Thursday, April 8, 2010

How often do you enter your beers in competitions?

Never - 52%
Multiple times a year - 24%
Once a year - 11%
Less than once a year - 10%
Monthly - 0%

It seems like homebrewing competitions are becoming more popular than ever these days, especially with the announcement that the 2010 National Homebrew Competition drew 6,148 entries, up more than 500 from last year (luckily I didn't have to enter in the Northeast or Midwest regions which, for the first time, hit the cap of 750 entries).  I'm not sure if this rise in entries is a result of more people participating in the hobby, more publicity and emphasis on competing/winning (Jamil Effect?), or some other factor.

Despite all those entries into just one competition, more than half of the respondents to the poll indicated that they never enter their beers in competition.  I would assume that the high percentage is partly due to this blog's focus on brewing off-style beers.  However, despite my complaints, I tend to enter at least one BJCP sanctioned contest a year, and have done pretty well with my entries the last couple years (still waiting to hear back on my NHC entries this year).  I have plenty of friends who aren't the competition types, but even if I don't love the "brewing to sytle" format I do enjoy the excitement of competing (and winning) once or twice a year.  Looking at the numbers it appears that most of the people who enter contests do it pretty frequently, so maybe some people have that competitive bug while others don't.

While the one-size-fits-all BJCP guideline based judging has always been a complaint of mine, one of my biggest suggestions for a competition would be to have people submit a recipe/process sheet along with their entry.  The extra information wouldn't be looked at until after judging/scoring is complete (so as not to bias the judges), but could be used to help the judges provide accurate and helpful suggestions for improving low scoring beers or tweaking higher scoring entries.  There is nothing that makes me feel more foolish as a judge than trying to guess where an off-flavor might have come from (is that chlorophenol from chlorine in the water, or did the brewer use beach to sanitize their equipment?), and there is nothing more frustrating for me as an entrant than getting a score sheet back that has a bunch of suggestions that don't apply to my beer ("watch sanitation" when I entered an lightly funky saison etc...).  Just a thought.
So are the 52% of you who never enter contests just against the notion/cost/effort of entering, or are you not satisfied with how contests are setup/run/judged?

The new poll up on the blog is:  Best way to add fruit flavor to a beer?


Brewer said...

Here's my take on competitions: I think the *idea* is great - let brewers get feedback, give accolades where deserved, and encourage everyone to try new things.

But I think the more formal competitions become the more things have to be more mainstream. Again, I think having guidelines like BJCP guidelines are a great *idea* but in execution can become too rigid. Much like how most commercial brewers (even small ones) tend to make very mainstream styles.

Two quick anecdotes:

Our local club just had a competition and I entered a beer on a lark. It was second runnings from an Adambier recipe and I had some really old hops a friend grew that I wanted to use as well as repitching yeast from a prior batch. So, the whole batch was "free" in that I didn't really plan it and no ingredients were purchased. It came out to be a very bitter, slightly smoked, amber-ish ale at about 5.5%. I entered it in smoked - other and it garnered all of a 23. One of my friends judged it and later his comment was "but nobody would drink it." Yet we're drinking it every day and enjoying it.

When several friends and I all started brewing we'd have parties and make everyone that came judge all the beers. It was great to see people that had never thought about beer have to sit down and try 5 or 6 different beers and then write something about them. Completely hedonistic, but honest. Obviously this system isn't perfect - as a zero isn't a valid score any more than a 50 is.

So, competitions have their place, but I personally don't put too much weight in any of it. I've brewed professionally (and will again) and have never entered any of the big competitions and probably never will. It's more about making good beer that you like.

Are there bread competitions?


GarrettZ said...

I don't enter contests primarily because I am lazy. I brew beer to drink and share with friends. If we are happy with it, then that is good enough for me. Also, I HATE bottling.

Furthermore, I've never brewed the same beer twice. My favorite part of brewing is the experimentation. Obviously, this is not the way to effectively brew for competition.

I will say, though, that once I mature/blend/bottle some of the wild beers I have going, I may be more interested to compete with those (if they are good). For some reason, I feel more proud of the sour beers. They feel more expressive of my tastes and more like something I "crafted" rather than something I threw together to have on tap.

TopDog said...

This is going to sound arrogant, but I don't see it that way.

Maybe it's me being lazy, but I just don't see the point in entering a contest. You're paying (entry fee, shipping, packing, etc.) for feedback on how close your brew is to "style" and for a chance at bragging rights (and a ribbon). I get plenty of feedback from friends and family for the cost of pouring them a pint or filling a growler and they tell me what I already know -- my beer is good.

I know when it's not, either by some fault in my process or from an errant infection. I don't need to pay someone to tell me why. I brew for myself and get sufficient satisfaction from knowing that I was able to work magic and turn raw materials into that wonderful elixir we call beer and that's good enough for me.

Unknown said...

I've never really thought my beers were competition worthy, which is funny since I've never tasted anything that's been entered, so I guess I wouldn't know. I'm very critical of my brews and they generally don't fit the style guidelines anyway so I don't see the point. I brew beer for me, and as long as I'm happy drinking it, it's all good.

Lee said...

Jeff >> I share some of your frustration with competitions. However, I don't think that the guidelines are too rigid. For most styles in fact, they are quite flexible. However, the problem is that many judges pidgeon-hole a style based on their idea of what it should be. An APA should be really hoppy and floral (not-required) or a cream ale should taste exactly like Genessee and shouldn't have more body or character (also not true). If you get a good judge in competition, they will give a great analysis of a beer and analyze it accurately. Most judges look for something in the middle to high end of flavor, but the truth is a beer on the low end of style guidelines is just as much in style as a beer on the high end or in the middle. I think as we get better judges, the competitions will improve. Anyways, this is something I strive to do when I judge, even though I know I tend to be guilty of the same things I criticize other judges about.

Dave>> You should at least enter a couple (don't just enter one, you could get a bad judge and be frustrated with the whole experience) of comps. You'd be surprised. Honestly, IME, there are always several quite bad beers, a lot of middle of the road beers, and maybe 1-3 excellent beers in a flight. As far as style guidelines, I'm sure your beers fit a style, if not the style you intended. That's what Cat23 is for (the longshot category for this year!).

Anonymous said...

+1 to "That Guy", especially the comment about multiple competitions.

I've entered a moderate number of beers in competitions over the last 1.5 years, and I think I've gotten back maybe 2 sheets (not even to flights worth of sheets) that are not helpful. None have ever been harsh, mean, etc.

I think there is a beauty to the anonymous review. The majority of modern knowledge is run through this process (blind or double-blind reviewing of scholarly works at the journal or university press level). Applying this to beer is powerful, I think, in three ways. The first is that anonymity frees the reviewer of the constraint of false politeness, but also from a constraint of any other interpersonal emption (jealousy, lust). The second is that the beers are being drunk in a flight of 'like' beers. As a judge I'm a huge proponent of *always* doing a mini-best to battle palette fatigue and intoxication. I noticed this the most when I did Belgian Strongs at 9am once!

The third benefit is that the beers are judged under laboratory conditions. Yes, this isn't what they were designed for (unless you are a self-labeled 'competition brewer') but it provides a forum to getting at the heart of the beer. This is a stringent test of the beer and the packaging. It is as close to a tasting panel at a B/M/C brewery as you can get, and that is part of the game.

I have no desire to ever be a pro-brewer, but I like the challenge of packaging and shipping my beer and finding out that it is still drinkable. And $10 for the fantasy that someone bought some of my beer and told me what they thought-- I'll pay that.

Also, I usually enter competitions where I am judging other categories or know people in the club. Most of those clubs put a lot back into the local community, and I'm pretty happy to send some cash back there way.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Good stuff, from everyone. I think judge quality is something that really does need to improve. I really hope to get a beer or two onto the second round of the NHC, the judges who do that are supposed to be top notch (getting to try that many beers that have already scored well is great incentive).

Seanywonton said...

I really like to compete and judge homebrew competitions, although I don't get up the muster to do either more than a couple of times a year. I usually know if a beer I brew is good or not, and if not, I usually have a pretty good idea of why. But, I still always appreciate another experienced beer person's opinion on my beer.

Getting your beer in front of knowledgeable beer judges is important, whether you do that in a competition, or from people you know who are willing to give you an HONEST and complete criticism of your beer. It's not enough for any of us to just go, well, my friends like it, so it's good. Of course they're going to say it's good. It was free and they don't want to be jerks!

I usually get the momentum up to enter up to 2 comps per year, and I'm usually happy when I do. It's good to have feedback, although I don't waste the entry fee on a beer if I don't think it might place. Sometimes, you get useless or just plain wrong feedback. That sucks, but a lot of the judges are in a learning process too.

I'm a national judge and I still have a lot to learn about tasting beers, and beer styles, and my palate is not super sensitive, but practice can make up for that. Beer judges don't get paid, and I wish more people would realize that when they want to rip a judge a new one for not being perfect. Well, even when they are perfect they might have fairly different opinions from one another.

Sorry for the rhetorical rant, I've been drinking a bit and having some really nice beer tonight! I hope everyone will give competition a shot if they haven't already. Just remember there is a place for any beer, and try to accept the criticism that you get, and if it sucks don't take it too hard or hate on the BJCP. Most judges are trying their best to do a service to the competitors and advance the best beers in their flight.

Happy Brewing & Competing!

Greg W said...

I have entered competitions a lot in the past but have recently slowed down. Initially the comments were helpful, but as I've gained knowledge and experience it seems I already know when I have technical issues and don't need to enter a comp for that. I am now more interested in recipe critique, which is helped more by fellow beer appreciating friends than competitions. It got to be that I was entering just to gain more ribbons. At some point, (and I think I've reached it) another ribbon is not worth the hassle or expense of entering.

HolzBrew said...


I should probably know this, but if you entered any brews into this year's NHC, how do you recieve feedback? Do they email you your scorecard and comments or mail it to you?

Typically when should I expect to hear back? This month or next?

Thanks for the info!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I believe they mail back the actual judging sheets to you. Judging takes place at different times in different regions ( ), but looking at message board threads from last year it sounds like most people get their scores in late April to early May. They have to get them out quickly so people can prep any entries they have in the second round in mid-June.

Jez said...

Gotta agree with both Jeff and TopDong on this one. I like my beers, and even though I entered one in two contests in early March, it ended up costing about $30 (fees + shipping). I don't know about you, but $30 will buy me the ingredients to brew a pretty nice beer.