Author Archives: hermannthelombard

From Russia with Malt

Baltika Brewery

There is very little Russian beer on this side of the Atlantic, but Baltika (Пивоваренная компания “Балтика”) is the second largest brewing company in Europe, and the largest in Russia. Its market share in Russia is only slightly lower than AB InBev’s in the United States.

Baltika 3Baltika 3

The aroma is of relatively high malty-sweet biscuit and bread with light corniness. There is a medium low noble-style hop aroma, and just a hint of melon. It pours clear golden amber with a slight orangey note and a medium white head, not very persistent, but leaving a light coating on the glass. The flavor starts with somewhat high malt-sweet biscuit and bread, a touch cloying. The hop flavor is moderate earth and spice, with low bitterness and moderate corn. It finishes sweet, and that impression lingers, though some more hop flavor and bitterness come in on the aftertaste. It’s not enough to balance the sweetness. On the palate this has medium body and relatively low carbonation. It could use some carbonic bite but misses that mark, coming in neither creamy nor astringent, and with a syrupy hint.

It’s a mass market international lager, but I would give a clear edge to Heineken or to Baltika’s parent, Carlsberg. Number 3 needs greater attenuation, higher bitterness and more carbonation. 4.8% ABV

Baltika 5Baltika 5

This starts with a medium low cracker malt aroma, low spicy hops, light yeastiness, and a hint of quince. It’s very clear gold in the glass with a medium foamy white head. The head has medium persistence and rings the glass. The flavor continues the restrained cracker and bread malt. The hop flavor is low, spicy and floral, with medium low bitterness, very evenly balanced. It finishes dry with lingering malt and hops and a hint of stone fruit. The body is medium, leaning toward the full side. Medium carbonation leaves a light carbonic bite, neither creamy nor astringent.

Overall, a crisp and refreshing international lager, excellent in that style. 5.3% ABV

Baltika 7Baltika 7

A moderately high malty sweet aroma greets the nose, biscuit and bread with a light caramel note. The hops are lower, giving earth and spice. There is a faint estery peach hint. Clear golden amber, this is quite effervescent with a medium bright white fine-bubble head. On the palate comes moderate bready malt which starts malty sweet but quickly dries out. This is joined by a low earthy hop flavor, medium low bitterness and a distinct medium low fruitiness like peach or apricot candy. It finishes off dry with lingering maltiness. The balance is malty. The body is just below medium, almost creamy, with medium high carbonation and no astringency.

Baltika ClosureThe beer is a fairly rich malty lager, Dortmunder style, heavier and not as dry as its lighter siblings. This would be better if slightly more attenuated, but it’s a very good beer. It seems heavier than its 5.4% ABV.

Interesting. I have never seen a closure like this one.

Baltika 9Baltika 9

This starts with the aroma of fairly high bready malt, rather low earth and spice hops, plus light fruit like guava. A grainy sweet note develops, starting to hint at problems. The pour is clear gold with a medium low bubbly white head, not very persistent. Trouble arrives with the first sip. There is medium bready malt with a slightly unpleasant sourdough element, then cloying grainy malt sweetness comes in with a clashing honey note. There is medium corniness, high enough to be a flaw. The hop flavor is lost, and bitterness is way too low for balance. It finishes cloying as well, lingering with a metallic note. The medium body seems fuller due to that honeyed quality. It is not creamy, not well carbonated, and quite harsh with lingering astringency.

This is a rather nasty lager, far out of balance. It makes me feel better about my worst homebrew. In fact, I think I’ll dump this in favor of one of those. 8.0% ABV, but you wouldn’t know it under the pressure of that cloying sweetness. Fortunately they can produce far better beer. I saw this recently on a list of the Ten Worst Beers. I was brave and tried it anyway. Brave but schtupid.

Baltika Russian Imperial StoutBaltika Russian Imperial Stout

The first sniff delivers rich port wine, then roasty grain with toast and toffee with low spicy hops. It is almost opaque darkest brown with a medium light tan head, bubbly, ringing the glass. The flavor begins with rich, dark, brown bread with toast and roasty malts. Then caramel comes through with medium high bitterness offset by sweet elements of the malt. Black cherry, plum and ruby port come through with boozy notes. It finishes a hair on the sweet side but that is offset by bitterness. The aftertaste swings back and forth between sweet and roasty. On the palate the body is rich and lightly syrupy with moderate astringency from the roast grain.

This could hardly be farther from dry or oatmeal or milk stouts, it’s much fruitier and port like, a complex and rewarding after dinner sipper. I doubt there are many Russians who have ever heard of Russian Imperial Stout, but this is a fine brew from St. Petersburg. 10.0% ABV

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From the Fury of the Norsemen, Good Lord, Deliver Beer!

Angry Erik Brewing


. . . and deliver beer from the Norse Women too, as Heide and Erik brew these fine beers!

thedaintyvikingfinalThe Dainty Viking

The aroma is like a fine yeasty Belgian Blonde Ale with a fascinating berry highlight, somewhere among raspberry, boysenberry and blueberry. Cracker malt supports the floral and berry elements. The yeast imparts spicy phenolics like coriander. There’s a soft hop aroma underneath, floral, earthy and a bit spicy. This pours hazy gold with a medium low white bubbly head of moderate persistence. The flavor starts with cracker malt and grainy bread and biscuit notes. Flowery berry comes right behind, accenting and not dominating, carrying through the dry finish and out onto a light malty aftertaste. Bitterness and hop flavor are low. Wheat becomes more apparent in the aftertaste. The beer has medium body, medium high carbonation, and its light creaminess leads to a mild carbonic bite. Only a faint warmth hints at the strength.

This is a crisp refreshing beer for a summer day, even for a crisp Scandinavian summer day. At 7.6 % ABV, as they say “she might be more ‘Shield Maiden’ than ‘Dainty’”

Citra Kisses

I confess I took no notes, simply enjoying this crisp beer. It’s on the cusp between blonde and pale ale. I remember tropical fruit and citrus with clean fermentation and a cracker and bread malt backbone. 5% abv

Angry Erik Topaz TsunamiTopaz Tsunami: Hoppy Heidi # 9

The aroma leads with orange peel and orange pith, and then those hops are joined by bread and cracker malt and light stone fruit esters. The malt strengthens as it warms and develops a light sweetness. The pour is hazy reddish gold with a persistent foamy bright white head. The flavor starts with orange pith and dank resin notes. Medium high bitterness comes right behind. The malt base is bready with lighter notes, balancing the beer but leaving it dry, crisp, and bitter. On the palate the beer is just above medium fullness with an initial creaminess giving way to carbonic bite and mild astringency. Carbonation is medium high.

This is an IPA that demands attention rather than a relaxing sipper, a good solid pint for hop heads . . . like me.

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Death, Heathens and Mole

Stone Give Me IPAStone Give Me IPA or Give Me Death

Patrick Henry was a Virginian and might have decried “the tyrannical oppression of industrial beer,” to quote Stone. In opening their new Richmond brewery, they collaborated with Ardent Craft Ales and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, both of Richmond, and with “His Excellency, Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Governor.”

Opening the cap releases a high hop aroma of resin, pine and dried grapefruit rind. Beneath this is medium bready malt, mostly masked. A toasted caramel note emerges. The beer is hazy amber with a generous creamy off white head, heavily lacing the glass, with good persistence. On the palate comes a high earthy, resiny hop flavor with citrus peel and notes of overripe orange. The bitterness is very high. Bready, cakey malt provides backbone and prevents a total hop rampage, but there’s nothing balanced about it! Slight melon esters come underneath, then it finishes dry, with a long, bitter, earthy aftertaste. The body comes in above medium fullness with a heaviness more like oiliness than creaminess. The carbonation is medium, and the bitterness is strong enough to manifest as astringency puffing up the lips.

Overall? In game terms, “Hoppy Boots of Overkill.” This is a heavy earthy resin&pine hop bomb with no attempt at nuance. “Here I am; deal with it.” So, if you love hops with attitude, and aren’t looking for a citrusy sort, go for it.

To Ol Fuck ArtTo Øl Fuck Art, the Heathens Are Coming

Fredericksburg, Virginia is just north of Richmond, but this cry for freedom comes from Frederiksberg, Denmark.

The aroma of this Grisette Ale is complex, sweet and sour and funky with a crackery malt base, medum citrusy hops, and Belgian yeast character with stone fruit & banana. It pours cloudy golden straw with a medium bubbly white head, quite persistent. The flavor starts citrusy followed immediately by Brett-like funk over cracker & bread malt, then peach & melon esters. Low but distinct bitterness. Finishes quite dry with lingering yeast & funk.

Grisette Ale is an interesting style like a drier, grittier cousin of saison. The brewery seems to claim that this one is an ancient “collaboration” of Viking raiders and French monks who were too slow to get away. Viking raiders: “Here WE are, deal with it.” Not a favorite of mine–other than the great name–but could be quite refreshing.

Jacks Abby Faminghammer MoleJacks Abby Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Mole

Mexican from Massachusetts, this starts with medium high chocolate aroma with vegetal/pepper notes over bread and cake malt and low earthy hops. Toffee emerges as it warms. This is opaque brown even when held to direct sunlight and has an off-tan head. On the palate, caramel and cake malts lead immediately through chocolate into spicy pepper flavor. There is no apparent hop flavor and only medium low bitterness. The balance comes from spicy pepper, not hot, just warming. It finishes on the sweet side but nicely offset by spice so it’s not remotely cloying. It’s a bourbon sweetness with light oakiness in the aftertaste including vanilla…ah, there are vanilla beans in the brew! Also cinnamon. The body is medium full, silky, accented by a little spicy heat.

This has all the elements of a mole, however, I’m not pouring it over enchiladas! It’s a very nice warming beer, to my taste more for winter than for summer, but very much a beer to sip and savor. Pretty amazing that this is a lager!

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From the Hills of Woburn

Lord Hobo

Without modesty, false or otherwise: “Lord Hobo Brewing Company Proudly Presents . . .”

Lord Hobo Boom Sauce GlassBoom Sauce

This is an IPA shop, and this—along with Steal This Can—is the flagship. Hazy gold in the glass with a medium ragged white foamy head and quite a few dark floaters. The foam stand is very persistent and heavily laces the glass.
The aroma is of tropical fruit, orange pith and resin over biscuit & cracker malt with a hint of peach esters.
The flavor starts with citrus and melon hops, then a wave of malty sweet biscuit, overtaken by a wave of medium high bitterness. It finishes almost dry with the malt more than offset by hop flavor and bitterness. The mouthfeel has just above medium fullness, no creaminess, medium high carbonation and slightly lip puckering astringency.

Lord Hobo Boom Sauce FloatersThis is a full bore IPA of New England cloudiness and west coast bitterness, even perhaps a little harsh. It might be best drunk from the can like Heady Topper. The floaters detract somewhat, at least for me. 7.8% ABV

Lord Hobo Glorious GlassGlorious Galaxy Pale Ale

“From the hills of Woburn, Ma” – or so it says on the can.

This pours cloudy golden straw with a medium off-white fine-bubble head, not persistent. There is a high aroma of orange peel and orange pith with notes both both resiny & floral. The low bready malt is mostly masked by the hops, and there is faint stone fruit and a hint of spice. The notes of citrus peel grow as it warms. The flavor starts with orange pith & peel immediately followed by high bitterness. Low bread and cracker malt is there, but the beer flavor leans strongly to the bitter side. It finishes quite dry with an aftertaste of citrus & bitterness. It has a medium body, not creamy, with medium carbonation and moderate astringency mostly from bitterness. All in all, a slightly fierce IPA not at all balanced, both hoppy bitter and dry. There is a small offsetting maltiness which is outgunned by the hops. I would have guessed somewhat higher alcohol. This would be hard to pair with food, maybe something like French fries or nachos. 6.5% ABV

Lord Hobo Consolation PrizeConsolation Prize Double India Pale Ale

Golden straw in the glass with peach highlights. The aroma of malty sweet biscuit is overtaken by lemon/orange/grapefruit citrus. There is a faint herbal, grassy note. The first sip is momentarily malty sweet, immediately replaced by citrus peel & pith, just above medium bitterness, then finishes slightly sweet with a lingering blend of hops and malt. The balance is only somewhat hoppy. On the palate is medium body, lightly creamy with a tiny hint of citrus. Not astringent. 9.2% ABV and doesn’t taste like it. The hoppiness shows restraint where Glorious does not. No consolation prize at all, this is a rewarding DIPA.

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A Norman Conquest

La MiN

la bière “Made in Normandie”

La MinMedium high pear greets the nose, with medium bread and cake malt, low spicy hops, low stone fruit and crisp apple. Warm spicy phenolics develop, sort of like cinnamon. There is a bit of light oxidation. The pour is hazy gold with a medium high bright white foam stand, with long persistence. There are many small dark floaters going up and down, quite flavorless and not noticeable unless you hold it to the light. The flavor starts with light pepper, with medium malt, slightly sweet bread and cake, followed by low earthy hops and medium bitterness. The beer finishes dry with pear and stone fruitiness coming in. The balance is malty. The body is medium light, crisp, with high carbonation and a light carbonic bite. The mouthfeel is neither creamy nor astringent. Overall, this is a very refreshing medium-light brew with flavorful malt and fruitiness with interesting spiciness. A very rewarding beer. 6.5% ABV

RateBeer calls this a Bière de Garde, the brewery does not. The beer is paler than even the blond form of bière de garde. The aroma is appropriate for the paler versions of the style. The head is spot on. The flavor does not include the toast or toffee characteristic of the style, but the paler versions normally have less of those elements. What I did not find is the aroma, taste or heat of alcohol, however 6.5% puts this near the low end of the typical range.

My cousins took a river cruise from Paris to Normandy, and knowing that I’m a beer geek, they brought this set as a most welcome Christmas gift. The first bottle gave me the notes above, the second I shared with the brewers at my favorite local brewery. I was certain they never had this, and they found it an excellent beer, one you can savor. Now about those floaters . . . they were more apparent in the first bottle than the second, and had no effect on any other aspect of the beer. My cousins probably bought the bottle in the fall, gave it to me at Christmas, and then I was slow to open it. In other words, through no fault of its own, the bottle was less than fresh. The light oxidation also suggests this. So my apologies to the brewers, and I thank them for a fine beer.

And my warm thanks to my cousins for making it possible to try this beer!

A coincidence that I find amusing: you saw that I had the beer unopened for several months. Finally I drank it, and went to check it in on Untappd. At first I didn’t find it, which didn’t surprise me, it’s understandably rare. But then I found it. There was precisely one check-in, and it was dated the day before my check-in. So after all that time, I was second by less than 24 hours!

If you would like to know more about the beer and the brewers, this is their website: La MiN

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An EPiC Guest Baptist

Today we have a change of pace, a guest review. My friend Peter was kind enough to review a beer that I have not yet tried. I have loved the label since I first saw it. Now I’m quite sure I would love the contents!!

EPiC Brewing

Epic Big Bad BaptistBig Bad Baptist Imperial Stout

This rare offering pours almost opaque chocolate brown with a burnt copper head.
The foam lingers long enough to be appreciated, but not so long that it impairs the cocoa nibs and coffee (three different blends from Salt Lake City, Denver and San Diego roasters) from reaching the tasters’ nose.
The coffee and savory cocoa – no candy bars here – serve to mellow the 12.3% alcohol content. But rest assured you will know it’s there, and that it spent just enough time in whiskey barrels before being offered to us lucky few.
Oh, and there’s just enough hops as the taste leaves your mouth to “cleanse your palate” for the next sip!
(This is one of the most delicious brews I have ever tasted.)

And an older label closeup:

So now, clearly, I have to try some EPiC beers myself. It is my selfish selfless duty to my readers.

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Back from the Dead

Well, not dead, but back from utterly shameful neglect of this blog. No excuses. I haven’t stopped drinking good beer. Untappd shows that I have had 392 unique beers since the beginning of February. I haven’t stopped taking pictures, having almost choked my iPhone. I haven’t stopped taking notes, though I cut way back. That’s still related to burnout from becoming a beer judge, but it’s more that I never got un-distracted from the blog. Often I don’t want to take notes, I just want a good beer! (Pity.)

So let’s talk about some good beer!

Boulevard RyeOnRyeOnRyeBoulevard Rye on Rye on Rye 2017

They start with a rye ale, age it in first-use Templeton rye barrels, then age the results in another round of first-use Templeton barrels. Rye Cubed! The initial aroma is like a shot of good rye, as it should be. Massive malt base, cake and dark rye and spice cake with vanilla and caramel, with alcohol coming over the top. The appearance is cloudy medium dark amber with golden highlights and a generous off white bubbly head with good persistence. The flavor starts with a high rich malty sweet blend of cake and dark rye bread with vanilla, caramel, treacle, and distinct oaky notes. There is no apparent hop flavor, but medium low bitterness prevents the sweetness from becoming cloying. It finishes sweet with lingering whiskey and cake. The body is medium with significant alcohol heat. A light syrupy note grows more pronounced. There is no astringency despite abundant dark malts.

Overall? Wow. Simply wow. You have to like rye whiskey, big sweet beers, and alcohol heat. You almost need to sign a waiver that you’re not driving, this is 14.6% ABV.

Crooked Stave St BrettaCrooked Stave St. Bretta

Brettanomyces Citrus Wild Ale

First sniff: citrus & funky brett over a medium malty-sweet base. There is an aroma of candied orange peel, and a boozy note emerges. In the glass we see clear golden straw with a generous foamy white head of medium retention. [As an aside, I’ve seen “good retention” defined as a head that loses half its height in one minute. For me “medium” approaches that, perhaps 30 to 45 seconds.] The flavors give a complex, fast sequence of impressions: lemon juice, funk, tart orange peel, tartness that tingles in the back of the throat, then a little sweetness, finishing dry with a long tart aftertaste. Did I mention tart? It takes the place of bitterness in balancing the malt. The mouthfeel has just below medium body, and the impression is of astringency coming from tartness. The carbonation is medium, and there is no alcohol heat (nor should there be, at this strength.) This is a beer that rewards attention, offering lots of elements that integrate around a tart and funky center. The funk is quite restrained, the tartness is less so. I would have called this sour a year or two ago, now I call it–drum roll–tart. 5.8% ABV

Omm GoT Bend the KneeOmmegang Bend the Knee

The latest in the Game of Thrones series, the aroma starts with flowery hops and medium stone fruit, along with a Belgian style yeastiness including light clove and pepper. The base is medium bread-and-biscuit malt with a light nectarine emerging. The pour is cloudy gold with a coppery tinge and a medium high foam stand of moderate persistence. The flavor is of medium high bready malt with a hint of sweetness, joined by floral and fruity hops with an earthy undertone. Medium bitterness comes in to balance that sweetness and the beer finishes dry. Floral and fruity hops and bitterness persist through a long aftertaste. The body is medium with medium high carbonation, and an initial creaminess is replaced by moderate carbonic bite. Very good beer, hoppier than a Belgian Golden or Wheat Ale, leaving a surprising bitterness on the aftertaste. It’s just a bit harsh, perhaps appropriate for Game of Thrones.

Founders DoomFounders Doom

The pour releases a wonderful aroma of medium high cake & biscuit malt with medium high earthy hop aroma and hints of spice. There is a restrained bourbon note, growing “boozier” as it warms. The beer is clear light amber with a generous foamy, almost rocky head the color of buttermilk, very persistent. The bourbon flavor is less restrained, medium high over rich malty sweet cake. This is followed by floral and earthy hops and medium bitterness to balance things out. It finishes medium sweet with a long bourbon and caramel aftertaste, but always enough bitterness to keep things well away from cloying. Bitterness grows sip to sip, approaching medium high. The body is medium high, with matching carbonation, a foamy creaminess and mild astringency coming in. You feel medium alcohol heat. They call this an Imperial India Pale Ale Aged in Bourbon Barrels. I would not have thought ”IPA” as the malt is rich, reinforced by bourbon sweetness. However, bitterness builds to justify the IPA label. I would call it extremely tasty and a beer to sip and savor. It’s also a bit dangerous. My impression was around 8.5% ABV but it’s actually 12.4!

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Kansas City Calling

Boulevard Brewing

Boulevard RadlerGinger Lemon Radler

Starts with the aroma of ginger ale and lemon candy with low cracker malt and no apparent hops or esters beyond the lemon. It pours cloudy gold with a very brief white head. The flavor starts like ginger ale, moves to lemon soda and back to ginger ale. There is no apparent alcohol so this stuff could be sneaky. It’s initially fairly sweet but finishes off-dry, with just a faint metallic note way out on the end. Light bodied, it’s tingly from the ginger, neither creamy nor astringent. This would be terrific by the pool or on the beach. It’s a bit out of place in the Northeast in February…but tasty and refreshing regardless. It would pair well with light seafood. 4.1% ABV

Boulevard Tropical Pale AleTropical Pale Ale

The aroma is of grapefruit and tangerine, medium strength, then medium low bready-grainy malt emerges, then medium earth & spice hops. Low stone fruit comes out as it warms. In the glass it’s clear gold with a copper tinge. The medium off white head does not persist but coats the glass. The flavor is delicious tangerine with supporting grapefruit, medium-low grainy malt with low hop notes and medium-low bitterness. Finishes dry with an orange pith and tangerine aftertaste. The medium-high body is surprising, with a light honey quality, lightly syrupy rather than creamy, and a slight fruit-rind bite. This is a very nice pint of beer, emphasizing beer over fruit. For me it could use a touch more malt and a touch more flavor hops, but only a touch. For pairing, this moves up to slightly more robust seafood. 5.9% ABV

Boulevard Tank 7Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale

Their current flagship, the brewery rep said “the one that keeps the doors open.” Starts with a medium high yeasty aroma with medium bread & biscuit malt and a spicy tang. A note of plums and stone fruit emerges. Pours very hazy yellow, very effervescent, building & sustaining a generous white head with a hint of the color of lemon chiffon. The flavor starts with a blend of spicy yeast, grainy malt and stone fruit, plums and faint tart cherry. Very balanced among those elements, it adds medium-low bitterness, then finishes dry with that flavor blend lingering. It has just above medium body, and medium-high carbonation gives a slight carbonic bite. There is no creaminess and no astringency, just a pleasant mouthful. It’s no wonder this has become a flagship, the only wonder is that enough people appreciate this rich complexity. I certainly do! 8.5% ABV, 38 IBU

Boulevard The Calling IPAThe Calling IPA

Here’s a big citrus & pine hop aroma with low bready malt and a light apricot note. There is a light alcohol note, too. It’s a slightly hazy pour, straw with a medium frothy white head, sustained by high effervescence. The flavor starts with stone fruit, then a wave of hops gives orange pith and juice with pine and resin. The low maltiness is almost lost in the hops but enough hangs on to keep balance. Medium bitterness is there, but the beer emphasizes hop aroma and flavor: balanced IBUs. The finish is actually on the sweet side, barely, leading into a gently fruity aftertaste accented by bitterness. There is medium body, lightly creamy with some prickly sensations from the hops, medium high carbonation and mild alcohol warmth. This is a fine, restrained DIPA rather than a hop bomb. 8.5% ABV, 75 IBU

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An Elf Festival

Janet and I had an Elf Festival with a Bomb last night, splitting:

• Dark Horse 4 Elf
• Tröegs Mad Elf
• Ridgeway Bad Elf
• Prairie Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb
• Tröegs Mad Elf

Hey, you can’t deny an encore to a Mad Elf! It was a great evening in which nothing else got accomplished, a fine holiday feat.

I also used a cunning, er, an accidental ploy. On the bottle, Ridgeway Bad Elf says “Winter Ale” and in fine print “golden ale,” but I happened to look at RateBeer and they list it as an IPA. It was Janet’s least favorite of the five, but she liked it. I’m luring her to the dark side of hoppy beer!

Happy Holidays to All, and many great beers in the New Year!


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An Apology, and Deschutes


I know, I know, I have grossly neglected my duties as your correspondent. It has been months and months since I posted to the blog. It’s not that the Beaker Peoples have faded even farther into history, it’s that I was studying to be a beer judge.

Perhaps that sounds like I’m pulling your leg, or perhaps that sounds like a fantasy job, but what *is* is the Beer Judges Certification Program, henceforward the BJCP. To become a BJCP judge requires a great deal of study to pass a couple of remarkably difficult exams. Studying for the exams literally took all of my time and energy, or at least all of my beer-related time and energy, and then afterward I was totally burned out. It wasn’t too long before I started taking notes again, but it’s been two and a half months more since I’ve had the energy and willingness to sit down and write up those notes. Let’s just say that I now have a lot of material.

I will also write about the experience of the tests and of becoming a BJCP judge. As for the test, they told me to expect results in FIVE MONTHS, and only half of that time has passed, so I don’t actually know how I did. Nevertheless, I started judging, once a week before the exam, and once yesterday. I’m a “Rank Pending” judge.

Deschutes Brewery

There are, of course, many many breweries that aren’t available in New Jersey or New York, but the one that I most anticipate is Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon. At present I only get it when I visit my cousins in Pennsylvania, so close and yet so far. Since they are building a new brewery in Virginia, I assume they plan to expand East Coast distribution. In the meantime…

deschutes-ehopDeschutes EHOP

Amber Ale Brewed with Sage and Thyme – a collaboration with Harpoon.

Savory beer! Herbs arrive as the cap comes off! This is more of a savory blend than it is individually sage and thyme. There’s a medium high light tan head with good persistence. It’s a cloudy dark amber, almost opaque. The aroma is of rich bready malt with restrained sweetness and caramel, accompanied by medium low earth and spice hops. Then a wave of caramel candy comes in. The flavor starts with medium high malts of bread and caramelized cake, followed by a wave of herbs, then a break to medium earth, spice and floral hops with medium low bitterness. The herbs and hops combine to nicely balance the malty sweetness, drying out a little while leaving malt in the driver’s seat. This lingers long. The body is medium full, a little chewy, with creaminess and a little spice tingle across the roof of the mouth. Don’t sip too gently, this rewards the whole palate. 7.4% ABV

So that’s what my notes look like, tinged by beer judging. The main change is trying to give a magnitude to each characteristic. It’s one thing to say that a beer is malty, and another to say it has “medium high malts of bread and caramelized cake.” Is that overkill, or does that give you a better idea what a beer might taste like? I hope the latter.
But that’s not “judging” a beer, that’s not a Beer Scoresheet like the ones used in competitions. The first thing is that each beer is placed judged against a somewhat arbitrary defined “style” and specifically against the Style Guidelines of that style. It isn’t just whether it’s a good beer, it’s whether it’s a good example of that style, for example a good American Pale Ale. Then the judging is systematic, focusing in turn on Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel, and Overall Impression. Then scoring points are assigned to each of those, with a possible perfect score of 50. So here are my notes on specific beers, made while preparing for yesterday’s competition.

deschutes-pairDeschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale

Aroma: Medium gentle hops, flowery & citrus. Medium low grainy bready malt. As head dissipates, hops build to medium high. There’s a tangerine note with stone fruit from a combo of hops and esters. No phenolics. [Those would be spicy things like cloves, or nasty things like band-aids! These are “fermentation characteristics” usually from the yeast used.] (9/12)

Appearance: Almost clear gold with a medium off white, bubbly head. Good retention [meaning that the head hangs around for a while, the standard “good” being that the head persists for at least a full minute.] (3/3)

Flavor: Fruity mouthful starting with citrusy hops, tangerine not grapefruit, and fruit not peel. Medium high hops. Malt is secondary but balancing, bready. There is a bit of stone fruit, perhaps from esters [fruity elements, often from yeast.] Medium bitterness at the finish, nicely dry, with both hops and malt lingering on aftertaste. Balanced toward hops [as opposed to toward maltiness.] (16/20)

Mouthfeel: Body just on the light side of medium. Carbonation is medium. No alcohol warmth. Only slight creaminess. Also slight astringency of the drying sort, not unpleasant. (5/5)

Overall Impression: Very nice, restrained and balanced pale ale. The hops are the leader but not strongly bitter. Excellent beer! Might be even better with 10% more hops for flavor and aroma. Please repeat this! (8/10)

Total: 41/50 [which places this in the Excellent range, defined as “exemplifies style well, requires minor fine-tuning.”]

Okay, now *that* is overkill for purposes of this blog. Gruesome detail and numerical scores are a bit much, I think. One thing is that judges are expected to provide suggestions for improvement, except in the exceedingly rare case of a 50 out of 50 beer. (I’ve only had one or two of those out of all the commercial beers that I judged while preparing for the exams.) That’s my weakest area as a judge. On the one hand, who am I to provide “suggestions” to professional brewers? It’s like the old cliché, teaching granny to suck eggs.

But homebrewers who submit beers in competitions want to know how to improve their beers. Yes, they would love to get gold, silver or bronze medals to acknowledge their efforts, but mostly they want to make better and better beer. Meanwhile here am I, having brewed precisely four batches of beer. Yes, I can read remedies for specific flaws, and I can give suggestions for things like improving head retention or clarity, but it’s hard for me to give recipe suggestions like increasing character malts that influence color and sweetness, or altering the hop profile. It’s a learning process.

So here’s one more “scoresheet,” this time for a flagship beer of a fine brewery. It’s important to note that a pro brewer is not obliged to brew to *any* specific style guideline. Their concern is to brew a good beer, NOT a good “American Porter.” The same could be said for home brewers, but if they are to compete on a fairly level playing field, they have to be judged against *something* and hence the style guidelines.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Aroma: Medium high malt showing chocolate and caramel, lightly burnt caramel with roasty notes. Medium low earthy hops are a nice accent. Faint red berry esters. (10/12)

Appearance: Clear dark brown, with ruby highlights when held up to the light. Medium bubbly yellowish-tan head. Medium retention. (3/3)

Flavor: Medium high dark malt, lightly sweet, then cocoa and a hint of coffee. Low earthy hop flavors. Medium bitterness. Faint red berry fruit persists. Finish is dry, almost dusty, then some sweetness comes back in for a balanced aftertaste, firmly malty. (18/20)

Mouthfeel: Medium full body, moderately high carbonation, quite creamy, a little astringency from the roastiness, appropriate to style and quite nice. Faint alcohol warmth. (5/5)

Overall Impression: Outstanding porter, rich and complex with layers of flavor that unfold on the palate. If I were to change anything, I might suggest a tiny addition of caramel malt to accent the flavor. (9/10)

Total: 45/50 [which places this in the Outstanding range, defined as a “world-class example of the style.”]

I will NOT be giving such gruesome detail going forward, and I don’t plan to be giving numeric scores, partly because I don’t want to work that hard when mostly I want to enjoy beer! Speaking of which, cheers!

In case you’re curious (or a glutton for punishment, or at least for eyestrain) here is the scoresheet for the Black Butte Porter:

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