Fortunately I was teamed up with a couple of guys who had judging experience and when we got to meads, we switched out our more experienced judge for one who is certified in mead. We started off with a bourbon barrelled aged ale. Very dark, almost black, but with a good firm, long lasting dark tan head. But the smell of bourbon was very prominent. They didn't tell us what the gravity or ABV of the brews were, but we could tell there was a lot of bourbon in this. The next one was loaded with bakers chocolate and bourbon and had no head at all. Very tasty, but you really couldn't tell that it was ale.
Then we had one that was brewed with Jamesons. I could tell that a mile away. Tasted like Jamesons and Kahlua - lots of coffee and Irish whiskey coming through. We were started to get hammered by now, as much whiskey as these brews seemed to have in them. But still flat with no carbonation. Fortunately nothing yet with odd or off flavors, just overwhelming whiskey. No hops or malt coming through. We couldn't tell what brews they were starting off using as the whiskey just overwhelmed in all the entries we had. There were two more that were on our list, but were never delivered, so if they show up, they will just be entered into the SNAFU raffle at the next meeting.
This coming raffle will be a real crap shoot with all the left over brews being thrown in without labels. The end of one table had all the bottles from the judging that had some left in them. The theory was that if they had more than half left, that the judges didn't like them. I'm not hopeful for my own entries, especially for my porter which had a strong licorice taste. I don't know many people besides myself who like strong licorice. Still looking forward to the criticism to see where I went wrong.
We had to wait awhile for the certified mead judge to be able to join us. The fellow he changed places with doesn't like wine or mead, so it's good that he switched out. The other judge said he had brewed a number of bad meads, so at least he knew what they shouldn't taste like. Turned out that three of the four meads we tried were all from the same brewer and he was just tweaking his recipes to see what was best.
The first one we tried was made from green grapes and was very grapey. Couldn't really sense the honey much, because the grapes were very strong. The next three entries were made with 5 berries and honey. We were guessing at least cranberry, raspberry, and strawberry. As we went through the three entries, the berries got stronger in the second entry, but with the additon of oak chips in the last entry, were well balanced with the honey. There was no question that the addition of the oak chips helped to moderate the other flavors - sweet, dry, grapey, berry, honey. The second entry was a bit thick like a muscatel or sherry. The alcohol was pretty high in these entries too. The stewards and judges at the other end of our table were laughing at the aroma of alchohol in the oak aged brews and meads that we were judging.
We stuck around and sampled some of the leftovers of the brews that had been judged. There was a pretty broad spectrum in the other classifications in terms of blah versus yum. I didn't taste any that were really off with astringent or skunky flavors. I didn't stick around for the second round, as some of the tables/categories had a lot of entries and were still slogging through their initial reviews. We will see how the results come out in a few weeks at the SNAFU meeting.