayed, usually with caution and respect, occasionally without. Discipline (a.k.a “sobriety”) and diplomacy (known as “judge demeanor”) are valued traits. Of course, you have to have the palate to discriminate the universe of beer flavors – right good flavors and left over flavors. You have to know what each beer style should look, smell, taste, and feel like. Beer judging is like dog judging… except it generally smells better and there are the… other… intangibles. What could he mean by that? TPJ.

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