Advice for first-time competitors

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seatazzz

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With covid restrictions being lightened or lifted, even with the new variants, competitions are starting to be held again. I'm sure a lot of people started homebrewing during the various quarantines and stay-at-home periods, and many might be considering entering a competition or two.

Competitions are great for many reasons; the main one, in my opinion, is to get feedback on your beers from a qualified BJCP judge. Parents, Aunties, Uncles, cousins, friends, and so forth may say your homebrew is wonderful, but who knows if they are just saying that because it's free beer, not wanting to hurt feelings, or maybe just because. BJCP judges are trained to detect flaws, and the best ones will give great advice on how to improve the beer they are judging.

I thought I would start this thread so that those of us who have been brewing for a while, and have entered competitions, can give first-time entrants some good advice on how to proceed. More competitions=more homebrewers=more business for LHBS.

I've been homebrewing for just over 5 years, and have entered seven competitions (one is still upcoming), and have done well in some, pretty crappy in others. The one thing I have learned, is take the comments with a grain of brewing salts; there's a reason that more than one judge will fill out a scoresheet for a particular beer.

Here's my advice for anyone considering entering a competition; there are other threads out there on the same topic but I thought it would be prudent to revisit them during this time of competitions coming back.

1. Make very sure the class you are entering is as close to the style of beer you plan to enter. SRM, ABV%, IBU, all should be within the range given by the 2015 BJCP style guidelines (available for free download at www.bjcp.org). If you're not completely positive, enter the beer in the classes that are close enough; most competitions will allow the same beer to be entered in different categories (but not sub-categories; for example, I think an IPA can only be entered once, but a Kolsch can be entered in both the Kolsch & Blonde categories. A stout can be entered in both the stout & porter categories, etc.).
2. Follow the instructions for a particular competition exactly, specifically shipping limitations. You CANNOT ship alcohol via USPS, and if you choose Fedex or UPS, declare the contents to be food products. And fragile! Package as if you were sending your meemaw's china to, well, China. Whenever possible, drop your entries off in person.
3. Fill your bottles to at least 1.5" below the lip; a low fill can dock you points. So can overfill if the judge is picky.
4. Keep in mind that for any given competition, you have no idea where your beer(s) will be in a particular flight; they may be judged early in the day, or late in the day when the judges are pretty much "beered out" and might not be scored well. Enter the same beer in multiple competitions, and compare the scores/comments against each other.
5. Read the judges' comments carefully, even before you get excited/disappointed at the final score at the bottom. Most BJCP judges are homebrewers just like us, just with more training. The best ones will give great advice on how to improve a particular beer.
6. This is the most important, to me; DON'T GET DISCOURAGED AT A POOR SCORE/not winning/medalling. View each competition as a learning experience, and keep trying.
 

camonick

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I’ve never entered a BJCP competition, but have been seriously thinking about it lately. I’ve been trying to digest all the information/ rules involved. You mention—
3. Fill your bottles to at least 1.5" below the lip; a low fill can dock you points. So can overfill if the judge is picky.
There is a recent thread that discusses this and several judges have commented that it’s not a score-able issue. I read that it’s usually commented on the score sheet and could account for possible under carbonation and/or oxidation issues, but shouldn’t be a deduction in and of itself.
 
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seatazzz

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The other thing I would note (that I am doing right now) is try to hang on to a bottle of the beer you entered, so when you finally get your results you can try it again, while reading the judges' comments. I just got a 1st place ribbon for a beer that I thought was crap, and scored the highest of any beer I've entered at 42 (for those who don't know, entries are scored points 0-50). I'm sipping on some now and reading the comments, and rethinking my first impressions of the beer. That's how we learn.
 
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seatazzz

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That was very informative! Thanks for the post! Every year I say I’m going to enter a competition and I don’t for whatever reason but I really should.
You won't regret it, go ahead and enter whatever you can. Most of us are our own worst critics, and having someone else give feedback is super helpful.
 

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My recommendation is GO VOLUNTEER to judge and be a steward. You will learn not only about the process of a competition - how people pack, ship or deliver their beers, how bottles are sorted, why labeling according to instructions matter, etc. Then comes judging - no experience necessary. You will be paired with an experienced judge and walked through the process and get to drink beer. This experience will greatly help in future contests. On top of all this these competitions are for the most part run by volunteers and need the help. Yes, you pay a fee to enter but those fees typically cover the awards and expenses of running a competition. You will learn more from helping and judging then you ever will from feedback on an individual beer.

Now in terms of entering a competition, does not matter what style your recipe was supposed to be or what style you thought you were brewing, never declare the style before you actually taste it.
 

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You won't regret it, go ahead and enter whatever you can. Most of us are our own worst critics, and having someone else give feedback is super helpful.
I used to be really active with my local home brew club and that was always good feedback and so is pouring at a beer fest, that is super awesome feed back because they are literally strangers and after a few they are brutally honest.
 
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seatazzz

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Now in terms of entering a competition, does not matter what style your recipe was supposed to be or what style you thought you were brewing, never declare the style before you actually taste it.


Excellent point! Let's say you were aiming for an American Pale; something goes sideways, and you wind up with something more resembling an ESB. Enter it as the ESB! And maybe the Pale as well! You'll get great comments either way, and probably some pointers as to how to improve. Yes, it does cost $$ to enter, but if you can afford it, enter your beer in as many classes as you think it belongs in, of course following the rules of that particular competition.
 

Young Brewing

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My recommendation is GO VOLUNTEER to judge and be a steward. You will learn not only about the process of a competition - how people pack, ship or deliver their beers, how bottles are sorted, why labeling according to instructions matter, etc. Then comes judging - no experience necessary. You will be paired with an experienced judge and walked through the process and get to drink beer. This experience will greatly help in future contests. On top of all this these competitions are for the most part run by volunteers and need the help. Yes, you pay a fee to enter but those fees typically cover the awards and expenses of running a competition. You will learn more from helping and judging then you ever will from feedback on an individual beer.

Now in terms of entering a competition, does not matter what style your recipe was supposed to be or what style you thought you were brewing, never declare the style before you actually taste it.
How does scoring work with volunteers? I entered into my first competition a couple weeks ago and scored a 35 on my American Amber. The competition guaranteed there would be one BJCP judge per table but does that mean that their score has a higher weight than the volunteers?

I would love to volunteer for a judge but a little nervous I could unfairly judging a style I haven’t tried before. Haven’t had much choice though since Georgia doesn’t have anything local anytime soon.
 

VikeMan

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How does scoring work with volunteers? I entered into my first competition a couple weeks ago and scored a 35 on my American Amber. The competition guaranteed there would be one BJCP judge per table but does that mean that their score has a higher weight than the volunteers?

The score that counts is the mean of all the judges' scores, i.e. there's no weighting. However, you can bet that a certified judge's opinions weighed more heavily than the non certified judge's opinions when they discussed the beer and adjusted their scores to be not too far apart from each other.
 

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If you enter comps with the intention to score highly and win stuff, you need to brew so your beer is at peak drinking when it is being judged. That became very obvious to me at the first comp I assisted at. I’ve worked out a comp brewing schedule. Hefeweizen is the last thing I’ll brew and I like mine most at about 3-4 weeks in bottle. RIS and Barley Wine can be the first brewed a year or so out. Everything else slots in between those extremes.
 

JohnDBrewer

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How does scoring work with volunteers? I entered into my first competition a couple weeks ago and scored a 35 on my American Amber. The competition guaranteed there would be one BJCP judge per table but does that mean that their score has a higher weight than the volunteers?

I would love to volunteer for a judge but a little nervous I could unfairly judging a style I haven’t tried before. Haven’t had much choice though since Georgia doesn’t have anything local anytime soon.
No there is no weighting, the folks judging come to a consensus. An that's what's great about it, you discuss the beer you just judged.

Most competition will only want you to judge beer styles you like and enjoy especially new folks to the process, but this also goes for experienced judges early in the competition. You really don't want people judging styles they dislike, but at some point all entries/styles have to be judged.
 

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The best advice I can give is simply to submit your beers per the instruction. The best part of a competition for new brewers is NOT the winning, but the feedback you get from an experienced judge. The more you enter, the more you learn. If you want to take your best shot at winning, start by having an experienced brewer/judge taste your beer. He/she can not only give you some tips on improving your beer, but also give you some direction on which style to enter it under. If nothing else, go to your Homebrew store and have some people there try it.
 

bwible

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I’ve never entered a BJCP competition, but have been seriously thinking about it lately. I’ve been trying to digest all the information/ rules involved. You mention—

There is a recent thread that discusses this and several judges have commented that it’s not a score-able issue. I read that it’s usually commented on the score sheet and could account for possible under carbonation and/or oxidation issues, but shouldn’t be a deduction in and of itself.
Its not a scorable issue but it can set expectations and self fulfilling prophecies before the bottle is even opened. A bottle that is filled too low must be oxidated in a judge’s mind. And they will pre-determine that so when they taste your beer it will of course be oxidized. A beer that is filled too high must be a rookie new brewer who doesn’t know what he’s doing. And it will be scored accordingly.
 
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seatazzz

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Its not a scorable issue but it can set expectations and self fulfilling prophecies before the bottle is even opened. A bottle that is filled too low must be oxidated in a judge’s mind. And they will pre-determine that so when they taste your beer it will of course be oxidized. A beer that is filled too high must be a rookie new brewer who doesn’t know what he’s doing. And it will be scored accordingly.
Thanks @bwible for stating that so concisely. It's what I was thinking when I made the original post but didn't explain it fully. We all know that appearance can influence your impressions of a beer (or a food item, or a fellow human), even in the bottle. For example, a bottle with "ring around the collar" (from the slight fermentation of bottle conditioning) might not look great to a judge, and predispose that judge to decide there might be something not quite right with the beer.
 

camonick

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Is it necessary to upload the recipe when you register the beer? Are there advantages/disadvantages for doing so? Will the judge review it and comment or make recommendations. If it’s recommended, how do I convert my BeerSmith copy to the XML / PDF file format required in reggiebeer? I’ve already registered the beers and shipped them, but I see that I can edit my entries.
Sláinte
 

bwible

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Is it necessary to upload the recipe when you register the beer? Are there advantages/disadvantages for doing so? Will the judge review it and comment or make recommendations. If it’s recommended, how do I convert my BeerSmith copy to the XML / PDF file format required in reggiebeer? I’ve already registered the beers and shipped them, but I see that I can edit my entries.
Sláinte
Not usually. Sometimes in some competitions they might ask for that like NHC or something. And sometimes winning recipes they collect will be published in Zymurgy. But more often than not, no.

If you made a new style or a lesser known style or something experimental you can submit supporting documentation. But this is again unusual.
 

bwible

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Is it necessary to upload the recipe when you register the beer? Are there advantages/disadvantages for doing so? Will the judge review it and comment or make recommendations. If it’s recommended, how do I convert my BeerSmith copy to the XML / PDF file format required in reggiebeer? I’ve already registered the beers and shipped them, but I see that I can edit my entries.
Sláinte
The thing to keep in mind is judges are just fellow homebrewers. They studied for awhile and passed a test. I’m not downplaying that, its not an easy test. We held study session twice a week for 2 months before the test and I only got a 70. Most of my issues were in the tasting portion.

But judges are fellow homebrewers who volunteer to judge competitions. Some have been doing it longer, some not as long. I haven’t judged for over a decade now and everything is changed now. We have a grand master judge they have to keep creating new levels for, he is so high in the program. And we have first timers. They have all varying degrees of knowlege and likes and dislikes the same as any of the rest of us.

Even in the competitions where they ask for recipes, judges don’t review them or comment on them. If you want feedback on a recipe, there are people on here who will do that. Another option is to join a local homebrew club. I have a few very knowegable friends in our club who I email stuff to and chat with when I have questions or want a second opinion.

Its nice to have friends I can ask “what’s the bu:gu for an irish red supposed to be?” and have somebody who understands what I’m asking.
 
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seatazzz

seatazzz

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I think for most competitions the only information the judges get is which class a particular beer is entered in. They don't know diddly beyond that, unless you add a description and it's on the scoresheet they fill out. For example, in my last competition one of my beers was an IPA done on kveik, and I noted it in the description. BOTH of the judges that scored it made comments on the yeast used; if I hadn't said anything about it I'm willing to bet their comments would have been much different. I entered a blonde in the same comp, done on the same yeast, with nothing in the description, and it got the best comments of all four that I entered.
 

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If you are entering a competition that also offers a Pro-Am collaboration as a prize, like the Rocky Mountain Homebrew Challenge, the Pro Brewers will want to peruse the recipe to see if their system can brew the entry.
 

camonick

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How long does it typically take to get the contest results from the day of the competition? Are the scores posted somewhere, are they emailed, snail mail? Curiosity is killing me.
 

Young Brewing

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How long does it typically take to get the contest results from the day of the competition? Are the scores posted somewhere, are they emailed, snail mail? Curiosity is killing me.
Some will have a timeline posted on the website, but I usually receive a scanned copy of my scoresheets within 4-5 days after the final day of competition.
 
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seatazzz

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Some will have a timeline posted on the website, but I usually receive a scanned copy of my scoresheets within 4-5 days after the final day of competition.
What @Young Brewing said, and it also depends on the competition. Some don't post results to their website until after the awards ceremony; others will post a few days after judging. Many also require you provide a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your scoresheets mailed to you. Somewhere in the competition rules they should note when results will be posted.
 

camonick

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What @Young Brewing said, and it also depends on the competition. Some don't post results to their website until after the awards ceremony; others will post a few days after judging. Many also require you provide a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want your scoresheets mailed to you. Somewhere in the competition rules they should note when results will be posted.
Unfortunately their website/ rules page is incredibly vague.
 
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@seatazzz, I am getting inspired to finally enter competitions! My first couple years of home brewing, I joined Strand Brewer's Club in order to get opinions and learned so much about what I was doing wrong! It was also gratifying when I received positive feedback, though, to be honest, that was only for my ciders in the first couple of years.

Now that I have improved a lot of the process for my beers, I kind of want to know outside the circle of: family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors-all of whom probably just like the price point on my booze.

"Free is good."
 

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My advice: don't put too much stock in the feedback from any one judge or any one competition. If you really want a feel for how good your beer is, you'll have to enter it in several competitions to filter outliers. It's for the same reason that they have multiple judges in gymnastics/diving competitions and throw out the high and low scores.

For example, I just got my scoresheets back from the Beer for Boobs IX competition. Regarding my APA, one judge said: "Bitter flavor hides any fruity esters." The second judge said: "Could be better with more hop bitterness."

Same beer, same bottle, same competition, two totally different perceptions of the beer.
 

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My advice: don't put too much stock in the feedback from any one judge or any one competition. If you really want a feel for how good your beer is, you'll have to enter it in several competitions to filter outliers. It's for the same reason that they have multiple judges in gymnastics/diving competitions and throw out the high and low scores.

For example, I just got my scoresheets back from the Beer for Boobs IX competition. Regarding my APA, one judge said: "Bitter flavor hides any fruity esters." The second judge said: "Could be better with more hop bitterness."

Same beer, same bottle, same competition, two totally different perceptions of the beer.
I re-read this, and I don't want any first-time competitors to get the wrong idea. Competition feedback is invaluable if you want to improve your beer. Just take any individual scoresheet with a grain of salt.

One or two scoresheets CAN be somewhat useful. Five to ten scoresheets ARE extremely useful.
 

MMP126

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I do want to talk about my recent BJCP experience, what I see, and what to expect.

I entered a German Helles in 3 different BJCP comps. Here is the results and time line...

1. Brewed the beer in July.
2. Entered first competition in August. Beer scored a 30 and a 32. Didn't place. Got hit for Diacetyl and Acetaldehyde.
3. Entered same beer at the beginning of October (2nd entry, same beer). Scored a 40 and a 35. Took 2nd place. NO comments on ANY off flavors.
4. Entered same beer this past weekend (3rd time entering, same beer). Scored 22 and 25. Didn't place. Hit for Acetaldehyde only.

Personally, I did not get either off flavor. And a friend and BJCP Master judge didn't get anything either. This tasting was at the first comp. in August.

The above is pretty frustrating when trying to improve upon my beer. I mean, I understand that I probably have a problem, and I need to make better beer and work on my processes. But a swing from 40 down to 22 is pretty big. 40 is minor tweaks, and 22 is flaws and being out of the style parameters. This is an extreme case, and doesn't typically reflect what I see, but I do think its an issue.

There is soooo much at play in these competitions. Familiarity with the style, off flavor knowledge, level of experience, palate fatigue, fatigue in general, boredom, and just a hurry to finish is some cases. Humans are human I guess.

I do not want to make it look like I am slamming anyone, or the BJCP. It is 1000% a useful resource for HONEST feedback on beer, and the people that participate in these competitions (myself included), REALLY try to be fair, honest, consistent, and professional about the beer that is being judged. And the people I have met seem to REALLY care about beer. Really want to help others with their beer.

So, I will say, the BJCP is useful. 100%. But, again, take some of it with a grain of salt. I would take note of what they come back with, but I wouldn't put all my chickens in that one basket, or scoresheet. The people that are judging your beer, DO love beer, and most WANT your beer to be great. But, they are human, and everyone is different.

I plan to become a judge, and work hard AF to be a good one. It is on us really, if you think about it. People that love and make beer are the ones that want to be judges.
 

VikeMan

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^ My takeaway from this would be that I likely have an issue with Acetaldehyde, showing the value of submitting to multiple competitions. The fact that the judges in comp #2 missed it could be a matter of experience, or palate fatigue, or it could be a matter of varying taste thresholds for Acetaldehyde. The good news is that it's likely right on the edge of the average threshold (~15 mg/liter), and probaly not a huge problem to overcome.
 

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I enter competitions solely for the feedback. I've experienced at least two annoyances with feedback/judging issues: 1) Big Beers Festival's judge for the final round didn't seem to understand BJCP guidelines given the feedback provided; yet, the first two judges got it correct; 2) the 2021 NHC competition didn't provide any judging sheets, which was highly annoying and I figure if that continues I'll just bottle up some Modelo and cut corners also.
 

VikeMan

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1) Big Beers Festival's judge for the final round didn't seem to understand BJCP guidelines given the feedback provided; yet, the first two judges got it correct;

What was the feedback and what was the style?
 

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2) the 2021 NHC competition didn't provide any judging sheets, which was highly annoying and I figure if that continues I'll just bottle up some Modelo and cut corners also.
There are a number of big regional competitions that I have participated in (as steward, bottle sorter, competitor) over the years.

As early as 2018, I could see (as a steward) that the size of the competitions was putting pressure on the amount of feedback that judges could provide.

With the 2021 edition of these competitions, they are coming back smaller. In many cases, the scoresheets are online (so you can see the level of feedback you will receive). Most judging continues to be remote, so anticpate sending a 3rd bottle if you want to win BOS.

As for NHC 2022, consider asking FOR THE AMOUNT OF FEEDBACK YOU CAN EXPECT at the regional level and at the final level.
 

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What was the feedback and what was the style?
BJCP 17A British Strong Ale. " As an entry category more than a style, the strength and character of examples can vary widely. Fits in the style space between normal gravity beers (strong bitters, brown ales, English porters) and barleywines. Can include pale malty-hoppy beers, English winter warmers, strong dark milds, smaller Burton ales, and other unique beers in the general gravity range that don’t fit other categories. Traditionally a bottle-conditioned product suitable for cellaring. " The entry was entered as a pale (using their classification 'other'); the first two judges gave appropriate scores noting 'Great Beer'. The final judge decided it couldn't be a pale malty-hoppy beer but had to have dark fruit flavors and other similar comments. This same beer was entered in the Nationals that were cancelled in 2020, and received a Silver in the "Unofficial" Regionals completed by SF with good scores and one judge stating they wanted a case of the beer.
 
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