Homebrewing is a great hobby. Your friends will always love the free beer you share with them and tell you how awesome it is. But how do you know how awesome it really is? Most of you're friends, if they are not jerks, will tell you they like your beer and how great it is and how you should start your own brewery, even if they dump it into the planter when your back is turned. That is where home brew competitions come into play.
The Beer Judge Certification Program or BJCP came up with a list of beer styles and descriptions of how they should look, smell and taste to help us homebrewers figure out what might actually be bubbling in our fermenters. They also have thousands of BJCP certified beer judges across the country that have been trained to taste beer and pick out off flavors and determine how close it comes to best commercial examples of the style. These guys have teamed up with another acronym the American Homebrewers Association or AHA to hold homebrewing competitions across the country. The AHA is the homebrewer side of the Brewers Association and have spearheaded the homebrewing and craft beer movement in this country and if you home brew you should join the AHA and support their cause. Plus, you get Zymurgy Magazine, which is a fantastic source of info for any level of homebrewer. It's also hands down your best resource for homebrew competitions.
So, lets say you made a Witbier and you and your friends think it's awesome and you want to see how awesome it actually is. Go to the AHA website and find a competition to enter your been in. There are a few things you should know before you enter a competition. First, most competitions are not free. It will cost you approximately 7 to 10 per beer that you plan to enter. Second, if you can't find anything local you will need to ship your beer and there are some rules you need to follow so you don't break the law and your beer survives the trip. FYI it's illegal to ship alcoholic products through the United States Postal Service, so do not bring your homebrew to the post office. You need to use Fedex or UPS. Also, make sure that you pack your beer so it doesn't break during shipping. Rules of trade are to wrap each bottle in bubble wrap, this way the bottles won't clank against each other. If it's the summertime, you're going to want to pay extra for next day shipping. Hot temperatures are the enemy of beer and the faster you can get the beer to the destination, the better it will taste.
Once your beer makes it to the competition, the BJCP judges will taste your beer and evaluate the following categories: Aroma (12 points), Appearance (3 points), Flavor (20 points), Mouthfeel (5 points), and Overall Impression (10 points). You will end up with a score between 1-50 (45-50 is outstanding, 38-44 is excellent, 30-37 is very good, 21-29 is good, 14-20 is fair, and 0-13 is problematic). If you don't score a 50, don't worry. Nobody does. A 50 is the unicorn of beer, perfect in every way and nobody has ever brewed one. The real reason to enter your beer into competitions is to get a feel for how you're doing. You will also get some constructive feedback from unbiased people. If you don't win, brew another beer and try again. Eventually you will make beers that score in the 40's and who knows, maybe someday you will start the next great craft brewery! Next time, I'll tell you about my adventures of entering the National Homebrew Competition.
Bill Ramsey is a self-proclaimed beer geek and avid home brewer. He has spent countless hours scouring the Internet for information about beer and brewing and isn't afraid to share that knowledge with friends, family and the occasional stranger. As a survivor of hundreds of beer festivals, he can talk to you for hours about beer if you let him, just ask some of the women he has dated. If you ever run into him in the wild he will probably be enjoying some new style of beer while googling everything he can find out about it and trying to formulate a clone recipe for it in his head.