One of the things that can be a part of being an international biersommelier is being asked to be a judge in a beer competition. I was asked to judge in the Dutch Beer Challenge of 2020 and of course I said yes!
There are several big judging events in the Netherland and the Dutch beer Challenge is probably the most prestigious of them. I already judged before in the Beste bokbier van Nederland (best bock beer of the Netherlands) competition and I was honoured when they asked me to judge for the Dutch Beer Challenge as well.
So, what does it mean to judge a beer? Apparently not what a lot of people seem to think! 😉 A lot of the reactions contained words like swigging, guzzling, boozing, quaffing, carousing, fuddling and swilling. I can tell you, judging beers is a lot of things, but not any of those!
The Dutch Beer Challenge starts at 9 in a church in Rotterdam. Over a course of four hours you get thirty to sixty beers to judge . This year everyone got around forty beers. You sit at a table with three to four others and one is the table captain. Everyone gets forty judging forms. There is water and toast to cleanse the palet inbetween. It’s best to bring a light so you can also judge the appearance of the darker beers. You will judge beers in several beerstyles. The goal is to judge the quality of the beer ánd if it fits the style. Brewers all around the Netherlands sent in a beer for a specific style and received the style requirements beforehand. The judges receive the same style description to judge the beer. Whether a beer is tasty or not isn’t part of the equation. It has to be good quality wise and fit the style in all its aspects. I think it’s even easier to just a beer if you don’t like it and you can solely focus on the quality of the beverage.
The forms and judging serve two goals. 1. In every category there will be a gold, silver and bronze medal for best beer of the Netherlands, and 2. the brewers will receive the feedback of the judges to use as they see fit.
Forty beers, so you cannot guzzle, quaff or booze, because you must be able to judge the latter beers as good as the first beers. Besides, you don’t need to swill or swig a beer to be able to judge it. In reality you mostly take a sip or two from every beer and after forty tastings you will probably have drunk the equivalent of two to three beers.
You have to judge a beer on its appearance, aromas, flavour & body, technical quality and category and give it an overall number of 0 to 50.
First you look at the beer. is it clear or cloudy, what’s the foamhead stability and appearance, what’s the colour and do these fit in the style.
Then you smell. If the beer is very cold, you smell again later on. What malt aromas, hop aromas and yeast aromas can you distinguish. Do you smell other things? Does it fit the style? Are there any faults? You mostly don’t want to smell baby puke or nail polish remover.
The next step is to taste the beer. Which basic characteristics does it have, is it sweet, bitter, sour, salty or umami? Is it dry or sticky, full-bodied or waterlike, does it have a low or high carbonation, is the aftertaste the same or different? And again, does it fit the style?
The last two steps are judging the quality, balance, drinkability and the appropriateness for the style.
Then you give the beer points. Generally above 30 the beer fits the style and is good, below 30 it’s not.
You get about 14 beers in a style which you then have to compare. Every beer is tasted and judged by an average of four judges who then discuss the beers per style.Together they decide which beer will get the gold medal, which beer silver and which bronze. In some extraordinary instances no, less, or more medals will be awarded.
After four hours it’s done. At least for us. For the brewers the long wait begins. On April 2 the winners will be announced during a festive awards event! And in May 2020 we will know which one is the best of the Netherlands!
Are you as curious about the winners as I am?