As a brewer it is very important to be able to properly assess and understand the aromas and flavors behind your beers. When creating new recipes you need to be able to know what each of the ingredients is going to bring to the final beer and how to balance from adding too little or too much. One way to develop these skills is to take part in the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). This program is a series of classes that teaches you about what goes into different styles, what you should be looking for, and common off flavors you may encounter in the process.
The judging is based on a number of categories, each one assigned a numeric score, with a high score of 50. The categories include aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall, with flavor having the highest possible score out of all the categories.
It was a great two days, I was in the groups judging English Brown Ales, Belgian and French Ales and I even got to judge Meads. I tasted some amazing beers and meads and learned a lot. It was an amazing first experience and I look forward to judging future competitions to hone my skills and be part of this great homebrewing scene here in NYC.
With so many breweries starting to cross boundaries and step out of the style guidelines, I believe it is still important to have a base knowledge of what constitutes classic styles as it lays the foundations for being able to properly apply that knowledge and experiment effectively.
As a brewer myself, I of course entered a handful of beers into the competition (in categories I wasn't judging). While some did very poorly (damn those infections) I also had three beers take home ribbons. Young Lion of the West Cream Ale and Storyteller Imperial Stout, aged with sour cherries and cacao nibs in a Kings County Distillery whiskey barrel, both took 1st place in their respective categories, while Trip to Burlington Oatmeal Stout took second. While it was great to take home the ribbons (who doesn't like to win and be acknowledged for your beers) it was also equally important to get the feedback from the judges on my beers. It is helpful to see how other people are tasting your beers blindly to get honest feedback. You have to remember that everyone has different palates and different circumstances as they taste your beers, so take your scores for what they are, two peoples opinions at a certain time and place. Don't get to high on the highs or too low on the lows. Take their comments and keep brewing.