Brewing for Competitions

With this years Pacific Brewers Cup fast approaching, it is now the right time to think about what beers you want to submit to this years competition.  Submitting beers into homebrew competitions is a great way to learn more about this hobby, but it does take some practice and know how.  I thought I would write up a quick little article for those of you on the fence about submitting beers to Pacific Brewers Cup 2014.

First and foremost, homebrew competitions are a good way for you to learn more about your beer and how it is perceived by an unbiased consumer.  The judges at homebrew competitions are by and large also homebrewers, most of which have gone through some sort of sensory analysis training – be it the BJCP tests or even the Certified Beer Ciccerone program.  I think all of us have experienced the thrill of serving our homebrew to close friends and relatives and having them be blown away at how good the beer was.  Maybe your beer really was that awesome, maybe they were just being nice and thankful for the free beer, or maybe your friends and family don’t know any better.  One of the greatest things about homebrew competitions is that it puts your beer in front of an unbiased judge who can provide honest feedback to you about the quality of your beer.  Don’t be afraid to submit a beer that you don’t think is of good enough quality to win best in show – there is a lot of value to submitting beers that have noticeable flaws.  Getting a low score on one of your beers isn’t something we should be afraid of or diasappointed in.  I have been brewing for 30 years now and I like to think that I know what I am doing, but every now and then I still submit a beer that just doesn’t taste right to me or possibly the end result wasn’t what I expected.  I want that feedback, even if it comes along with a scoresheet that scored my beer as a 16/50.  Those things happen and can be great resources for fixing your process to make sure that the next batch is always better than the previous.

Hopefully that clears up any concerns you have about submitting a beer that is your first time brewing, or you don’t love.  That can move us forward to entering beers strategically to try to maximize your potential for placing in the competition.  We have a few months still between Pacific Brewers Cup 2014, so there is a lot of brewing you can do between now and then.  If you are brewing specifically for entering into competitions, I like to look at the judging date and try to time my beers up with the competition so that the flavors are at their peak when they are being judged.  That means that with around 90 days between this weekend and the judging date you probably shouldn’t be brewing a hoppy beer – you should think about something that will benefit from 3 months worth of aging.  Maybe a big stout?  A lager of some kind?  Take a look at the calendar and plan out your brew dates.

Lastly, Homebrew Competitions are built off of volunteers – be it judges or stewards.  If you have never volunteered for a homebrew competition I highly recommend you take the opportunity this year for the competition to be a Steward.  Stewards are extremely important for organizing homebrew competitions, and it also provides you with a great opportunity to follow along with the judges as they make their way through good and bad beers.  If a beer gets a low score for a specific flaw, as a steward you have the opportunity to take a sip from that beer to start to train your beer palate to understand how you can identify the same flaw in your own beers in the future.  Once you steward a competition or two I also suggest you start studying for the BJCP exam and start down the path of becoming a ranked judge within the BJCP.  The homebrewing hobby is not growing at as fast a pace as it has in the past and we need more trained judges.  Every year the national homebrewers competition hits its maximum allowable entries and homebrewers miss out on the opportunity to submit beers to the biggest competition of them all.  The simple explanation for this problem is that there simply are not enough judges to allow the NHC to take more entries.

So in short, start thinking about the beers you want to brew for this competition and take a look at the calendar to figure out the right time during the next three months to light up your kettles.  Send an email to our organizers to let them know that you would like to volunteer as a steward or judge in the competition and join in on the fun!