Ian Kingham, beer judge – perhaps the best job in the world!
By ALEC SMART
Ian is Chief Judge for beer and cider at the 2022 Royal Easter Show. Photo: Alec Smart
Ian Kingham, consultant, brewer, writer and reviewer, also does in his spare time what many people consider the best job in the world: international beer judging. We tap him for information.
Ian grew up in St Ives, where he played soccer for 11 years, roamed the bush as a kid, rode his bike, attended St Ives High School (becoming school vice-captain) and even worked at a Caltex servo that used to be beside Sn’Ives Showground (which is now just a patch of weeds).
Ian actually began his sales and marketing career selling T-shirts door-to-door, before working his way up in the brewing industry and publishing a few encyclopedias. So, how did he find himself among globetrotting international experts judging beers?
“My journey has many components,” he revealed. “I grew up as a beer enthusiast collecting cans from my father’s work at the Kent Brewery [Tooths & Co, then Carlton United], later taking an interest in different beers from around the world. I studied food technology and completed subjects in sensory analysis at university.
“Later I worked in sales for Carlton & United Breweries which included exposure to brewers and a range of beer appreciation courses. Finally, I became the head of strategy for Beer & Cider at Woolworths, which included a large amount of commercial sampling and an immersion in brewing and supply. The greatest experience for judging is travelling and visiting breweries with brewers and other judges, a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Ian began collecting beer cans as a lad. He now owns one of Australia's largest collections.
Does it require a heightened palette to taste subtle differences and to distinguish between, say, a pale ale and an India pale ale (IPA), or a wheat beer and a white beer?
“Being a beer judge entails several components,” he explained. “1) You need to have a sound knowledge of the different beer styles to which you are comparing / judging the beers, (there are over 750 globally recognised styles). 2) A discerning palate which can identify a multitude of flavours, faults, aromas and textures. 3) A good vocabulary for articulating / describing what you are tasting / judging. 4) A sound knowledge of science to be able to identify and explain an array of flavour and aroma compounds. 5) A sociable personality and good communication skills.”
Some people declare beer judging must be the best job on the planet, flying around the world and being paid to taste a range of exotic and award-winning brews!
“It sounds romantic,” he considers, “but the role of a beer judge is more as a vocational industry critic than that of a financial beneficiary. The travel, people and experiences are excellent but it is a break-even prospect at best. Needless to say, it supports other things I do in consulting.”
Give us a short summary on the consultancy work and writing.
“I have made contributions to the Supreme Court of NSW as an expert witness,” he replied, “and have been writing articles for numerous publications over fifteen years including Choice, Men’s Health and Liquor Watch.
“More substantive work has come as my role as editorial consultant for Drinks (Australia’s leading industry publication) and Beer and Brewer magazine.
“I established a business “That Beer Bloke” back in 2009 and have been providing services to the industry ever since. I consult in manufacturing, product development, logistics, company structures, pretty much anything to do with setting up, establishing and growing a commercial beverage business.
“Today, I continue to work in this capacity and as a ‘Beach Head’ advisor for the New Zealand Government, supporting businesses exporting to Australia.”
Beyond his advisory role as ‘That Beer Bloke’, what other brewing-related operations has he undertaken?
“I established a company known as Kindred Beverages in 2015, which manufactures Schnapps, Liqueurs and Bitters, and is currently in the process of developing Cocktail Mixers, Gin and Tequila.
“I have just accepted a three year appointment as Chief Judge for the Royal Agricultural Society New South Wales Beer & Cider Show,” he revealed, “which falls under the auspices of the RASNSW Fine Food Show.
“I have also published four books: The Beer Buyer’s Guide To Australia And New Zealand, The Australian Cider Guide, Explore Beer, and Explore Cider.”
Two of Ian Kingham's beer encyclopaedias
“On top of consultancy work I host tasting events. Whether you are putting together a drinks list or seeking more information on the beverage industry, feel free to call.”
Ian Kingham recently accepted a three year tenure as Chief Judge, Beer and Cider, at the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales.
Ian Kingham, aka ‘That Beer Bloke’
How to judge beer
By IAN KINGHAM
Ian also hosts beer tasting events. Photo: Alec Smart
There are several things to take into consideration and these can be replicated at home on your own, or with friends for fun.
It is important to choose a place that has access to natural light and no artificial light, as this will ensure that the visual attributes of the beer are properly evaluated.
An area that is acoustically calm and free of erroneous odours is also important - aftershave, perfume and cigarette smoke are appraisal wreckers.
There are certain aromas that may be present in some styles of beer, so avoiding influences such as apples, cheese, candy, flowers, spices and any other aromatic foods during appraisal is best practice.
A glass vessel is essential, preferably “Beer Clean” (meaning it has only ever been used for drinking beer, as detergents and milk drinks can leave residue on the glass that can impact the head and aroma of the sample).
The preferred glass has a bulbous body, a stem for handling, and some contour to capture aroma. The glass needs to hold 100ml of volume; head on top and room for your nose is ideal. Red wine glasses are excellent.
Samples should be fresh and within date (as marked on the bottle). They should be poured at the correct temperature (which varies by style and can be found in the Beer Judge Certification Program aka BJCP world beer guidelines).
100ml samples will allow enough agitation in the glass to create a head for appraising aroma.
Ideally three fingers width of beer, one finger width of head and three fingers width for putting your nose in the glass.
A good way of judging and appraising beer is by having someone pour samples that are not identifiable by brand when served.
Each beer can be judged several ways, whether on a ranking score, a threshold test, a preferential test or an identification test to name a few.
Appearance - Agitate the beer in the glass to create a robust head, then let stand and review the colour, clarity and carbonation (head retention). A score is given against each of the three criteria noting that different styles have different expectations.
Aroma - Place your nose in the glass and appraise aroma for its hop, malt and yeast character, fermentation characteristics and make deductions for any faults.
Palate - Take a sip of the beer and hold it in your mouth before swallowing. It is important to swallow the sample as beer has finish and an aftertaste that requires appreciation. The palate will be judged on malt, hop, and yeast character. Points will also be awarded for fermentation characteristics and absence of faults.
Finish - The finish of a beer is important in adding to the balance, drinkability and overall impression.
Scoring - Scoring can be done on a 100 point system or a twenty point system
Gold is awarded for beers scored 17 - 20 marks
Silver for 15.5 - 16.99
Bronze for 14 - 15.49.
Any score less than 14/20 will not get a medal.
Identifying 'off' flavours in beer