Training for the Championships, our dilemmas.

I wanted to write about this last week. As said, I want to participate in the Dutch championships in 2020. Not to win – not saying that wouldn’t be nice – but mainly to participate in the first three rounds, test myself on my knowledge and tasting abilities ánd as a bonus to show the diversity in the demography of biersommeliers, because in 2018 it seemed that they were all male, but in 2020 we will be with at least 10 women as well.

Even though I’m not in it to win it, I still want to make a serious effort. And that’s where the struggle begins, because as you might have guessed from last week’s post, it won’t be easy. How to start, where to start, when to train, how to train and how much?

There are basically four categories in which to practice:

  1. Blindly recognising beerstyles
  2. Beer theory
  3. Recognizing Off Flavours
  4. Presenting a beer (if you get in the finale)

2. Beer theory is expansive but relatively easy to begin with. I formed a whatsapp group with Tina, Yvonne, Judy, Charlotte, Esmée and Maurus and we will send each other about 5 questions every fortnight. We’ll probably also compare notes with the Bierbitches some time during the year.

4. Practicing presentations can be easy as well. Every time we come together one of us has to present a beer. This way, we’ll gain more confidence on presenting, we learn to efficiently gather information and we can give each other feedback

3. Off flavours. Learning about off flavours is nasty business. It really ruins your beer drinking experience forever (I’ll come back to that in my post about StiBON 2) 😉 It’s also just icky to practice, but we have to. There are over 90 defined off flavours that can be used for the championships, but a list of 20 that is used for the Dutch Championships. The main problem is that the capsules are expensive, so it’s probably better to practice this in bigger groups of say 10 people. Now only to decide how many times we will practice. I’m all for practicing all 20 this summer so we have a reference to recognize them later during the year when one is unfortunate enough to drink a beer with off flavours, and then again just before the championships. I’m taking into account our sparse time availability here, because else I would go for Maurus’ approach. Maurus argues that you will remember and associate them wrongly this way. He would like to train 5 off flavours each time, spread throughout the year and all off flavours at least three times, which would mean 60? meetings? I understand his viewpoint, and it would make sure we REALLY would understand and recognize off flavours, but it’s just not realistic at this point. I think the current consensus now is 4 times 10 off flavours, twice in November, twice in May.

  1. The most problematic one to practice though is recognizing beerstyles. Beerstyles aren’t set in stone, so you have to agree on a guideline to use first. For the Dutch championships that will be the BJCP. The BJCP defines 119! different beerstyles. It mentions some more local styles specifically and says the guideline isn’t whole compassing. There are a LOT more beerstyles, but we’ll limit ourselves to this 119, which is an impossible task in itself anyway. It’s impossible to taste 119 different beerstyles enough to actually recognize them blindly from each other, even when we still have a year to go. If we would taste and compare 10 styles each meeting and want to vary between the comparisons and taste each style at least 2, preferably 3 times, it would take at least 36 meetings. That is, if your brains are even capable of making such distinctions and remembering that all, and I doubt the average human brain is capable of that. So we have to think of alternative trainings.

We already started with really learning to recognize bitterness by comparing the pilsners and recognizing the difference between top and bottom fermented beers. This gives us a foundation for further differentation, although there are always deviating beerstyles, like Irish Red Ale that is top-fermented, but still has a clean yeast profile. And yes, I am conscious of the fact that bottom-fermented and top-fermented aren’t really a thing that way anyway, it’s more about flocculation and temperatures and all, but you have to make some distinctions to be able to keep them apart.

A second difficulty is that 50% of the beerstyles are not or hardly available in the Netherlands. We can try to practice these in two ways:
1. Import them via alternative routes and (and probably ‘alternative’ prices)
2. practice not on beerstyles but on characteristics like mentioned above and try to translate that to the missing beer styles.

Either way, it will mean we have to come together quite some times to practice flavours, off flavours, distinctions and all. But unfortunately there are also things like work, family, friends that want attention as well 😉 But we will manage. Just have to think of some clever training plan.

What would you do to prepare yourself for such a contest?

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