Beer judge, Mark Bilbrough. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Most Aussie blokes probably think themselves qualified to judge a beer. At the very least, they have some practical experience under their belts.
But to progress beyond an opinionated drinker on a barstool, you need to embrace the world of the craftsman and scientist and have years of apprenticeship, study and tasting experience behind you.
The most skilled beer judges in the nation were heads down assessing almost 300 entries for the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships at the Canberra Club on Friday and Saturday.
Australian Amateur Brewing Championships judging at the Canberra Club. Beer judge, Mort Piripi. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Judges assessed each beer in 18 categories, looking for conformity to style and overall quality in blind tastings.
To qualify for the championships, hosted this year by the Canberra Brewers, the beers needed to finish in the top three of their state competitions.
Charles Newton, a keen home brewer and Canberra Brewers member, is a qualified beer judge.
Steward Steve Hogarth organises entries at the Australian Amateur Brewing Championships in Canberra. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Mr Newton began as a steward, pouring beer at competitions. He learnt to recognise the characteristics of beer by shadowing judges, studying style guides, enrolling in a six-month course and sitting a four-hour exam to complete the internationally recognised Beer Judge Certification Program.
Home brew competitions are serious business, a world away from noisy pubs. The judges sit quietly at white cloth-covered tables, taking notes and scoring each brew. Unlike wine tasting, beer tasters do drink the samples, but they only sip.
Home brewing is a rapidly growing hobby in Australia, with the proliferation of micro-breweries and small bars fuelling interest. Canberra Brewers membership has increased from 30 to 150 in a decade.
What the judges look for
”Brewing beer is artisanal, it is the same as growing vegetables or making own your own bread,” Mr Newton said.
”Home brewing used to be about saving money, but it is now part of the slow food movement. Many brewers do other things like smoke their own sausages.” He admitted that science and equipment are big parts of being a home brewer.
Beers brewed at competition level are generally made using grains, not extracts. This requires the brewer to have an understanding of the science, the process and the art required in designing a beer recipe.
Home brewing equipment is now often an expensive small-scale version of that used in commercial breweries. ”It tends to turn into an obsession, you can get as geeked up as you like,” Mr Newton said.
Winners will be announced at the Canberra Brewers dinner at the Canberra Club on Saturday night.