As an avid homebrewer for over 13 years I have entered my beers into a fair share of homebrewing competitions. The unbiased feedback I get from beer experts and BJCP judges helps me identify flaws and allows me to make my beers better. In fact, because of this feedback I have been able to improve my beers and win a few ribbons in the process. Having never attended a competition before, I decided to join members of my homebrew club, Palmetto State Brewers (PSB) at our annual homebrew competition this past December. I volunteered as a steward, giving me an inside glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes at a homebrewing competition.
My day began bright and early at 8 am when I was assigned a table evaluating a specific BJCP style. My job was to make sure the judges had everything they needed to evaluate homebrews efficiently (scoring sheets, water, crackers, and of course flights of beer to taste). Over the course of the day I tasted excellent and, more importantly, flawed beers, both of which helped me better identify positive and negative characteristics in my own beer.
One of the most surprising aspects of the homebrew competition was how long it took … from 8 am-8 pm. One of the major reasons why homebrewing competitions can take so long is due to the large number of entries that are judged. I was amazed at how structured the BJCP judging was (to keep consistency) and required each judge to spend a great deal of time on each beer meticulously laboring over each point outlined in the BJCP guidelines as they sip small amounts of homebrew. Interestingly, the judges at a table frequently talked amongst each other in order to make sure they were in agreement about their evaluations. One of the most upsetting points of the day came as I watched a fellow volunteer proceed to dump out all the previously judged and opened beers sending them to the big brewery in the sky. I should have known this was going to happen, but just like when my senile childhood dog was miraculously “adopted by a farmer with lots of animals,” I always wanted to believe that every drop of homebrew was drank at a competition.
Overall, I consider my first homebrew competition a huge success. I had a lot of fun, learned more about the nuances of various styles of beer, and most importantly met some great homebrewers from other clubs in North and South Carolina. At the end of the day, I also gained a great appreciation for all of the work and effort it takes to run a competition. If you are hesitant to volunteer at a competition, I urge you to do so. You will be amazed by how much work and preparation it takes to get yours and hundreds of other homebrews fairly evaluated. And you might just learn some tips on how to make better brews in the process (for more details on homebrewing competitions and tips on producing award winning beer, take a look at the "Competition Brewing" feature in the December 2014 issue of Brew Your Own and the "Techniques" column "Preparing for Competition" in the May-June 2014 issue)....