Beer competitions aren’t just for the pros. In fact, home brewers of any level from novice to accomplished are free to enter. After all, everyone has to start somewhere, and if you’re looking to network, bring attention to your brand, or just simply want to have a good time meeting people with similar interests, then a competition is the place to start. Just in case you consider it a bit to prestigious for your blood, or that you have to be a seasoned pro to compete, know that both conceptions are false. By entering your beer, you’ll be giving yourself and your brand much needed exposure, plus you’ll get valuable feedback from the judging staff. So, what are you waiting for? Take a look at our list of useful tips and get started on your journey as a competitive brewer today!
Beer Style Guidelines
The Brewers Association is devoted to small and independent craft breweries. It is an organization for brewers, set up and run by brewers. In fact, if you’re not already a member, it might be a good time to look into it. They offer their members the opportunity to attend seminars, host events, provide grants, and much more. I
t’s their beer style guidelines that are used to judge beer in competitions, and their style guides are free to download. These guidelines cover each style in depth including the color, clarity, aroma, body, and gravity. When the judges examine your beer, they are judging it against the guidelines for that specific type. The closer your beer matches the guideline, the better the evaluation.
The Official Score Sheet
By paying close attention to the official score sheet, you’ll have a pretty good idea of just how the judges will be evaluating your beer. This is essential when it comes to judging your own beer when getting it ready for competition. Use this guide as a way to ensure that you’ll always be objective when it comes to your entries, and not subjective. Be tough on your batches, only choose beer that you objectively know is competition worthy.
Know Your Category
This can’t be stated enough. You can be the most naturally talented brewer in the world, but if you enter your stout in the American pale ale category, you’ll garner no points. This is because the judges are looking for the best in that category, so even if you brewed a top-notch stout, it would be passed over. Again, this is why we encourage you to go by the beer style guidelines for the type of beer you’re brewing, and make sure to enter it into the right category.
Only Send Freshly Brewed Beer
Beers that old and stale will not score well with the judges unless it’s a specifically aged type, such as barrel aged brews, high ABV or Belgian. Otherwise, all beers sent to the competition should be freshly brewed. If you have a seasonal beer that you brewed last winter, do not enter beers from that batch. Instead, plan ahead and make a fresh batch. Beers can and do deteriorate over time, so don’t risk entering a bottle from last years seasonal batch, no matter how perfect it was back then.
To avoid any accidental stale submissions, it’s good to get into the habit of marking your beer with a batch number. By the same token, you don’t want to send a beer that is too “green”, so plan accordingly, giving your beer time to condition, but not so much that it deteriorates and becomes stale. For that added edge when getting your entry ready for competition, try out a beer priming calculator.
It Doesn’t Have to be 100 Percent Unique
This is a common misconception among new competitors. Many naturally assume that they’ll be judged on the recipe, which is not altogether true. Brewing beer is an artform, and two people can take the same, identical recipe and come up with differences in aroma, clarity, taste and mouthfeel. Instead of wasting time coming up with something new, take a time honored recipe from a book or something you find online and master it. After all, you’re being judged on your skill as a brewer, not the ingredient list.
If you’re still nagged by the desire to craft your own signature brew for competition, you can always start by split testing your beer. This means that once you have your perfect batch down pat, you then split it into smaller batches to experiment on. Try adding different flavors to each batch, altering ingredients, check fermentation times, and so on. Batch split testing is the perfect solution for perfectionists who do have their heart set on creating something “new”.
Become a Judge
This is a great way to get to know the process, and anyone can be trained and certified to become a judge. Simply check out the official site here , to get started. Even if you’ve no inclination whatsoever of becoming a judge, by becoming certified, you’ll be training your beer tasting palate, become familiar with the elements of how a winning beer is evaluated, and the best part, all of which sufficiently preps you to accurately and objectively evaluate your own beer.
Host a Beer Tasting Party
Once you’re ready to start seriously competing, hosting a beer tasting party is a great way to get your feet wet. This is especially good for brewers who’ve brewed a few different beers, and can’t decide which one to send to a competition. These informal beer tasting parties are easy to set up. All that is necessary is to gather your beers, set up some tables, have some beer judging forms available, and invite your guests! Don’t forget to toss in a few commercial beers as well, as a control group. All beer, from your creations to commercial offerings should be free from labels, so that the evaluations are accurate, and without influence.
Find a Competition
Ok, so you’ve just perfected your recipe for an American ale, and you’re looking to become recognized as well as garner valuable feedback. Competitions are a great way to do both, so take a look at bjcp.org or the homebrewing site. Here, you’ll find competitions to enter, plus other valuable information, such as how to become a judge at competitions.
If you’re just getting your feet wet in the homebrewing world, then think about starting your competitions at a local level first. By joining a local home brew club, you’ll begin to network your brand, trade insights, and gently break into the competition world by entering locally. Visit this site to find a home brew club in your area. Also, don’t limit yourself to one or two competitions, submit to as many as possible. This not only gets you exposure, but your entry will be getting feedback from different judges which can only benefit your brewing talents.
Read The Entry Form
No matter which competition you enter, they’ll have a rule book which lists all the necessary requirements for a successful submission. This information includes deadlines, entry fees, the amount of beer to send. If you neglect to pay attention to the criteria, there’s a chance your submission will not be entered.
Unless the competition rules state otherwise, stick with the conventional, 12 ounce brown longneck bottles. Stay away from the fancy caps, and just use plain, gold crown caps. Depending on the competition, they’ll usually send you their own labels to place on the bottles, so don’t use your own. Also, don’t glue these to the bottle, just use a rubber band to keep them in place. Absolutely no adhesive is to be used on the bottle, as it will disqualify you.
Bag Your Beers
No matter how well you package your beer, accidents can and sometimes do occur. So, after you’ve bottled, capped and labeled your beer, take each bottle and insert it into a large, gallon ziploc freezer bag. Don’t go cheap here, buy good quality ziploc freezer bags. This prevents liquid from escaping in case the bottle is damaged, which would destroy the cardboard packaging, endangering your entire shipment.
Since you’ll most likely have to ship your beer to the competition, it’s vital that you pack your bottles with care. First, wrap each bottle in bubble wrap, and secure with a rubber band. Second, group your bubble wrapped bottles together and secure them with packing tape. This prevents your bottles from crashing into one another during their journey. Finally, wrap some bubble wrap around the entire group of bottles. When all is said and done, you’re ready to box and ship.
Place your bottles in a double-walled box, or take one box and place it inside another for added protection. If possible, shop online or at your local shipping store for a cold box. Cold boxes may be a bit more expensive than conventional packaging, but they are insulated and designed to keep chilled or frozen items that way for the duration of the journey. If you’re still skittish, then take some time to package and send some beer to yourself, to see how well your packing skills hold up.
Finally, try to correctly gauge your shipping time. You want to minimize or eliminate the chance your beer will be sitting in a hot delivery truck over the weekend, so avoid shipping items on a Friday, if possible. Avoid shipping your beer during periods of hot weather. Also, make sure that you’ve either written “fragile” on the box, or affixed stickers.
In general, beer competitions require an entry fee. For instance, the New York International Beer Competition requires an $85 entry fee for early registration, $100 for standard registration, and $115 for late registration.
There you have it, a basic introduction on just how to get ready for your first competition. By becoming a competitive brewer, you’ll be gaining credibility for your brand, valuable feedback from trained, certified professionals, network, and quite simply have a whole lot of fun! These competitions are a great way of becoming more adept at your craft, and fine tuning your skill sets. It gets the homebrewer out of the basement and into the world, exchanging valuable tips and tricks with like-minded individuals, expanding their horizons and of course, garnering your very first ribbon!