Thursday, March 1, 2012

Competition Brewing

Winter was almost non-existent for most of the D.C. area this year.  There were a few really cold days for about a week, but that was about it as far as I can remember.  Today is the first day of March.  Daylight savings time is 10 days away and I am ready for spring, but more importantly, for some Homebrew Competitions!

Homebrew competitions are held almost year round, but they really pick up in the spring and summer.  The biggest being the National Homebrewers Competition whose registration starts tomorrow, March 2, 2012.  The National Homebrew Competition comprises of a regional qualifying round in April and then the Finals which take place at/during the National Homebrewers Conference in June.  Other competitions can be found at county or state fairs, and Local Homebrew Clubs.  To see the full list of BJCP Sanctioned Competitions, head on over to the American Homebrewer Assocations (AHA) website.  

So why compete - If you haven't thought about submitting beer to a competition, you really should.  It is one of the only ways to get unbiased feedback on your beer.  A large majority of beers entered into competitions are done so for this purpose.  Most of my friends drink my beer and rave about it.  I, however, am probably my worst critic, but I know my beers can be better despite what my friends say.  Beer Judges have a vast knowledge of beer and very discerning palates, but most of all, they don't know you.  These judges are taught to detect flaws, and if found give suggestions on how to improve your beer.  It is a great way to become a better brewer.

I highly recommend looking through the BJCP Style Guidelines prior to entering one of your beers in a competition.  In a Beer competition, entries are placed in flights (groups) of ~12 beers of the same style.  The judges use a score sheet to analyze the entry's Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel, and Overall Impression.  These criteria are measured against the description in the BJCP Style Guidelines and the entry is  granted a numerical value.  The total of these criteria is 50 points.  It is important to understand the Style Guidelines because if your delicious beer is in the wrong category, you could be in for a real disappointment!  For example, an American Stout (13E) entered in the Light American Lager (1A) Category will not receive a good score.  The criteria for the two beers are polar opposites.  Every beer will fit into a style, you just have to figure out which one.

Here are a few tips for success in competitions:

  • Style Guidelines:  Determine what style of beer you want to enter and cater the recipe to fit the style description in each of its 5 criteria.  If you need to, do some research on the commercial examples listed in the guidelines.  If the spouse gives you grief, you can tell them its research!
  • Hit Your Numbers:  After you have developed a recipe do your best to hit your numbers.  This is a large topic and I will try to tackle it in another post, but it is heavily influenced by you "Knowing your system."
  • Sanitation:  This tip shouldn't be relegated to just brewing for competitions, but it is of upmost importance when you are competing.  Make sure all your equipment is cleaned and sanitized.  It also doesn't hurt to use new bottles for competition.
  • Keep it Cool:  Once your bottles are at the desired carbonation levels, keep them in a cool place.  A refrigerator will prevent discrepancies between bottles and the affects of aging will slow.  I once had a batch which had bottles of varying carbonation levels and flavors (see sanitation) and unfortunately the bottle that made it to the competition was not a good one.  This is also important if shipping beer in the summer time!  Make sure to put an ice pack in your box.
  • Timing:  Some styles are best fresh, like IPAs and Pale ales.  Others need time to mellow out and for flavors to meld, Like high ABV beers.  Choose your brew dates appropriately so your beer will be ready when it meets the judges for the first time.  I have even heard of brewers re-brewing a batch of IPA for the final round of NHC so it would have the fresh hop flavor and aroma for the best chances of winning!
  • Enter:  I always say "I will do ______ when I win the lottery."  The problem is that I rarely, if ever, play the Lottery!  You can't win if you don't play.  The same goes for competitions.  Enter and be enlightened on your journey to make better beer.

Hopefully, I have inspired you to enter a competition.  If you don't think you have any beer up for the challenge yet, you can always volunteer!  Competitions are always looking for people to help.


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