As a judge in this year's Brew-vitational Awards, I'm a bit more inclined to write about them than I would have been in the past.
See, I'm extremely proud of the outcome, not because the results were nearly in line with my own personal scoresheet, but because of the strong showing of all the breweries and their submissions.
I was most pleased with the Pilsner category. Allow me to explain. (And stick around for the pictures at the end.)
As I mentioned in the judges interview, Pilsners have a special place in my heart dating back to the Pilsners of the early 90s from Dock Street and Stoudt's. I can drink the big over-the-top in every way (hops, alcohol, esters, coffee, fruit, etc., etc.) beers with the best of 'em and enjoy them all day and night long.
But, at the beginning and end of it all, I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the brewers that can nail a Pilsner with the perfect profile and refreshing balance of malts, noble hops, and clean finish. As most brewers will attest, it's not the easiest style to master.
Here in the Philadelphia region, which seems to generously extend from south-central to northeastern Pennsylvania and even over in to south Jersey and maybe even northern Delaware on an occasional day, we have an ever-growing reputation for brewers with an expert knack for consistently cranking out top-notch Pilsners.
Think Dock Street, Lancaster, Sly Fox, Stoudt's, Tröegs, and Victory for starters. These days, you may have heard of some solid Pilsners coming out of the newer Neshaminy Creek (I named them one of the most memorable of 2012) and Gunpowder Falls (out in York County I told you about a couple of months ago).
We had a bit of a lively discussion after we submitted our individual judge's scores where I, and a few others, took the position that "imperial" Pilsners had no place in the Pilsner category that we were judging.
(You can see a video of how some of the tasting/judging went down via this link.)
My thoughts and comments went along the lines of the following:
- On the topic of Pilsners, I've continued to think about it and remain steadfast in my belief that while the Imperials entered were above average beers, in a region where we have such high quality Pilsners being turned out, there's little reason in my mind not to exclude nontraditional versions. Just as there are Double IPA fests and competitions (with so many in the style crowding the market more than ever) to distinguish them uniquely from "regular" IPAs, I think we can look at judging Pilsners separately from Imperial Pilsners.
- After conversations I've had in different parts of the country in the days just since the competition tasting, I'm more convinced than ever of the pride we should have in our German/Czech/Bohemia brewing roots and the quality that current brewers have carried on. Folks in other parts of the country, both hardcore and average beer geeks, don't seem to be experiencing the same level of quality and appreciation in Pilsners as are we.
Well, I think I've put more than my two cents out there on the topic of Pilsners. It was a true treat and a monumental challenge, to say the least. My approach was to quickly sniff and then sample a small taste to see if I could discard any immediately strictly based on any obvious aroma or flavor flaws. There were none. Well done, my local brewers. Well done, indeed.
Lest you think I've gone off the rails from my earlier comment, I likewise could not have been more pleased with the New Beer category. Did I name a 10% beer a best-of? I sure did. It was bursting with all the wonderful flavors that I mentioned in the video. My praise, while a bit effusive, was genuine nonetheless. There were some wild sensory rides from some of the beers in the various categories and the top three were well-deserved of their finish place.
By the way, did I mention the results? You may have already read up on the final results. Here they are below, with my judged ranking in parentheses.
Tröegs Sunshine Pils (1st in my finals round and 1st in my preliminary round of Pilsners)
Victory CBC Tettnang Pils (3)
Dogfish Head My Antonia (4)
Weyerbacher Riserva (1st in both my preliminary judging of "special/barrel-aged" and in the final round of New Beers)
Tired Hands HandFarm (3)
Free Will Rapunzel (4)
Now, for the visual evidence. Don't waste time, though, looking for photographic evidence of the elusive ringleader of this competition, Craig LaBan. He played the role well in guiding us through the competition and the approach. But, publishing photos of the longtime (hard to believe, fifteen years now) food journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer would not have been the prudent thing to do if I wish to be considered for future similar gigs, now would it?
Big cheers to all of the winners and bring on Philly Beer Week 2013.