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National Homebrew Competition 2019

2014 - Judging Day

Posted on October 18, 2014 by Greig McGill

I’ve told you what it looks like to get the competition up and running each year. Here’s a glimpse into what it’s like on judging day.

By the way, judging is open to the public, so if you happen to be in the as-yet-unwalled-off city of Hamilton, you’re most welcome to stop by the Ruakura Club on Saturday, November the first to see how it all goes down. Just be aware that the judges must not be disturbed, and that the stewards will be extremely busy. They will be happy to answer questions as time allows them though.

The stewards arrive around 8am, and it doesn’t take them long to set up the judging tables, prepare the stewarding area, and ferry the first beers to be judged from the large onsite coolstore to the smaller in-venue chiller. Cycling beers out of the chiller at exactly the right time to ensure correct serving temperature is probably their biggest challenge all day, and one they tackle with a watchmaker’s precision.

The judges begin to arrive from about 8:30, and the stewards are careful to keep them away from the stewarding area so that they don’t see or smell anything which might compromise their integrity (“oh, my mate John uses those bottles…”).

By 8:50am, all the judges are seated at their judging tables. Each table consists of two experienced judges, a trainee, and a table steward. The table steward fetches the beers for the table, and also acts as a scribe, recording the comments and scores for the judges so that they are free to focus solely on their sensory evaluations. Head judge Graeme Mahy then welcomes everyone, and lays out the house rules for the session. These include procedures for dispute resolution should there be major disagreement on scoring an entry, down to where the facilities are – always important when drinking 60 small samples of beer along with a lot of water!

A calibration round is then performed with an anonymous commercial beer. This is simply to ensure all the judges are familiar with the judging process, and to get their palates tuned and hopefully on the same page! Although each judge will sense flavours slightly differently, the goal is to be as cohesive and objective as possible in an inherently subjective area. This is to ensure you, the brewer, get the most consistent and helpful feedback we can possibly give you.

After that, the beers flow! Each table aims to judge around 60 entries over the course of the day. Often beers from newer or inexperienced homebrewers can speed up the table’s pace, as they can be contaminated. In this instance, it’s impossible to score them, and the only advice which can be given is “work on your sanitation”. This always causes sadness around the table, but the beers wait for no man, and the next one may be a stunner of gold medal quality, where judging can take a while due to complexity, or occasionally, simply looking for something to say about a beer which seems almost flawless! These brighten everyone’s day, and often there will be a pause while the sample is praised and the other tables are interrupted to taste the great beer! This sense of fun and collaboration gives the NHC its own character. Medal winning beers are often met with glass-chiming and a cheer around the room!

As each beer is judged, the table steward returns the judging sheet to the admin table, where our administrative steward checks the math on the scores, and scans it into the online website where it is instantly available to the entrant. This also triggers an automatic announcement on twitter (@soba_nhc), if it is a medal winning beer. Our technical assistant and commentator sits at the table also, and adds the human element by providing commentary, jokes, shout-outs to sponsors, and general character to the twitter feed.

And on it goes until the end of the day. At this point, prize winners are figured out, re-judging of any “too close to call” or best in class ties are done, and then we take all the judges and stewards out and buy them some well deserved pints!

That said, after a day judging beers, many stick to Gin and Tonic!

Next up… who are these people?


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