You’d think the bartender was kidding. He wasn’t.
The home-brew judging for the North Idaho Fair, he said, was on the roof of T.W. Fisher’s brew pub. Up the ladder on the water tower, one leap backward, and you’re there.
And sure enough, sitting at a plastic picnic table on the glaring, sun-cracked roof, were two of the Your Honors - more than 25 beers into sentencing. Their speech was remarkably clear, and only about five beers to go.
“If we had 50 entries, we’d make it a two-day thing,” T.W. Fisher’s head brewer Mikoli Weaver said, bottles and glasses at his feet like notches in a six-shooter. “Otherwise, we’d get to 50 and wouldn’t know what was going on.”
Weaver and his pal - assistant brewer Alex Martinson - spent Sunday up there, surrounded by satellite dishes, giving the beers the technical treatment.
“We’re following the GABF guidelines,” Weaver said.
“Great American Beer Festival.”
He’s been through a beer judging certification program, where he was put in a white booth and force-fed darks and pales and ambers. He had to properly match beer type with color, flavor, carbonation, head retention, clarity and taste.
And both guys recently became members of the American Society of Brewing Chemists.
“I don’t know where that’s based,” Weaver said. “I sent the check off to Wisconsin.”
But it takes more than money in the mail to make a good beer judge. Weaver, 28, studied food science and biochemistry at the University of Washington. Martinson, 25, went to the University of Kansas, studying biology.
“All that education finally paid off,” said Martinson.
“Exactly,” said Weaver.
Only, they’re not kidding. “There’s tons of chemistry and microbiology in brewing,” Martinson said. “It really helps you to understand what’s going on.”
The judges had to have Best of Show, Grand Champion, and First- and Second-place winners chosen before the fair begins Wednesday. They had to swill down 30 of them (always followed by a cracker for palate purity) to complete the task. They started at 11 a.m.
“It’s about 3 now,” Weaver said. “We’re properly juiced.”
They agreed on most everything. Except the India pale ale.
“Excellent floral finish,” Weaver decided. “Excellent clarity.”
“Clarity sucks,” came the Martinson critique.
“Are you kidding me?”
They swap beers, holding the glasses high against the sky.
“Yours is clearer,” Martinson shrugged.
Finally, comes an ice bock. Both liked it, but said it didn’t taste like a real ice bock. More of just a plain bock.
And now it came time to lean off the roof, grasp that ladder, and climb down the water tower.
“I’m drunk,” Weaver confessed, leaning back.
“And that,” his friend said, “would be about it.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo