Eric Asimov has a good article in today’s New York Times about wheat beers, well-research with lots of history. The Times also did a tasting of wheat beers, and here I think they made a few key gaffes. They stated from the outset that they were “looking for American versions of Bavarian-style brews” but tasting director Bernard Kirsch added “a few German sleepers.” That Bernie, what a cut-up. And they found that “as expected, the American wheat beers were all over the map, with brewers taking great liberties with the style.”
But here’s the thing. Not all of the beers they tasted were in fact Bavarian-style hefeweizens. Now is that the brewer’s fault or Bernie’s fault for the beers he chose? Either on purpose to confuse the panel or through ignorance of the style, he picked several non-German-style hefeweizens, inlcuding Widmer Hefeweizen. Widmer is in fact an American-style hefeweizen that is a completely separate style for GABF judging. Widmer defined that style, a fact panelist Garrett Oliver was well aware of. But when the panel dismissed Widmer, they said it “bore little relation to the style.” Of course it did, it was a different style.
So when Garrett’s own Brooklyner Weisse was chosen as the winner of their tasting, he “was unembarrassed by the panel’s unanimous approval.” Frankly, I think he should have been, at least a little bit. Generally speaking I think it’s a bad idea to sit in judgment on a panel in which one of your own beers is present. If you’re judging at the Great American Beer Festival you can’t even judge a category in which you’ve entered a beer, even if the flight you’d be judging doesn’t include your own beer. I’m sure he can be objective and personally I feel quite certain he was. Unfortunately, it’s all about the perception of impropriety. A few years ago, I judged at a beer festival sponsored by a brewery. When one of that brewery’s beers was chosen as the winner of a particular category, they disqualified themselves to remove that very perception.
Now I like Garrett Oliver and think he’s done as much to promote good beer as any living human could, especially in regard to advocating beer and food. In that area he’s been the leading expert. If he’s giving a seminar, talk or dinner I always try to attend. They’re invariably very worthwhile events, with much good beer education to boot. So this seems like a strange faux pas for him. He’s been involved with many of the Times’ tastings in the past and I suspect when they asked him, he felt he couldn’t say no. I honestly felt connflicted about posting anything negative about Garrett, because I do hold him in such high regard. Ultimately, I had to mention it because to not do so would have been to compromise my position on this issue even though I knew that Garrett is one of those rare people who could walk above such controversy and be objective under the circumstances. So I think he either should have removed his own beer from the tasting (which for business reasons I imagine might have been difficult) or excused himself for this tasting, even though very few people, and no one who knows Garrett, would have a problem with it.
Three of the beers they gave poor marks to were, according to the panel, “well past their prime” which I take to mean out of code, past their pull date, in other words no longer in a condition to drink. This is undoubtedly the fault of a distributor or retailer as beer should be pulled from the shelf once it’s past its code date. And Bernie should never have accepted samples of this type. Perhaps they weren’t clearly marked and I don’t know the method Bernie used in collecting his samples. But unless he got them from the brewery itself, in my opinion, the Times should not have penalized the brewers who made these beers with a bad review because they got an old sample.
They did at least like my favorite of the style, Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier. It’s especially good on draft though the bottled beer is excellent, as well.