It’s been a while (yet again) since I last posted. I haven’t stopped brewing beer, but I haven’t been updating. The number of posts here over the last year show that well enough I suppose. Finding the time to brew and then subsequently post about brewing seems to be harder all the time. Without my roomate I am definitely drinking less beer, hence the need to brew as frequently is decreased. I need to keep thinking and writing about it though, hence this post.
To explain the craziness, in the last year I’ve taken on a contracting position, spent five months of chasing chemo for my dog, ended up putting him to sleep as the cancer won, bought a house, bought a new puppy, and started to learn to fly. Some of the craziness is obviously of my own doing, some of it is out of my control. All of it has combined to throw me off some of my brewing goals.
When I first started I had illusions of grandeur. I usually do when I first start something, but then if you don’t aim high why aim at all? In the beginning I looked down the road to fame and fortune as my brewing recipes brought me accolades from all comers and my neck was littered with the gold chains of so many medals. I don’t expect I’ll ever win an AHA medal now though, as I’ve let my membership lapse. While I think the AHA does a lot of really good things for brewers some aspects of it annoyed me to the point that I was forced to quit. The biggest annoyance I had was the daily e-mail. It sounds trivial and I’m sure it makes me come across as elitist, but it just pissed me off to daily receive an e-mail that had the exact same questions day in and day out. Were the AHA to actually setup an actual forum for it’s members with dedicated categories to topics it’d be easy to ignore the silly questions (how much water do I start with to get to five gallons, anyone used cascade hops, I’m thinking of building a kegerator where do I start) and provide a nice repository for intro brewers. As it stood the daily e-mail just continued to make the other things that annoyed me stand out to the point I quit.
My biggest legitimate gripe though is with the BJCP, and by the use of BJCP judges in AHA contests, the AHA itself. I’ve had many discussions with fellow brew geeks about my issues here and some agree with me and some don’t. Aaron has issues with them as well, because while one beer can fit in five different styles (Michelob Marzen), another beer doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. Philisophically it’s hard for me to look at the BJCP score sheets and agree with them. I’m my own best critic, as I never pull punches for anyone let alone myself. I know when something I make is wrong, bad, or otherwise off. I gladly ask my friends and fellow brewers to try my beers and give me the straight dope. I know when I send something to judging that it’s a damned good beer, and it’s in the right class. BJCP judges tend to disagree with me apparently. For the 2005 Nationals I sent my Imperial IPA I’d been crafting. It was BIG, it was HOPPY, and it had a great malt body and finish to it. Everyone that tried it agreed it was awesome. I was going for something in the same vein as Dogfish 90 Minute. If ever a beer was an Imperial IPA, this should be the benchmark. Hell just look for yourself. They even say that the 90 Minute is a good example of this style! When I got my score sheets back every single one of the judges said this was a beer they could drink all day, but that it was too high in alcohol and hops. Now go back to that link. IBU’s of 60-100+ and ABV of 7-10+. How can I be knocked for that?
I know it comes across as me being bitter. And I don’t like that. I do like to vent, but I don’t want this to come across as the AHA won’t play the game my way so I’m taking my ball and going home. My complaint is that taste is subjective regardless of what the AHA and BJCP want people to believe. I have friends that are certified, I have friends that love to judge beers. Every one of these friends has a favorite style and a favorite beer. It’s simply the way things are, taste is subjective. The problem is that in these contests the judges aren’t selected based on their personal preference of style. Imagine if you will selecting three judges who routinely drink English Brown Ales and European Amber Lagers to judge the IPA categories. While I’m sure they can still tell good from bad, this isn’t a style they are familiar with, and they might not be best suited to judge this category. Their palates are developed for the subtle flabor differences in a thinner style of beer, and they’re being asked to judge the XB0X XTREME category. You tell me what you think will be the highest scoring beers when they are done. The BJCP can throw their certification requirements around all day, in the end your personal preferences will color the way you judge beers (go look at the ratings on Rate Beer or Beer Advocate sometime for an awesome example of this). In the end this is what really pushed me out. I don’t mind being judged, I don’t mind being told I made something bad. What I really mind is being told I didn’t follow the style guidelines when I know you don’t even understand the style (and it’s example beers) properly.
But it’s not all bad. My dissatisfaction with style guidelines, BJCP, and the AHA pushed me into different directions. It’s opened some creative outlets for me that I’m not sure I’d have turned to otherwise. My continued experimentations with the Wheat IPA are the best example of it. Rather than playing in the archane style guidelines and attempting to duplicate already exceptional beers I’m forging my own path. And in the end I think that’s for the best. Styles exist because people challenged the prevailing wisdom. If we continue to try and make the perfect IPA we’ll only end up in a rut and eventually end up burned out on brewing. Why should I go to so much effort to create an Imperial IPA when I can go buy a six pack of Stone Ruination?
So I guess to wrap this up, I’m still brewing and I’m still enjoying it. My sixth version (we’re in the tweaking stages now) of the Wheat IPA is ready to be transferred to secondary fermentation. The previous two versions were incredibly well received, and I’ve been sharing my recipes with friends. While I may not write here often enough, the drive and desire to brew are still there and that’s the most important thing. Medals and memberships be damned.