There are several annual homebrewing competitions that go on around the triangle. Many homebrewers, especially newer homebrewers, shy away from them because they worry about not stacking up against the competition. Despite what you might think, entering a homebrew competition could be one of the best, most enjoyable things you can do as a homebrewer. Brew Strong (Jamil and John Palmer) did a great podcast on competition brewing earlier this year.
Some people also feel discouraged to enter a homebrewing competition because they used a kit or a recipe from the internet or a book. The general consensus is that if you boiled it, fermented it, and bottled (or kegged) it, then it’s your beer, and you should feel comfortable submitting it to competitions. An ingredient recipe is only a part what of what goes into a beer. You give the same kit to three different people and you’ll get three different beers. What made that beer good was your procedures, your temperature control, the water you used, and the timings during your boil/fermentation.
Read the rules
Before you consider entering a competition, make sure you read over all of the rules thoroughly. Some competitions only allow all grain batches. Some put restrictions on the types of yeast or grain you can use. Some only allow a set of homebrewing styles to be submitted. Whatever you do, make sure you read over the rules carefully so that you don’t submit something that gets rejected before the tasting even begins.
When you enter a homebrewing competition, you must declare which style of beer you’re entering, so the next thing you’ll want to do is some research into the BJCP guidelines. BJCP stands for Beer Judge Certification Program, and it’s basically the templates that beer judges use to decide what’s a winner and what’s not. You’re probably thinking, “Why don’t they just choose what tastes best?” Having guidelines and judging rules works in your favor, though. It’s like having the answer sheet before a test. Now, of course the taste of the beer is a large percentage of the judges’ score, but that’s not all that goes into it. Once you choose a style, make sure that what you submit fits the guidelines for that style.
On your brew day, take copious notes. There are a million things that you will think to yourself, “meh, I’ll remember that.” You won’t, so write it down. Document your work like the IRS is about to audit it. You’ll be glad you did. There’s typically paperwork that goes along with submitting a beer for competition. Some competitions are held at breweries that offer to brew the winning entry on a large scale, such as the Brew It Forward competition at LoneRider. They want to know exactly what went into the beer, exactly when it went in and exactly how much went in. They also want to know boil times, hop schedules, temperatures, phase of the moon, and what color socks you were wearing. Write it all down.
You’ll also likely be required to submit two 12 ounce bottles. If you’re bottling, no problem, just make sure two of your bottles ar 12 ouncers. If you’re kegging, make sure you have two sanitized bottles and add about 3/4 tsp priming sugar to each before adding the beer. It’s also very important that the bottles be plain, free of labels, and standard. Don’t submit something in a fancy etched or molded glass, it will be rejected. Also, make sure you put plain gold crown caps on the bottles. Bottles with marked or unique caps will also be rejected. You’ll also typically be required to attach the entry form to your bottles with a rubber band. I’d suggest putting it in a plastic sandwich bag first in case the bottles get wet.
Finally, on the competition day, have fun! You’ll meet a lot of people and as a competitor, you’ll have a lot to talk about with other people. After the competition, you’ll probably receive a score sheet with the judges’ reviews and critiques. You can really grow as a brewer by reading an expert review of your beer like this. Who knows, you may even place in the competition. That’s not what it’s really about though… you did it to be part of the bigger homebrewing community and get together with a lot of other people that like to talk beer. Can it get any better than that?
So let’s go Durham! Let’s show those Triangle beer lovers how great Durham homebrew is!