Photo by Shane Wynn
If you want a professional opinion on your home-brewed beer, just ask Mike Slawienski.
Several years ago, Slawienski received a home-brewing beer kit as a gift from his brother-in-law. It didn’t take long for him to become hooked on the art and science of beer-making.
After winning brewing competitions and gaining the respect of internationally known beer experts and judges, Slawienski decided to become a judge himself. It took several years of tests, training and apprenticing, but he finally received his certification through the Beer Judge Certification Program.
Although he doesn’t compete anymore, Slawienski continues to hone his home-brewing skills by creating a beer for his family using heirloom hops. The hops are grown from cuttings of the same plant used by his wife’s great-great-grandfather as a brewer and agricultural expert in Germany. This unique beer is only served at special family events.
Today, Slawienski’s one tough critic when it comes to crafting the perfect draft. Known for his educated taste buds and extensive knowledge of barley and hops, his expertise is often sought to help judge the best brews in the world, and he’s got the passport to prove it.
What do beer judges do? What do you look for when judging beer?
MS: We’re able to use our knowledge and give these people feedback on what they can do to make their beer better. ... There are people who pour samples ahead of time and present it to us. We’ll look at the beer bottle itself and see if there are any sediments. Is the beer cloudy? Then, we’ll open it up and pour it. We want to look at the quality of the head and how long it lingers there. We’ll judge colors; there are scales from light yellow to black, reds and in-betweens.
Which competitions have you judged?
MS: I’ve judged the Helsinki Beer Festival a couple of times and the Ohio State Fair. I’ve judged competitions for the Winking Lizard locally, and I’ve judged a lot of homebrew competitions in different states, from Buffalo to St. Louis.
Do beer judges get any special perks?
MS: Sometimes we’ll get housing. People feed us very well when we judge beer. Sometimes we get to try beers that are absolutely awesome that the general public cannot get. Sometimes there are beers made at home that are better than the commercial beers.
What’s your favorite style of beer?
MS: My favorite commercial beer is Duchesse de Bourgogne. It’s a Flanders Red beer, and It’s complex with sweet and sour notes.
For home-brewing beer or beers I’d want to drink in mass quantities, it would be a Dunkel or a German Black Lager. They’re more common in Bavaria. They’re malty and sweet and have notes of chocolate in them.
You home-brew draft beer. How long did it take you to find a recipe?
MS: Sometimes you get better as time goes on. The thing about home-brewing beer, as opposed to commercial beer, is it’s hard to reproduce the same beer over and over again. Beer is a lot like cooking as far as consistency. There’s certainly a science.
Are you as tough on your own brews as you are on others during competitions?
MS: I’m very critical of my own beer at home. When my friends drink it, they say, ‘This is really good,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s drinkable but I didn’t get the alcohol content that I wanted’ or ‘There’s a certain flavor that is missing.’
Can you tell me about your day job?
MS: I’m the owner of Cleveland Associated Veterinary Specialists, and I am a board certified veterinary surgeon. I’m a surgical specialist and diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
Right now, I have a mobile business that goes into a vet’s office to do more difficult surgeries, like orthopedic and soft tissue surgery.
How does your family feel about your role as a beer judge?
MS: If it wasn’t for the support of my wife, Liesl Bigge, and my kids: Corinne, Adam and August, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Not everyone would be allowed to go to Europe with their buddies to judge beer in a foreign country. I usually tell people I’m a father first, then a husband, a veterinarian and a beer judge.
/ Writer Hannah Yang is a senior at Ohio University working on her bachelor’s in journalism.
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