These days, when millions of Americans can't get any work at all, it's uplifting to find that some people are being hired to do what they love. Kevin Patterson paid his dues with nine years in the military and in the architecture profession, but it was years of patronizing Pazzo's that helped him land his current gig as The Beer Trappe's resident expert, he says.
Patterson writes reviews for The Beer Advocate, is on a sensory panel for the Beverage Distilling Analysis Service and is a nationally ranked judge. He also is a member of the local homebrew club, BOCK (Brewers Of Central Kentucky). He answered a few questions recently about beers and beer judging:
Question: How did you get into craft beer?
Answer: "My interest in craft beers began during my travels in the Army and architecture school. Visits to Portland, Ore., Denver and Berlin taught me a great deal. Home brewing began as a result of trying to understand beer flavor and has since taken a life of its own."
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Q: Why are craft breweries doing so well?
A: "It's becoming in vogue to be a beer drinker. The connotation of beer as a lower-class beverage compared to wine or spirits has been lifting. More people have traveled abroad and tasted beers in other countries, and returned home craving something similar.
I also see the explosion of Americans' interest in food flavors as a major contributor. With television networks, shows, competitions, and classes dedicated to cooking and food appreciation, the carryover into the craft beer world seems logical."
Q: How do you judge a beer?
A: "They're judged according to five characteristics: aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel (body) and overall impression (drinkability) on a 50-point scale."
Q: What's involved in becoming a beer judge?
A: "It's important to be able to taste an array of beers properly and communicate them well. I'm one of about five or so judges at the national rank in Kentucky.
The Beer Judge Certification Program rankings are novice, recognized, certified, national and master. The exams are 70 percent essay, 30 percent tasting. There are 10 essay questions of a page each. At the beer tasting, proctors will taste the same beer, judge them and gauge our knowledge against theirs.
Q: What makes a good beer judge?
A: "Understanding the flavor profiles of each of the 90-plus styles of beer that are recognized by the BJCP is paramount. Equally as important is to communicate your impressions of a particular beer well.
As appealing as it may seem to drink beer for a hobby or occupation, I could not have gotten to this point without a lot of reading, writing and formal discussions about beer. Beers of any style contain over 700 different compounds that make up the flavor. The intensity of each compound, and whether they are above or below flavor threshold for an individual, ultimately determines our impressions of a beer.
Being neutral, unbiased, and diplomatic with nearly all flavors of food or beverage is a trait that I bring to each judging table. But make no mistake about it, being a good judge involves trying a lot of different beers — ooh, darn."
Q.: Any competitions coming up you'll be judging?
A.: "The annual Beer and Sweat is Aug. 21 outside of Cincinnati. It is the largest keg-only homebrew competition in the world and fun for all craft-beer lovers over the age of 21."