By Kurt Epps—The PubScout
The GABF it wasn't. But it wasn't intended to be.
A grand total of twelve beers were entered in Metuchen's Hailey's Harp and Pub First-Ever Homebrew Contest. But the paucity of beers was hardly a factor when it came to judging. Five Judges—Keith, Dave, Nate, Jim and Eddie—(their last names are under lock and key to deter any potential homebrew stalkers) gave every submission a thorough, detailed and scrupulous look as though it were in the final judging at that classic American beer festival. The first submission alone, evaluated at about 11:30 AM was subjected to an analysis so thorough-going that I fully expected the whole event to last till sunset. It didn't, of course, but I mention the dedication of the judges to fairly judge each beer because I was duly impressed.
Were any of these beers going to make Sam Adams' Longshot Series? Nope. But every one of the judges treated each beer as though it might. Moreover, the comments they made on their evaluation sheets were as constructively critical as they were honest. The consensus of all judges was quite simple: evaluate honestly, but, in the process, give this beermaker guidance as to how to make better beer. That approach revealed much about the judges and their commitment to good beer.
Each entry was the subject of extensive commentary about what the beer had—and didn't have. The judging sheets and the style books the judges consulted to make their determinations were excruciatingly involved. Comments about diacetyls, phenolics, fusel alcohol, oxidation, etc., were beyond what most average joes—including yours truly-- know about this beverage. Guys like me know basically two things: what we like and what we don't. Which is fine, because that's what beer is all about. No one should tell any beer drinker what he should or shouldn't like. If you like it, run with it.
But these guys were technicians. It's like me looking at an HD flat screen TV and deciding whether the picture is good or not. An HD TV technician will tell you WHY it is or isn't good.
They avoided written comments about personal preference and offered only comments about whether a beer was true to style or not—and why. And their assessments were always close to each other. They were unanimously convinced that prospective homebrewers should start simply, making good, drinkable, normal beers before branching off to more challenging specialty areas, however. Judge Dave said, "Make me a beer I want to drink ten of. Then try something more complex." Sounded like good advice to me.
Beermeister Tom Paffrath was the moderator, and Chris Flynn, Hailey's Publican, had it all organized to perfection.
The winners were: 1st Place—John Zirkel; 2nd Place—Keith Seguine; 3rd Place—Ben Bakelaar.
The top prize was $200 worth of homebrewing supplies.
An old friend of mine, Steve Gale, once told me that unless you make beer, you can only love it. To become intimate with it, you have to make it. It's a daunting task, I can tell you, having tried myself. So I suppose I have to relegate myself to the "Lovers" category.
Ben Franklin's famous quote about beer being proof that God loves us is still true. But the guys who make it must be on God's A-List. And the guys who judge it (like these guys judged it) must be God's deputies.
Hailey's will be hosting another fest in the Fall, this time opening it up to entries from more counties and possibly statewide, according to Chris Flynn. Check this blog to see when that event will be going off.
It's an education in beer the average joe should see once in his life. Maybe I'll video the next one, provided I have more than two hours of filming available on my Flip Video.
And by all means, try brewing your own, if for no other reason than to appreciate what goes into it.