Beauty is in the Eye of the Beerholder

My adventures in brewing and beer began in the mid 90s.  At the time I worked for a small company in Solana Beach, California.  A couple guys at work started home brewing, and would bring their beer in to sample on Friday afternoons.  I was given a basic home brew kit as a gift, and soon my version of Dr. Frankenstein was set loose.

After many years of using basic malt extract recipes, I finally decided to take the plunge into the mythical all-grain brewing. This resulted in a lot of research on brewing techniques, some not-so-great beers, much cursing, and some bad batches sent down the drain to an early grave. Eventually the beers started to taste better as I refined my brewing process. There was much rejoicing! Friends and family really liked my beer. They would always say it tasted good, but when questioned about why it was good the answer would be, “I don’t know, it just is.” This lead to a startling revelation that the only reason people thought my beer tasted good was because it was free.

I decided to begin to a three-step process to figure out what made a good beer. The first step was to join a home brew club. This was a great step forward, since the club was comprised of like-minded individuals who also wanted to delve into the secrets of beer. There was a lot of shared information, comradery and good feedback.

Next I started entering my beer into competitions. That was another great step. I was finally getting feedback from actual non-partial judges! The overall opinion seemed good, but as I entered into more competitions there were issues. Sometimes I would enter the same beer at two different competitions and one was judged well, and one poorly. What was up with these judges? Sometime they had opposite opinions on the very same beer. This led to my next step.

That’s right, I became a beer judge. All you have to do is sign up for a test with the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) and take a test. Little did I know that a three-hour long written essay test also involved judging four beers and seeing how you scored them against the proctors. Grueling hours were spent studying for the written part, and even more grueling hours were spent tasting beer. After months of hard work, and a sore writing arm, I had my official BJCP ID.

After all this immersion into the study of beer, people often ask, “What is your favorite beer?” Their surprise is evident at my reply of “Rainier.” My love of Rainier beer was solidly forged one summer on a four-day float trip on a stretch of the Missouri River. Needless to say, that section of the river is beautiful and tranquil, but very desolate. We took advice from some of our friends to take as little with us as possible. We were advised that all we needed was a filter for water, as we could put any other drinks in the river to keep cool. So we mistakenly decided that one 24 oz. beer apiece per night would be enough. As you might guess, the beer ran out on the second day and didn’t really taste that great at 70 degrees. The next day was scorching hot and dry as a bone. We landed on an island and as we started preparing our campsite, a group with a tour guide showed up and started making camp on the other side. As I finished putting up the tent, with the sun beating down relentlessly, the dog decided it was a good time to escape. He, of course, headed right over to the other camp. After rounding the dog up and apologizing profusely, the guide noticed me eyeing his ice chest.

“Would you like a beer?” were some of the most heavenly words I’ve ever heard. “Sure, whatcha got?” Ice. Cold. Rainier. Never before or since has a beer tasted so great!

There is no doubt that I enjoy a well-crafted beer, but beer tastes better in social settings. So get together with a few friends and enjoy whatever it is that you’re drinking.