So, I've been homebrewing about a year now and I entered my first competition, the Beehive Brewoff here in Salt Lake City, this weekend. I didn't know about the competition too far in advance, so I didn't have time to really test and tweak much. I basically took a couple of recipes I'd done once before and made a few changes and also whipped up a couple of "experiments" just to give myself a range of entries and feedback. I was hopeful because I'd been doing a lot of studying, but I was being realistic with my expectations since it was my first competition.
So, I thought I'd share my experience and results here both so I can get some advice from others who've been doing this a while and to help those who are thinking of entering their first contest. I entered 6 beers. Here are the results:
- Scottish 80/-(9C) : Bronze medal. 37/50. 22 total entries
- Jalapeno Creme Ale(21A) : 40/50, 38 entries
- Belgian Stout(16E) : 35/50, 19 entries
- Watermelon Wheat(20A) : 30/50, 28 entries
- Irish Red(9D) : 30/50, 22 entries
- Belgian Pale Ale(16B) : 19/50, 8 entries
So, I'll start with the easy one:
Belgian Pale Ale : I'm now changing the name of my recipe to Belgian Pale Fail, because 19/50 sucks! I knew I was stepping outside the style guidelines a little bit with some speciality grains, but I figured it was win or lose, and I lost. Fermentation control was an issue because this is the next to last batch I brewed and I didn't have room in my fermentation chamber. So, lesson learned. The judges hated it and frankly, I didn't love it either. Bad feedback is better than no feedback though.
Scottish 80/- : Obviously I'm very pleased with a bronze out of 22 entries. I chalk it up to the fact that I researched this style heavily and kept the recipe simple. It also had a little more time to condition than the others.
Jalapeno Creme Ale : I was very happy with the 40/50. Obviously the competition was strong in this category. I hadn't planned to brew this, but a friend asked for it, so I pulled something together and it worked out great. I chalk this one up to luck mostly
It's tricky finding the right balance on the jalapenos, especially when you don't know how how they'll be until you try. My first batch was scorching, but this one was just enough to make you feel it.
Belgian Stout : This was another unplanned competition brew. I'd brewed it back in March and aged it a short time on oak chips. I still had some left in the basement, so I figured why not enter it? Interestingly, I felt the woodiness was pretty prominent, but the judges felt it should be more obvious. They also noted that the Belgian character was very subtle, which I would agree with.
Watermelon Wheat : I was actually expecting this to do a little better. I used 7lbs of watermelon in the secondary and I thought the initial taste was right on. The judges wanted it more in-your-face though. I'm not sure what I'd change except maybe use some extract to boost the aroma as well. They didn't really have anything negative to say, just "more watermelon" in both the aroma and flavor.
Irish Red : I knew this was a love-it-or-hate-it recipe. I went big and bold with the malt and it was just too much. It took on a grainy, dry aftertaste that kind of ruined the initial malt flavor. The judges felt the same way and docked points for the flavor way overpowering any smoothness in aroma or maltiness. I think this one would be an easy tweak, though, to improve.
So, my question is, is it OK to contact the judges for additional feedback? The scorecards were all well documented and helpful, so I appreciate that it wasn't just one-word notes or remarks.
Here are my lessons learned:
- Fermentation temperature control is much more important than I thought initially. I've had good success since my basement is fairly consistent, but in the heat of summer, additional measures to control temps become very important.
- Trust your instincts. I'm not a BJCP judge, but overall my initial tasting notes mirrored what the judges noted on the scorecards. I may have fooled myself into thinking some things were less perceptible, but in the end, I wasn't surprised with any of the feedback. I had the same doubts and generally the scores about matched what I had hoped for.
- Don't try too hard to "reinvent" a classic style. I'd had several Belgian Pale Ales, but I didn't have much experience brewing them. I thought I'd try a little "twist," and it fell flat. Learn the style first, then branch out.
- Have fun and don't be too hard on yourself. I was excited to get a bronze, but as soon as my name didn't get called for the next category I was in, I was already second-guessing myself about what I should have done differently. Now that I've had a day to think about it, I'm as thankful for the 19/50 as I am for the bronze(OK, maybe not quite as thankful). It taught me just as much though.
Well, that's my experience. Looking forward to the next competition!