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Old 07-07-2012, 05:17 AM   #1
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Default Brewing for Competitions: To Style or Creative?

I have been brewing for about a year and have decided I'd like to get into an upcoming competition. It'll be my first and I am trying to come up with a plan. I looked through some existing threads but didn't find what I was looking for. I guess I want to know the value of creativity in competitions. Do judges value it, or are they quite strict on style parameters? I'm sure there are categories that allow some freedom, but lets say in the IPA category, how creative can I be without taking a deduction in points for straying from traditional style?

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Old 07-07-2012, 05:24 AM   #2
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BJCP comps judge to style. You can have an incredible beer, but if entered in the wrong category, it won't do well.

The exception is category 23, but that usually still requires some sort of base style.

bjcp.org has the descriptions of the styles.

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Old 07-07-2012, 05:24 AM   #3
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It's pretty much all about brewing to style. Any "creativity" rewarded is within the guidelines. To get a killer score requires brewing something mind-blowing that at the same time at least APPEARS to remain *completely* within the guidelines (and often meeting judges' bias/expectations set by particular examples), so it's unsurprising that they're so rare.

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Old 07-07-2012, 05:41 AM   #4
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Glad I asked before I brewed, the responses thus far have been very helpful. I wonder, is there a style that lends itself well to a wider range of creativity? What about one that tends to leave very little room for creative touches?

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Old 07-07-2012, 05:44 AM   #5
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Give this a quick read...

http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/style23.php

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Old 07-07-2012, 05:46 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AZ_IPA View Post
Sorry, didn't mean to neglect your original post about style 23. That seems like a cool category to go creative in. What about within the more specific styles, are there ones that are very specific, others a little more wide open?
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Old 07-07-2012, 05:57 AM   #7
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The rest of the categories are pretty specific. It's not a perfect system, but it works for what it is intended to do.

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Old 07-07-2012, 06:27 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AZ_IPA
The rest of the categories are pretty specific. It's not a perfect system, but it works for what it is intended to do.
You definitely forgot about 16E.

But some styles definitely allow for a bit more range than others. 18E (Belgian Dark Strong), for instance. To a certain extent, you can get a sense of how permissive a certain category/style is just by reading the actual guidelines and even familiarizing oneself with the breadth present among the archetypal commercial examples.

On the other hand, it can sometimes be misleading, seeming permissive (in one or more dimensions) in theory, but being far from it in practice, and that's where there's really no substitute for experience, especially since what happens to be the case "in practice" can vary from competition to competition, region to region, and even judge to judge. For example, the guidelines give you a sense that 16C (Saison) is a style that allows the brewer a very large degree of freedom, and technically it does, but a lot of judges associate the style with just one commercial example - Saison Dupont - and often go so far as to actually penalize brewers for diverging from that, *even if it happens to be entirely within the actual guidelines*.

Long story short, it's a complicated question with no real easy answer. I just barely even started to scratch the surface with this post. A brewer that's new to competition would do best to start off by rigidly adhering to guidelines and even major commercial examples. Once one is comfortable with competition and has a good feel for everything, then they can start getting a bit more creative, even "cheating" a bit (VERY subtly, so as not to appear to actually be outside the guidelines) to really bring their scores to the next level.
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Old 07-07-2012, 06:28 AM   #9
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Whatever the defining characteristics of the style are, go above and beyond with them. Judges will be comparing your beer to several others that are broadly similar. The fifth DIPA in a flight won't seem very hoppy unless it is crazy hoppy.

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Old 07-07-2012, 06:40 AM   #10
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Just to re-emphasize, except for those few styles that are rather ambiguous (I just judged a couple of 16E's a couple weeks ago, and didn't know what the hell to make of them), you want to push your beers to match the style guidelines as closely as possible if you want to medal in a BJCP competition. Throwing random curveballs into your beer is fun, and may make some excellent beverages (and hey, could even plant the seed for a new style!) but BJCP judging is very focused on how a beer fits within the style guidelines published at their site. A wonderful beer that is out of style just won't make it to the podium.

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