As a result of homebrewing gaining popularity across the country, homebrewing competitions are cropping up more often. These contests are a great way to meet other local homebrewers, develop bonds and perhaps, most importantly, sample some high-quality beers. When an experienced homebrewer invests in the high quality ingredients for a homebrew, the results can surpass anything you'll find in a grocery store.
Although the sense of community is one of the greatest draws of a homebrewing competition, everyone is there for the same reason: to have their beer sampled and judged by professionals, as well as by fellow brewers. Everyone wants to do his or her best, but a homebrewer's first foray into competitive homebrewing can be intimidating, and there are some traps that you're likely to fall into if you aren't properly prepared.
Fortunately, you can improve your initial performance at a homebrewing contest by embracing a few tips and tricks.
Make entries based on the end result, not the intention.
Not every homebrew turns out according to plan. Some might be pleasant surprises while others fall short of your mark. While you might appreciate the craftsmanship and artistry employed in a specific homebrew, it's irrelevant if that work doesn't come through in the finished product. Ultimately, you want to choose the beer that will perform best in a blind taste test among judges who know nothing about how the beer was produced.
You should also be mindful of the flexibility in how you enter a beer. If you attempted to make an IPA but failed to reach the desired original gravity during production, you could always enter the beer as a pale ale - since it won't have those distinctive IPA characteristics, it might score better as a result.
Respect the qualities of your beer's category.
You might be attracted to the idea of making a stout that defies the characteristics of a traditional stout, but that's likely to not go over well at a homebrew competition. When judges sample flights, they're not only looking for good beer; they also want brews that embody the characteristics of their category. Rather than defy these qualities, make sure they're present in your homebrew and then use additional flavors, aromas and techniques to make the beer stand out.
Start out small and work your way up.
A big competition may be tempting, but smaller homebrew contests might be a better place to start. Many smaller homebrew competitions are better about providing comments attached to scores. These insights can help guide your future brewing and ultimately make you a better craftsman.
Of course, if you're eager to test your brew on the biggest stage, there's the National Homebrew Competition, which takes place annually in April. You could also submit your brew to the Great American Brew Festival Pro-Am -- this competition requires that each entry be based on past award-winning homebrew recipes. Otherwise, check with your local clubs and breweries to learn more about options in your area.
You might not experience overnight success at your first homebrew competition, but you're sure to gain valuable experience while meeting other passionate practitioners. Once you're comfortable with the homebrewing process, find a contest and put you and your brews in the spotlight.