by Jay Eichberger

the ancient
practice focused
on changing base
ingridents into
liquid  gold also
know as
                       TAP New York - 2011

A mass of craft brew enthusiasts, home-brewers and several of my friends assembled outside the
doors of the Hunter Mountain ski lodge just before noon on Sunday, May 1st. There the crowd
anxiously awaited the beginning of the TAP New York Beer Festival. This particular festival
features beer brewed exclusively by New York microbreweries and brewpubs. As the Hunter
Mountain staff began to open their doors, the crowd’s sense of anticipation and excitement was
palpable and festival goers began to cheer! There was only one thing on the collective mind of the
crowd that day…. experiencing the great craft beer this festival was known for.

Upon entering the lodge and surrounding grounds you begin to realize just how much this festival
has to offer. This year 41 breweries were in attendance, each of them offering three or more brews.
TAP New York Beer Festival boasts an abundance of beer styles from abbeys to ambers, saisons
to sours and wittes to wee heavyies.

Roughly halfway though the festival I was told by a wide-eyed beer lover, “You’ve got to go to
Cave Mountain and try their IPA”. Not wasting any time I found myself in front of their table. While
happily sampling the “Strokeface 400 IBU” IPA I was approached by one of the event organizers.
“Would you like to help judge today’s beers?”, he asked. “Sure”, I replied. What an honor.
Apparently I looked like a serious beer drinker. The Beer Nexus shirt and the Dog Fish Head
Brewery hat may have helped. At three o’clock I was instructed to meet the other judges in the
main hall of the ski lodge. After some palate cleansing I was ready for action.

Eight judges, including myself, were chosen that day. Four judges sampled beers classified as the
“Best of the Hudson Valley” category and the other four judges sampled beers classified as the
“Best of New York State” category. The votes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place had to be a unanimous
decision among the four judges at each table. Nine beer styles including Pilsner, Amber Lager, Red
Ale, Hefeweisen, India Pale Ale, Oatmeal Stout, Old Ale, A Belgian Style Ale, which I felt was a
little vague, and a Porter were presented to each judge.

Each of the judges seated at my table introduced themselves. The first question I posed to the
group was, “What styles of beer do you like to drink?”. The answers varied: hefeweisens, porters
and IPAs were among the most popular answers. Each of us quickly realized that our pallets varied
greatly between judges. A diplomatic rule was quickly decided amongst us: If three of the judges
appreciate style of beer that the other judge doesn’t particularly care for then that beer should be
considered as a finalist without the input of the fourth judge. Great, I though, we’re off to a good
start. Thinking this would be a rather easy process I began the careful analysis of each of the nine
beautiful beers presented to me.

Of the nine beers ONE stood out from the rest. This beer was an old ale aged in oak bourbon
barrels. The taste profile of this beer began with a beautiful vanilla oak flavor, transitioned to a solid
clean body and ended with a beautifully clean finish. This beer quickly earned my vote for 1st place.
Among the notable beers provided to the judges was a vanilla porter. Ahh yes, I remembered this
beer from last year. The only problem with this beer is that it had a slightly watery body, not the
kind of quality you look for in a porter. Having attended this event the year before I was able to
identify the brewery that brewed this beer. How could I forget? They won the 1st place prize last
year. There was only one problem… This year their porter had a watery body which is NOT one
of the qualities you look for in this style of beer. Overall the flavor was fantastic, but the execution
was, well… lacking something.

I chose this beer as the 2nd place winner. Still analyzing the beer presented to me I picked a sour
ale. 1. This style was distinct and rare in the US 2. I felt that this beer was brewed well and the
degree of difficulty in brewing should be rewarded. So all is good in beerland…until the deliberation

One of my fellow judges an older man suggested that the porter deserved 1st place and that no
other beers came close the quality of this beer. While this gentleman was tasting his beer, he took
one sip of the sour ale, made the classic bitter beer face and quickly placed the sour ale out of his
reach, effectively ending consideration of this style. This would have been fine if he hadn’t tried to
influence the other judges by saying, “This beer is awful!”. As an avid beer drinker I believe the
power of suggestion plays a big role in a person’s perception of flavor. This was verboten in my
book. One should never try to influence the taste buds of another individual before they taste the
beer for themselves and form their own opinion, ESPECIALLY WHEN JUDGING!!!!!

The other two young judges quickly mimicked his opinion of the beer without thoroughly analyzing
the beer for themselves. Frustration began to set in. I began to express my opinion of each of the
styles presented to us and was met with swift opposition from the older “gentleman” at the table. I
had made my case that the old ale with its beautiful and subtle flavors was a clear winner, however
the older “gentleman” suggested that the watered down porter was “a beer he could drink all day
long”. Ok, there is some merit to a session beer, but we are here to judge the overall execution of
each beer as it was presented to us in a 4 oz sample. I replied to his judgment stating that the
brewer of the old ale had struck gold with a balance of delicate flavors, smooth transitions and a
clean finish. This beer was masterful!

All three of the judges quickly opposed my opinion due to the fact that they had been influenced by
the elder “gentleman” sitting next to me. At this point I knew I needed to pull it all out in order to
reward the most deserving brewer. I asked the following question, “How many of you have ever
brewed a beer before?”. Their answer was that none of them had any experience brewing. Then I
asked, “Do you have any idea how hard it is to brew a beer like this [the artfully crafted old ale]?”.
Each judge responded with a blank stare. As my frustration increased I decided to ask some basic
questions. “Tell me what qualities you like about the beers that each of you selected as winners”. As
each of the judges struggled to respond in a intellectual manor my head began to sink into my
hands. This was a nightmare! But my nightmare didn’t end here, it was only beginning.

The older JACKASS sitting next to me then said the most inappropriate statement imaginable, “Jay,
I’ve judged a few of these type of events and it really doesn’t matter”. Could this senile, thick-
headed, ass-clown have made a more inappropriate comment. After long contemplation on this
matter I have come to the conclusion that he could not. At this point I became truly offended. As a
beer judge of an event you are entrusted with a great responsibility, not only to the people in
attendance but also to the brewers who invest so much of their time, money, mental facilities and
soul into their beer. Essentially he had just slapped each of the brewers who had worked so hard to
achieve this level of excellence right in the face.

As we received a cue from one of the event organizers to speed things up in the judging process, I
knew that time was of the essence. I made my case for the beers, which were obviously superior.
The other three judges didn’t agree with me; however, the beer that I felt deserved 1st place
unanimously won 2nd place. Thank God! The porter won 1st place and a hefeweizen brewed with
chamomile won 3rd place. While I did not completely agree with their decisions the vote had to be
unanimous. As the event organizer announced the prizes he mentioned that this year had been the
longest deliberation of any year since the beginning of the festival. I consider this a badge of pride
knowing that I introduced critical thinking into the beer judging process of such a prestigious beer

I will leave you with two thoughts that have stemmed from my experience at this beer festival:

1)        The perception of flavor can be easily influence by the opinions of others. Therefore, never
share your opinion until the person seeking your opinion has tasted the beer for them self.

2)        If your ever have the opportunity to judge beers at a beer festival, consider the though, hard
work, technique and heart that goes into each drop of the elixir of life we call beer. You may just
find a newfound appreciation in what many people take for granted.

          Stay tuned for a new Ale-chemy by Jay Eichberger next month!
More from Jay

Captain's Log
Drink with style...
The Six Kegerator Commandments
Seriously Sessionable Beers
What Got Into Me?
To contact Jay click HERE
Congratulations to Jay
and Kathy on their
"Ale-Chemy" will return in
our September edition.