Homebrewing competitions are a great tool to help brewers get both recognition and feedback on their beer. Judges work hard to give you a fair appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of your flavor, and those who earn top placements and win often gain a larger audience and recognition for their efforts.
Entering brewery competitions might seem intimidating, but most judges are seasoned brewers themselves and have gone through the rigorous studying and in-depth testing procedures needed to hold a BJCP Certification.
The Beer Judge Certification program teaches its practitioners how to taste, evaluate, and rank the hundreds of beer, mead, and cider styles found around the world. To date, over 1.3 million different brews have been judged by certification members in over 8,500 contests held around the world.
Submitting your spirits for judging in events/contests not only gives you a chance to win but will also provide you with feedback and constructive guidance on how to fix flaws and improve your formula.
Here, we’ll discuss common reasons why some steer away from homebrew contests, why thousands enter every year and give you a few tips on how to win at prestigious events like the National Homebrew Competition (also sometimes called the American Homebrew Competition).
Common Reasons Not to Enter Homebrew Events/Contests
We’ve all sampled an amazing pint that is award-worthy only to have the brewer insist that they don’t want to have any part in homebrew contests. While the reasoning is very personal, these are a few common reasons why.
Our brews are our babies, and having anyone be critical of our creations is a hard pill to swallow. Often, new brewers or those who aren’t as sure of their skill set aren’t confident that their beer will do well in a competition setting.
Not a Competitive Person
For many homebrewers, choosing the ingredients that make a delicious beer is just a fun, stress-free hobby. They do it for themselves and their friends and don’t care for the opinions of judges or the critique from someone outside their social circle.
Bad Experiences with Previous Events/Contests
When you compete, it’s possible that not every experience will be a good one. Some brewers have submitted an entry that they believe to be a delicious, well-rounded specimen only to have it be not well-received by judges.
Others may be put off because of confusing results. There are few things worse than getting your scoresheet after the event to find a wide range of scores without any consistent feedback. This can make some participants question the ability of the judges and validity of their results.
Another reason someone may have a bad experience is that not all judges are also good at communicating tactful and constructive feedback. It’s never easy to get negative comments about your creation, and if this criticism also seems unnecessarily harsh, it might leave a bad taste in your mouth towards competing.
Finally, competitions are won and lost by brewers who both understand and follow the rules. Brewers who entered and missed one of the regulations could have had a bad experience by scoring poorly or even being disqualified from the event.
4 Reasons to Enter Homebrewing Events/Contests
With all these possible reasons to not showcase your talent at an event, why would someone want to enter? These five possibilities and more are common factors.
Feedback and Improvement
Unless you also possess the sophisticated palate of a Grand Master V BJCP judge, it might be difficult to know for certain that you’re brewing a great beer. By entering in a competition, you’ll get impartial feedback on your recipe and brewing efforts that can help you tweak and hone your craft.
Those who compete typically go from brewing something tasty to creating award-winning beer by using the criticism to improve.
Competing is Fun
If you’re someone who is competitive by nature, being a part of these types of events is a great way to get confirmation of your excellence and to gain some bragging rights in the process. In addition to the judging portion, many competitions feature a mini-conference with speakers, group discussions, networking opportunities, and events like a pub crawl to local establishments to ensure that everyone has a good time throughout the weekend.
Whether you’re a casual homebrewer or looking to one day transition your passion and hobby into a business endeavor, the networking provided at events/contests is invaluable. Here you can interact with the competition managers, meet other homebrewers, and have your beer tasted by industry experts.
Also, you’ll have a chance to exchange recipes, tips, and best practices with people at every level in the industry, making some valuable connections you can use as you continue to hone your craft.
There are few ways to gain quick credibility that are more powerful than winning or placing well in notable competitions. If you’re thinking about opening a pub, starting a website, or another business venture that requires you have a significant presence as a brewer, an event might be the fastest way to do it. Being an award-winning homebrewer can open doors in the industry, as well as in commercial endeavors like loan applications and acquiring business partners.
Tips for Winning a Homebrewing Competition
While every competition is slightly different, there are a few best practices you can follow to increase your chances of doing well. They are:
Ask for Impartial Feedback from Other Local Homebrewers
If you have a homebrew club in your area, it’s time to get involved. Reach out to the members and have them taste and evaluate your beer. Ask for their feedback and pay attention to any consistent flaws or faults they find. Use this initial impartial criticism to tweak your recipe to get it right before you enter an event.
Become an Expert in Your Style
Hunt down resources that give you information on all of the ins and outs of the style of beer you’re brewing. If you’re creating a German beer for example, you can visit the German Beer Institute’s website to find details on the historical significance, brewing tips, and how to fine-tune your recipe. For other beer styles, do research and read books and websites that help you to fully understand the technique so that when you craft your own batch, you can speak knowledgeably about how and why you took each step.
Get Familiar with the Rules
Once you’ve decided which competition is the right one for you, read the rules and regulations front and back to ensure you understand them. You want to be judged on the quality of your submission, not because you missed the fine print on one point that has nothing to do with the flavor and experience of your beer.
Enter the Category You Could Win
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s an important consideration if your beer style falls in a gray area that doesn’t align completely with just one style. This is where your research becomes important. Ensure that you understand the styles, and look at past winners and their recipes to see if yours is a match for one category more so than another.
Do a Taste Test the Day of Competition
One thing that seasoned competition veterans always do is pack an extra bottle of each entry when they submit their beer. This allows you to crack one open the day of the competition and have a taste yourself of what the judges are about to experience. Keep in mind, after being stored in hot warehouses, transported in trucks, and then chilled in a cooler, the flavor pallet may open up in a way you don’t expect. Having a taste yourself can help you to better understand the judges’ feedback, and plan for future events.
Meticulously Pack Your Beers
Packing and shipping fragile and delicate items is an art form, and your beer is no exception. Check the contest rules for bottling instructions; many will require you to attach a label with a rubber band and black out any writing on the cap to keep the brew anonymous during the tasting.
Next, wrap, pack, and ship your beers so that they can withstand anything that happens in transit. Remember, just because the package says “Fragile” or “This Side Up” doesn’t always mean that they are handled with care.
If you’re nervous, try using a pack and ship center who does the hard part for you. They will typically offer insurance against damage, which means they have confidence that they know how to do it right.
Be sure to include the registration form and payment method, if required, before sealing the box. Always ship with a tracking number, and ensure that your package will arrive before the entry deadline.
Having your submission arrive on time, intact, and with all the necessary labeling and paperwork is the first and most important step in having a chance to win the competition.