Gluten Free Beer
From A Beer Judge’s Perspective
Ever wonder what it’s like to be in a beer judge’s shoes? Beer judge and enthusiast Randy Scorby provides an inside look at the stigma surrounding gluten free beer in the competition world, and how the lack of training in alternative grain profiles is a major issue when judging gluten free beer categories.
This following guest post was written by Randy Scorby, a passionate beer judge and homebrewer.
I felt compelled to write this after texting with a fellow homebrewer and beer judge recently. He asked me what new styles of beer I was going to brew in 2018.
I told him I was planning to brew a gluten free beer this time, and he responded “I’ll take your man card now. Gluten Free, smh (shaking my head). Just go pee–and boom–gluten free beer!”
(I actually lost my man card years ago for a variety of good reasons, but that’s another story altogether.)
The Stigma of Gluten Free Beer
Sadly enough, there is still a negative stigma attached to gluten free beer for some people, and as beer judges and homebrewers, we tend to get caught up in the traditional aspects of brewing. It was only recently that the beer guidelines of the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) added a specific classification that recognized gluten free beer as a stand alone category, while gluten reduced beers must be entered into their respective style categories. It’s worth noting, The Brewer’s Association has had a gluten free category in their commercial beer competitions for some time now.
Judging Gluten Free Beer
I recently had the pleasure of judging the gluten free beer category at a homebrew competition, as well as a major commercial competition…at least, I thought it would be a pleasure.
The lack of pleasure was my own lack of knowledge about the characteristics of gluten free grains. As beer judges, we are trained in the sensory analysis of what all of the ingredients have to offer, and although I have trained tirelessly on what all of the traditional base grains and specialty grains present, I have never had any training or insight into gluten free grains.
In BJCP competitions the brewer must specify the type of grains used for entry in the gluten free category. As I was reading the list of base and specialty grains, I suddenly felt woefully inadequate to judge this category as I had very little idea of the characteristics these grains would impart.
Suddenly, Google became my best friend as I started doing some research into the aroma and flavor components of these grains. Although I feel that we gave awards to the correct beers I should have been better prepared before starting to judge.
Not too long after, I was assigned to judge the medal round for gluten free beer at a commercial competition and felt much better prepared after my not-so-stellar performance at the homebrew competition. My preparation definitely enhanced the enjoyment factor. The top three beers were extremely well brewed and quite worthy of recognition.
Gluten Free Beer Is For Everybody
As a beer judge (or anyone who is a connoisseur of fine beer), it is important to remember that gluten free beer is not just for those who are gluten free, intolerant or Celiac. We all (especially the beer judges) should to be well versed in every ingredient that is used to brew beer, not just those we traditionally use.
For those homebrewers out there who have made a career out of brewing traditional styles, it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and brew with ingredients you don’t normally use. The next time I teach a beer category focus class, gluten free beer will be at the top of the list.
And yes, I will brew a gluten free beer this year. Even at the apparent risk of my man card…
BJCP Grand Master III Beer & Mead Judge, 2011 National Homebrewer of the Year, and passionate pursuer of all things beer.
Thank you Randy for your contribution to Best Gluten Free Beers!
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- Guest Post: Gluten Free Thoughts From A Beer Judge - April 17, 2018