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Competition Brewing Series: Why Do We Compete?

Since the 2018 homebrew competition season is in full swing, and since the NHC first round shipping deadline is just around the corner, I’ve decided to write a series of posts with competition tips a tricks.

The first topic I’ll cover is what I’ll call “competition philosophy”. Why are we entering these competition? The answer to this question will drive how you pick the styles that you want to enter into these competitions.

Let’s dig in.

We Need to Ask Ourselves Why We’re Entering These Competitions

Are you entering competitions because you think your beers are amazing and worthy of gold medals? Or are you entering competitions because you want some honest, unbiased feedback…which might lead to a bronze, silver or gold? This is an important question we need to ask ourselves. Which camp are you in?

I Want a Medal!

If you’re a hardware seeker, then my advice is to search out competitions that allow either a large number of entries or have no limit on the number of entries. This simply increases the odds of winning a particular category. You can even brew 4 beers and submit them to 5 or 6 categories each. It’s like throwing a handful of darts at the dart board. Something has to hit the bullseye, right? Not always.

You still need to make an effort to brew your best beers possible. If you have flaws in your brewing process, then all 20 of those entries could likely miss the mark. If you’re “bulk brewing” for competition then make sure your process is organized and stay on top of your sanitation.

I Want to Make the Best Beer Possible

Beer Nirvana. I think this is what our goal should be as homebrew competitors; masters of every BJCP style.

This year, the National Homebrew Competition (NHC) is limited to 4 entries per person. Placing first, second or third in a category with a score of 30 or greater will advance you to the final round. This type of competition is about planning and precision – which we’ll talk more about later in the series.

In order to “show up” at competitions like the NHC, you need to have taken feedback from judges in previous competitions in order to perfect your process and recipe formulation. It’s the process of reading feedback and applying it that ultimately leads to the hardware – whether the competition limits the number of entries or not.

Drew Beechum of Experimental Homebrewing recently interviewed Nick Corona. Nick won homebrewer of the year in 2016 and is considered to be one of the best homebrewers in the country. Nick has no shortage of medals and his philosophy is summed up in this quote:

"I don’t have an incredible palette and I don’t have the ability to detect all of these off flavors….I know that if I submit that beer to a competition then I am going those great palettes, and I’m going to get that good feedback that my wife isn’t going to give me, my mom isn’t going to give my and my friends aren’t going to give me….I’m pushing forward with those competitions; trying to perfect a recipe for every single style that’s out there."

So there you have it. If you really want your beers to place consistently in these competitions, then you need to be a feedback seeker. Keep an open mind and adjust your process until you’ve perfected every BJCP style that’s out there.

Next in the series we’ll talk more about that feedback from the judges, and also how to plan for entry and shipping deadlines.

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