Every homebrewer’s dream is to win a competition. We all want to get that medal, or bragging rights telling us our suds are the best. We want our beer to be the next brew for a larger brewery. And this happens…..not very very often. Sorry to burst your bubble.
So what does it take to do well? Honestly, if I had the full answer, I would be getting medals left and right. Currently my medal count is ZERO. Yup, my beer is not world famous. It is not award winning. But, it is tasty, fun to make, great to share, and makes for some good conversations. I don’t brew to win medals.
I remember the anticipation that I had when I entered my first beer into a competition. I brewed a beer. I changed my entry as time grew near due to carbonation issues when I checked it (can you say flowing volcano bottles?). I took an aged brew that I had made previously. It was different, it was good, but in hindsight, was not my best choice. From the competition, I got the following feedback from three panels of judges: sweet, no carbs, oixidated? sherry nose. Note, the third panel’s sheet got wet and was unreadable. I got 7 words of feedback. I was disappointed, but I moved forward. I keep brewing, and here is what I should do for next time. Let’s take a look at some helpful advice though….Scouring a bunch of advice, compiling some of the better advice is a good idea. Here is a sort of min checklist:
First and foremost, a lot of judging is based on first impressions. Try to match the all the guidelines for the style you want to submit when brewing beer for competition. Any major brewing book will give characteristics on beer styles. Some of the more popular books would be The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition or How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time. Don’t want to read a whole book? Check some major websites http://www.bjcp.org/ or http://www.homebrewersassociation.org/AHA/index.htm
After thinking about style, then the judges should look for the clarity of the beer and the level of carbonation. If you are doing extract brewing (with or without specialty grains), add half of your liquid malt in the last 10 minutes of your brewing. It will give you a higher utilization of the hops, a lighter color, and a cleaner, crisper beer flavor, and that should be helpful.
Here is the key – pay attention to the judges. I wasn’t there for the competition. I wish I had been able to be there. I would have loved the opportunity to watch the judges, listen to them, and learn from their behavior. Volunteering to be a pourer or a server will get you access into that inner sanctum. The more exposure you have to how the beer is judged, what they are talking about, and seeing how they judge, the better off you’re going to do down the road when you enter your next competition.
When the scoresheets come back for your beer, read them carefully. Then read the scoresheets again. Drink a bottle of your beer that they judges, and see if you can see the things they did. Dissect their comments, make your own notes, and make your beer better for next time.
The last bit of advice – enter MORE beers. It is a matter of probability, the more often your beers compete the better chances it has….safety in numbers.
So there you have it, sage advice from the guy who still hasn’t won anything, but is always willing to learn.
So what would you suggest?