Who doesn’t love secrets – especially scandalous ones? Well, if that’s what you’re after here, you’ll probably be sadly disappointed. This isn’t documentation of ludicrous Cellar Master antics taking place in the beer storage area or of judges maliciously looking up entrants’ names and destroying their scores. That would make for a better story, no doubt, but it wouldn’t be very helpful. This is the first in a series of tips for brewers entering a BJCP style brewing competition – or perhaps even for any beer competition, depending on how the brews are judged.
Don’t forget this: the only information judges receive on your entry in a BJCP competition is the style under which it is entered. They don’t have access to your recipe, vital statistics, or anything else. Use this lack of information to your advantage when it comes to your original and final gravities. A typically ‘regular’ gravity beer, such as the American Ales (category 10) or English Brown Ales (category 11), tends to score higher when you brew to higher gravities – either at the high end of the style or even higher. This should result in a bigger beer with a higher finishing gravity, leaving the drinker with a greater perception of mouthfeel, malt presence, and awesomeness. Don’t go overboard and decide to enter an Imperial Brown as a Northern English Brown, mind you, as a high alcohol presence will sink your battleship…but a few extra gravity points might be that little something to make your entry stand out.
The opposite approach works for typically higher gravity beers, such as Barleywines/Old Ales(category 19), Imperial Stouts (13F), and Imperial IPAs (14C). Going with somewhat lower original should result in lower finishing gravities, increasing the drinkability of the beer. Also, this should decrease the perception of alcohol in the beer, which also contributes to drinkability. While some alcohol warmth is welcomed in these styles, an awesome beer that is high on the drinkability factor – while still maintaining the expected qualities of the beer – might rise above those entries that border on cloying or too alcoholic.
While “ignorance is bliss” might be cliché, you should bear it in mind when entering homebrew competitions. Playing with judges’ perceptions of mouthfeel, drinkability, and alcohol content can take a decent scoring beer and make it outstanding.