Well, you’ve been brewing for a little while now, and you’ve decided that you’re happy with your beer. Your friends also seem to enjoy it, as your constantly near-depleted beer supply seems to argue. Perhaps you’re a member in a local brew club – or are aware of one but haven’t had the time to join – and they host homebrew competitions. After some serious debate, the time has come for you to overcome intimidation and fear of possible rejection (these feelings haven’t been around since you sat next to that hot young thing in junior high, so your hesitance is forgiven).
You’ve worked your tail off brewing an awesome beer. Now that you’re going to make the leap and enter a brew or two in an upcoming competition, you need to make sure to follow the correct procedures to ensure that your beer is properly entered and stands the best chance of success – and accurate judging. Having entered many homebrew competitions, I’ve had the pleasure of going through these steps. As a BJCP beer judge and an organizer of many competitions – large and small – I have also had experience dealing with hundreds of other homebrewers’ entries in the past. Here are some tips I’ve picked up…
1. Read the rules
Most competitions have some set of rules for entries. This can range from limitations on recipes (certain required ingredients or processes, accepted styles, etc.) to the type of packaging and volume required for submission. Don’t just skim over the rules; I’ve seen several individuals in the past who have risked disqualification from a competition by not following the rules and regulations. These rules are usually fairly commonsense and easy to follow…so read and follow them!
Most competitions request two or three bottles of brew, with a minimum of 300mL (10 oz) of beer in each bottle. The best way to go is with standard crown top bottles, especially since some competitions request that you do not submit half litre/quart swing top bottles (these tend to be both wider and taller than the smaller crown top bottles, which can make for more of a hassle for organizers in arranging and storing the bottles pre-competition).
Twist top bottles can work with crown tops, but I have seen entries that are under-carbonated, and a likely reason is a slow leak of CO2 from the improper caps on these bottles. I’ve also seen entries that have actually leaked beer from the bottles…gross. Unless you have a professional twist top bottling line, I’d make sure to use the right bottle for the right cap.
One more packaging consideration is the appearance of the bottle. Besides being clean, you should make sure there are no identifying marks. Most competitions request that bottles are free of any labelling, professional or otherwise, and that the bottles do not have any embossing, raised lettering, etc. This isn’t just because competition organizers tend to be anal about things, but because every attempt is made to maintain the anonymity of each entry’s brewer, as that prevents even the barest suspicion of bias on the part of the judges. Work with us, people.
3. Entry labels
Many competitions request that you fill out an entry label and affix it to each submitted bottle. In the majority of these cases, they request that you attach the labels with rubber bands. Please…PLEASE do this. When organizers and other volunteers are sorting entries, it is very frustrating to deal with bottles where the labels are taped or glued on. This leaves for a mess and wasted time. The rubber bands make for quick removal of the label, and this can make a huge difference for the competition staff, particularly if they are dealing with a few hundred entries!
4. Classifying your beer
Make sure you can properly enter your beer. If the competition is a BJCP-sanctioned competition, then there are very specific styles of beer from which you must select. Other competitions will usually ask you to describe the beer (uuuuh…Brown Ale). If you are not 100% certain, find a friend with a discerning palette and an understanding of beer styles, and get him or her to taste your brew and help you decide. This is particularly important with BJCP competitions, as your beer is judged against a specific set of guidelines. A great beer, miscategorised, can score rather poorly, regardless of how much the judges enjoyed it!
5. Remember with whom you’re dealing
In the vast majority of situations, you are entering a competition run by volunteers. These people are donating their time and energy to help support their club, friends, and the homebrew movement at large. This is being done for your benefit! This should be all the more reason to make sure to follow the regulations, prevent any difficulties in dealing with your entries, and easing their stress levels! Furthermore, be understanding if there are any delays or minor mistakes made before or after a competition. Again, these people are working hard (yes, it can be hard work!), sometimes with little or no thanks. Make sure to let the volunteers know their efforts are appreciated. Buy them a beer…better yet, buy me a beer!
And the winner is…
Regardless of your beer’s performance in a competition, you benefit. Qualified judges are able to provide beneficial input into your beer, praising stylistic and brewing accuracy; they are also able to help you better hit your target, when certain aspects are lacking. Great judges don’t just tell you what is ‘wrong’ with the beer, but they offer tips and advice for helping you create an even better version of your brew. So, fear no more…find a local competition and get your beer out there!