The Best Beers? Ask the Judges

thumb_IMG_6506_1024Tables for two filled the spacious room typically filled with wine tasters during the annual Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona. With the Fair still months away, the space leading from the Fairplex Flower and Garden building usually sits quiet during this time of year.

But for two days in early April, the room was bustling with activity. Servers attentively cleared empty glasses and pitchers at each of the tables, diligently replacing them with fresh beverages and ensuring that each of the nearly 100 guests would not go thirsty.

The gathering of distinguished craft brewers, home brewers, beer industry professionals, alcoholic beverage writers and Beer Judge Certification Program certified judges from throughout Southern California examined more than 1,000 beers from around the world in 97 different categories to determine the winners of this year’s Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition.

thumb_IMG_6508_1024When the foam settled, an English Old Ale aged for a year in oak barrels with Brettanomyces yeast emerged as the 2016 Best of Show. Gaderian from San Diego’s Council Brewing Co. was declared the top entry by the expert panel, which included the most celebrated beer judge in California, Jim Wilson, from Redondo Beach.

“Usually, higher alcohol beers with more intense flavors fare well in the Best of Show judging,” said Wilson, noting that last year a Chocolate Coffee Imperial Stout from New English Brewing in San Diego won the top prize.

Wilson is the only Grand Master Level III BJCP Certified judge in California and the state’s only Grand Master of any ranking living south of Santa Barbara. To further put his expertise in perspective, there are 9,500 BJCP judges worldwide, and only 14 have earned Wilson’s rank or higher.

This year’s entries included beers from around the globe, including Brazil, Bavaria, Belgium, Canada and all corners of the United States.

“I’ve judged 10 of the last 12 Los Angeles International Beer Competitions. Over that time the contest has become sophisticated, well organized and huge with thousands of entries judged in 97 different categories,” Wilson said.

Another judge, home brewer Stephanie Collins from Claremont, noted that the reviewing panels included “a good mix with a lot of talent and people who love beer.” A fan of sour beers, she was paired with me in evaluating French and Belgian-Style Saisons, Brown Porters and Belgian-Style Fruit Beers.thumb_IMG_6520_1024

The complete list of medal-winning beers is posted at Entries will be available to sample at LA on Tap, a public tasting event on May 7 benefiting The Learning Centers at Fairplex. For more information about the participating breweries and to purchase tickets, visit

Be sure to check out my other stories at IEShineOn and the Foothills Reader Sunday insert in the Los Angeles Times.