One of the more fun things to do if you love good beer like I do is attend a homebrew competition. Actually, this is even a better idea if you think you don't like beer.
Whether you live in beercentric cities such as Portland and San Francisco or far-off places such as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a homebrewing club and competition is not hard to find.
Granted you're not an already an experienced beer judge, sign up as a steward once you find a competition. Stewards may take a little abuse, but they are rewarded for their efforts with all kinds of (usually) great tasting, alcoholic beverages from a slew of different styles: from experimental ales and lagers to traditional meads and ciders.
The Maltose Falcons Mayfaire competition is where I first whet my steward’s whistle years ago. And if you’re like me and are easily impressed, you may decide being a lowly steward sucks and want to become a beer judge. I was hooked once I heard an experienced homebrewer start spewing knowledge about all kinds of styles of beer.
Sadly, I would score fairly low and earn the rank of apprentice when I took the Beer Judge Certification Program exam in 2007. However, the experience has made me a more thoughtful beer drinker, less prone to doing keg stands. “Drink less, taste more” has become my new mantra, to use a quote often attributed to the late Michael Jackson.
So I registered for the 2010 Mayfaire competition as a steward hoping to improve my ability to pick out acetaldehyde (green apple-like aroma) or dimethyl sulfide (sweet canned corn-like aroma) in beer – only to be kindly asked to judge a category instead.
Thankfully I was paired with an experienced homebrewer and certified judge whose scoring was just as helpful to me as I'm sure it was to the contestants whose beers we judged. But a really good steward would also have taken note and let all that beer knowledge seep in -- and in time made the jump to bona fide beer judge. Good beer does that to you.
The Maltose Falcons, based in Woodland Hills, is considered America’s oldest homebrewing society. (Full disclosure: I am something of an absentee member who keeps forgetting to pay his membership dues and whose homebrews suffer all the more for it.)