Cider Competition Blues

The path to making great cider has not been one I have travelled long. It’s been just over four years since I started but I won’t feel like I have really ascertained true cider zen until I can convince a few judges to give me a medal in competition.

There, I wrote it.

The achievement of placing in competition has only been a goal of mine for a couple of years. The first few batches of cider I made weren’t good for anyone anywhere.

Now I feel like I have the cider making process down and the ones I make are pretty good. Well, I think they’re good.

But until I get a place to stand on the podium, I won’t know for sure. So I entered the last few bottles of a cider I made last year into the Boston Homebrew Competition. A few days ago I got my score sheets back and I found the ones for the cider out of the ordinary.

Cider Scoresheet Cover Page

The final score was fine enough. I was pushing to get into the 30s but I’ll take what I can get. As I looked through the sheets, I discovered a wide difference in the scores I received.

Scoresheet 1

One judge gave me a fairly high score and had some comments to go along with why he scored it that way.

Scoresheet 2

Another judge gave me a very low score with very little commentary. The 1 out 10 for Overall Impression was the real kicker. I would have liked to know why the summary score was so poor.

Last night, I wrote an email to both of these judges to get some follow up thoughts on their sheets, along with a message to the president of the club that put on the competition to understand the process of how they scored entries.

Both the judges wrote back to me this morning. You can probably guess which one had more to say that the other one. Since they are both owners of a craft cidery in my neck of the woods, I am glad they are taking part in homebrew competitions and replying to emails from idiot bloggers like me who are intent to figure out how to make great cider at home.

Dear readers, I write this post questioning every keystroke. Am I being petty and making excuses for the behavior of a sore loser by presenting this post to you? I ran the idea by Mike and he greenlighted it so he’s partially to blame for this tangent into self-interest.

The overarching thought that I have to this whole situation is the collective palate of cider drinkers in this country. Do we really know what an excellent cider tastes like?

I have had wine like ciders, English ciders out of a tap at a London pub, soda-like ciders made by huge brewing conglomerates, and craft ciders made at small cideries near my home.

One thing is true about all of them, they all taste different. Does more definition need to come to the category?

Maybe I need to enter into cider specific competitions.

It doesn’t matter what the answers to these questions are. I know I am going to keep trying.

Comments

  1. Those score sheets are unacceptable. I get that competition organizers are always looking for judges up until the last minute, and often the requirements go from “well qualified judge” to “someone with a bit of experience” to “someone that likes to drink” as the need to get asses in seats becomes more pressing. Still, you were right to write the organizer because these judges shouldn’t be invited back. Pro-cider-maker or not, they’re not doing anybody a service with these efforts. We’re very short on quality judges in our area and our local comps suffer from their share of shoddy score sheets as well. Luckily the hobby is growing and BJCP exams are booked full years into the future. Hopefully this means there will be more and more good judges joining the ranks. And hopefully they’ll all continue to judge competitions after they’ve studied for and taken the exam.

    As for what good cider tastes like – I don’t know. I’ve only made a couple of batches. One was lousy – full of acetone. The other I thought was mediocre at best, but was told it was quite good by a handful of folks with trained palates. I’ll likely never judge cider, but if I did I would be sure to fill out that score sheet just like I would for any beer. You’d know if I got sulfur, if I got solvent, etc. If there were esters from the yeast. The strength of the apple & other fruit aromas & flavors. The body, the carbonation, the sweetness, any perception of heat, etc.

  2. Thanks Jack. I was close to deleting the post many times so I am glad you feel the same way.

    Cider has been befuddling to me since I started making it at home. I think entering into a cider-only competition will help me out.

  3. I am a BJCP judge and if I were you I would ask for a refund. Those sheets are unacceptable. The point of competition is to learn how to get better and to improve your craft. That’s not possible without feedback. The score may be accurate, but it’s up to the judge to explain/defend the score. The BJCP site has examples of bad score sheets and these are right up there. Plus a 1 out of 10? Without one word? Not cool and simply rude. I just judged a flight of ciders a couple weeks ago and I do think it’s harder than beer to judge for many of the reason that you list. But if these guys are pros they should be able to talk about cider and say what you should do to improve your cider.

  4. Thank Jeremy – I wrote to the organizer of the competition. The proceeds went to charity so I am not going to ask for my entry fee back but I did let them know that this kind of sheet isn’t up to the level I am accustomed to.

  5. Dave Catherman says:

    John, send your cider(s) to GLINTCAP in Michigan next year. I’m assuming you may not know, but if you do I apologize. Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition. Well organized, cider and perry only completion, BJCP judges following 2008 BJCP Guidelines for cider and perry exclusively. Well, they also allow ice ciders and spirits (commercial division only). I won a bronze award this year (2014; thrilled!) as a non-commercial entrant and as you say, I’m still trying to learn and get better. Cheers, Dave, Colorado.

  6. Joe Dauria says:

    I almost wonder if that second judge meant to write 10 and got distracted and left out the zero. Just weird since he was giving you middle of the road scores in the other categories but then the a one out of the blue. Judging is very subjective though, recently sent a California Common that had an under carbonation issue to several comps…got 37.5 and 2nd place in Rhode Island, 34 in Upstate NY without placing in a mixed Cat 6 & 7 group, and then it scores 23 at NYC NHC first round. How does it score fairly well in two but tanks in NHC? Subjectivity. But you would think a judge would take time to tell you why they don’t like the entry. Even my NHC scoresheets were the circle the numbers style, so was very little written feedback .

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