Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Hardest Liver To Liver

3/21: Hard Liver Barley Wine Festival at Brouwer's Cafe. Got to sit at the Best of Show table this year. Great time! Finally got to sit at the table with the adults; a couple of high profile beer writers, the owner of a well known Philadelphia Belgian-style cafe, a couple of the organizer's cronies, a BJCP Master Judge, and me. A couple of photos here, scroll down a bit for the group shot. I'm in the upper left looking red faced and sassy under the flat cap. Interesting process; the wood aged beers were dismissed out of hand, the good hop forward beer didn't seem to get much respect, and I wasn't finding much depth of complexity in many of the beers where some other judges were. Did the usual "Brouwer's Cafe/Hard Liver Find a Place to Sit Boogaloo" afterwards. My sweetie showed up and I pulled some strings to get her in ahead of a bunch of people who had been waiting in line awhile. Very Rock Star, ha, HA! We went through a good 18 or so. Overall quality this year was really good (even the Redhook BW was impressive). Standouts were the '07 Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws and the '06/'08 Lagunitas Gnarleywine. Doggie Claws; real firm sweetroll malt flavors with moderate bitterness and big resinous hop flavors (still!). Really good stuff. 'Claws always makes me think of shopping for Christmas trees with it's piney/minty resin-like qualities. Gnarleywines were both big and alcoholic; all the best qualities of Barley Wine right up front. The '06 seemed just a bit more refined. These things age really well. Comparing the beers on the Best of Show panel against what we were having at table was a bit of a head scratcher. I liked some of the beers we had better than what we had to judge. Even on strict style considerations. Oh well.


ibrew2 said...

Cool stuff. I wish I could have made it this year but life prevailed and I wasn't able to make any of the BW festivities. I recognized Phil Farrell and the chicken and the dashing chap in the cap.

What did they call a home run if all the wood aged and hop forward BW's didn't measure up for the group? What do you think the major differences are between the judge judges and the non-judge judges?

Jerome said...

In a way the considerations were very strict. The consensus seemed to be that Barley Wine is malt forward, with hop character just apparent enough to balance, and lots of sweet ethanol. And pretty much just that. Clean flavor, depth of flavor, conditioning, and apparent off-flavors/aromas = not so much. The '07 North Coast Old Stock Ale made it all the way into the top four and was being argued for a top three placement when my comments about it tasting like shit finally caught on. "Oh yeah, it is tasting musty and vegetal, wow, how about that." Wood aged selections were dismissed as being too strongly wooded. Wood flavors varied but as a whole were pretty intense with the result being a lack of complexity and balance. (Though I'm a big fan of those huge woody maple/caramel flavors). The hop forward selections were dismissed as simply not to style, perhaps better considered as Imperial IPA. Almost like if we had been using the BJCP guidelines anything outside English Barley Wine was taken off the table.

One of the differences between "types" of judges may have been just a better understanding of where beer flavor comes from. The Old Stock is a good example. There were some positive qualities to that beer; complex toasty light caramel malt, very lightly warming clean alcohol, and a nice chewy body. But also some serious defect; bad bad bad musty/mushroom oxidation. Not a refined nutty Sherry-like quality that cellared beer can acquire (which you hope for) but just a little bit like throwing up in your mouth. The "non-judges" liked the beer for it's good points maybe overlooking the bad points perhaps writing them off to aging and the "judge-judge" struck the beer for just being spoiled.

ibrew2 said...

Hmmm...Interesting the variety of palates out there. Not everyone holds a lot of stock in the BJCP I suppose, but I do think it is a pretty good guideline. (Wow, and they even call them guidelines. Jinkies, who'da thunk it) Nevertheless, supposed experts do apparetly miss the 400 lb gorilla in the room, in this case, pediococcus or some of it's ugly redheadedstepchild cousins. Good on you for stepping up and proclaiming it to be scheidt. Or scheit, I guess. I personnaly like english BW better than Am, simply because I enjoy the malt complexity. God damn them all to hell for dismissing the wood aged BWs. Well done, that is a really fabulous style.

I have had intensions of making some BW again, but alas, just haven't gotten around to it. I haven't brewed since the doppelbock. Next time I know I'll be down to BAB, I'll try to remember to bring some QV samples.


Dr D.