Perhaps it’s because I live in a state where Area 51 is famous, but Category 23 has an ominous ring to it. Particularly when you are asked to judge the category in a homebrew competition. Strange beers, experiments, successful and otherwise.
This year the Samuel Adams LongShot American Homebrew Contest is all about Category 23. There will be no judging of pilsners, pale ales or stouts. Just beers that fit in Category 23 as defined by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP): “This is explicitly a catch-all category for any beer that does not fit into an existing style category. No beer is ever ‘out of style’ in this category, unless it fits elsewhere.”
Not every beer entered need be crazy. This is the category where you’d enter a honey ale, for instance. But it is one where wild and inventive beers are welcome (a honey ale aged with wild yeast and wood chips). A bottle of Chocolate Chili Bock — released only to make a point and not for sale to the public and pictured above — accompanied the press release about the contest.
“. . . as the years go on, the number of entries with unique ingredients that don’t fit into the first 22 traditional categories have multiplied,” Boston Beer founder Jim Koch said for the press release. “So why not channel all the creativity that we know is out there in the homebrewing community and see what they can come up with? My taste-buds are ready!”
Boston Beer celebrates its 25th anniversary this year — today, in fact, because it was on Patriots’ Day 25 years ago that Koch began deliver beer. The Wall Street Journal had a story today, the Boston Globe last week.
Maureen Ogle, author of “Ambitious Brew,” summed it up nicely in the Globe when she said Koch “remains innovative and he’s constantly experimenting. A lot of the other craft brewers lost sight of that when they expanded.”
It seems fair to add the turn the LongShot contest has taken to a list that starts with Triple Bock (1993).
Back to the contest. This isn’t like the knife fight in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” There are rules. You can read them here. What’s noteworthy, given plenty of discussion in the blogosphere about the proliferation of “beer styles” and beer evaluation in general is that a) Category 23 makes room for “beers without homes” (to steal a phrase from Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing) without adding new categories and b) because of what’s central in judging this category.
In part: “A harmonious marriage of ingredients, processes and beer. . . . The overall rating of the beer depends heavily on the inherently subjective assessment of distinctiveness and drinkability.”
Isn’t that how we should assess all beers? Of course. It’s just more obvious when you aren’t focused on if a beer conforms to style guidelines.
A few details
* As in the past, three regional judging competitions will take place to narrow the entries down. Three finalists from each region (9 finalist total) will move on to a second round of judging.
* The second round of judging will take place in Boston, with four finalists earning a trip to the 2010 Great American Beer Festival, where winners will be announced. The two winning beers will be brewed and distributed nationally.
* Details are at the Samuel Adams website. After signing in, click on No. 4 on the right, then the Longshot logo.