A Newbie Guide to Home Brew Competitions

Bottle up some brew and enter to win!

The year was 2011 and having brewed for over a year at that point, I enthusiastically entered my first Pro-Am beer competition. Why not? I thought. I love my beer. My friends love my beer. Winning was inevitable, right? I proudly handed over two bottles each of my IPA and Espresso Stout and anxiously awaited the results. What did I get? Nothing but a lot of criticism. Wait, didn't I make great beer? What was the judge's problem? My ego took a hit as I read through their tasting notes.

A Guide to Homebrew Competitions

Any type of artist out there puts themselves into each of their creations. Much like parenthood, the conception of the idea, the maturing of the product, and the anticipated delivery all create a deep emotional connection. Brewing is this type of art form, whose creators put themselves into every batch. In doing so, we tend to take it personal if someone doesn't like one of our beers. It is inevitable that someone isn't going to like something that I made. Our preferences mature and develop over time. Looking back, that Big Beer staple of my youth just doesn't sound that appealing anymore. Gaining perspective on my competition results, I began to look into what it took to be a beer judge.

Over the next year, I continued to home brew, testing out new recipes and pushing the envelope when it came to using unique ingredients. In the Spring of 2012, I once again entered the same beer competition. This time, I went in with the notion that I was going to get great feedback from some highly trained palettes. I entered my "Irish I Was" Irish Red and "The Beast" IPA. While I was in serious beer love with my IPA, I could take or leave my Irish Red. Not hoppy enough for my taste, I figured I might as well enter it to see what the judges had to say. With a laid back flippant attitude, I dropped off my bottles and went on my way.

GABF Medals

A few weeks go by and I receive the expected email from the competition organizer listing out the winners. What I didn't expect to see was my name listed as a silver medal winner in the English Ales Category. Here the beer that I was the least fond of was apparently, spot on for style, color, taste, and aroma for a true Irish Red Ale.

The next few months presented a whirlwind of events. I received my medal in June, surrounded by close family and friends. In August, I had my beer on tap up at American Brewing Company in Edmonds, WA. Since I had medaled in a certified AHA ProAm competition, I was able to pair up with a commercial brewery in order to enter the Great American Beer Festival ProAm in Denver, Colorado. One of the stipulations was that my beer had to be commercially available prior to September 1. This meant that my beer had to be on tap for everyone to drink. Again, friends from near and far came out to drink up Irish I Was. Going through a keg in less than an hour was nothing less of flattering.

NHC Medal

In October of 2012, I headed to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival. A three day beer fest, I had attended this same fest for the past few years. But this time, it was different. This time, my beer, my creation, my passion, was going to be on tap for all to drink. Beer lovers and professional brewers from all over the country flock to Denver every fall specifically for this festival. Friday night, Irish I Was was pouring.

Now, in the Spring of 2013, it was once again home brew competition season. Along with my local Parkway Tavern ProAm that I had great success with, I entered three others: National Homebrewers' Competition, Fort George Homebrewers' Dinner, and the joint Puget Sound ProAm/Cascade Brewers' Cup. The more feedback on my beers that I can get, the better.

Interested in entering a homebrew competition?

Here are my four easy steps on how to get your beers in the hands of certified judges.

Blue Ribbon

1. Find a competition to enter.

This should be your first stop. Search the American Homebrewer's Association website for all registered and official competitions. You will be able to find due dates, contact information, and specific rules and regulations. Read these rules very carefully. They will outline which kind of beers are allowed for entering, as well as the number of bottles needed and when they need to be in the hands of the hosting brewery, tavern, or homebrew shop.

Blue Ribbon

2. Register your beers online.

Probably the most important step is accurately registering your beers on line. Some competitions won't require your recipe, others will. Take your time, be specific, and print out multiple copies of bottle labels and registration paperwork. When you attach your bottle labels, be sure to follow the directions. Some will want just rubberbands, others will allow tape. Whatever you do, keep your bottles as generic as possible. You don't want to be disqualified over something so petty.

Blue Ribbon

3. Carefully package your beer for shipping or drop off.

I recommend getting a packing box and a roll of bubble wrap. Make sure each bottle is wrapped carefully, identification paperwork is in a ziploc bag, and the box is sealed. Label your box with your full name, contact information, competition name, and registered beer numbers (if given). Have your payment either attached to the paperwork or ready to pay when you drop off your box.

Blue Ribbon

4. Take a deep breath and wait for the results.

No matter what the end result ends up being, you will be able to get unbiased feedback on your brews. While it might not be flattering and ego boosting, it will make you a better brewer. Whether it is improving your head retention, sanitation practices, or just being able to brew truer to style, the judges' score sheets will become an invaluable resource for future brewdays.

Take that risk, home brewers.  Bottle up some brew and enter a competition.  The information you'll gain will undoubtedly turn you into a better brewer.  And who knows...maybe even a winning one.

Heather Erickson is a home brewer and math teacher in Tacoma, WA. Her home brewery is named H2 Brewing. A craft beer lover for over a decade, Heather finally made her first batch of beer in 2010. Over the past three years, she has experimented with different styles, ranging from a triple hopped Barleywine to a Peanut Butter Porter. With hops in her family, her great grandfather was a hop farmer, it is no surprise that Heather's favorite style to brew and drink is an IPA. She religiously brews 10 gallons a month on a SABCO Brew Magic system.

Follow Heather on her homebrew journey

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