What does it take to win a homebrew competition?

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VikeMan

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IMO, brew what you like/enjoy. Why need validation from unreliable/subjective judge(s)?
If the goal is to make beers you enjoy, I completely agree.

But if you want the most unbiased feedback possible about how a beer stacks up against a standard and against other beers, beer comps are the way to go. Even though some judges are bad, and good judges can have a bad day, or a blind spot, etc., you can enter the same beer in multiple competitions and look for the common comments between them.

For those with BYO online accounts, here's an old article (Dec 2016) that goes into depth on the subject.
 

CascadesBrewer

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One suggest I have from entering and judging in my local club competition: Fill up a bottle the same way you would for a competition, then pour out 2 oz into a small plastic cup. Stick your nose down in that glass and really look for flaws. I find that often a beer tastes quite different when casually drinking a pint vs critiquing a small sample.

Packaging is also very important. You are not being judged on how nice the pours are from your keggerator, but how it looks in front of the judges. Carbonation is only a few points on the sheet, but impacts aroma, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impressions.
 

Steveruch

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Timing can also be an issue. Brew on a time frame that gets the beer to the competition at it's peak.
Many years ago I entered a British barleywine into a competition fairly soon after fermentation and received a mid 30s score, "Too hoppy for style." I entered it again the next year, got my best score ever and took second in best of show round.
 

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I looked up two competitions somewhat near me and both require 4 bottles per entry. Is that a new standard? When bottling to enter , the keg kicked and one only has about 10oz. Wondering if that is an issue
Normally comps require 2-3 bottles. A bottle for judging and for mini-Best in Show and a bottle if you take 1st place for the Best in Show round. With Covid, a lot of comps have used remote judging and have asked for more bottles as they need 1 for each of the two judges judging remotely, 1 for a possible mini-BOS and then one for Best in Show if you finish in first for style. Unused bottles are usually put out at the awards ceremony for club members to try.
 

jdauria

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It sounds like you're describing possible cheating, which if true, is deplorable. But I still don't see how any of this indicates a judge not liking the style. Maybe I'm missing something, but a judge "didn't find the beer palatable and not in style" doesn't to me mean he/she doesn't like the style, whether it's a new style or an old style.
I have experienced a few comps that have made me go hmmm....just entered one in OK recently where 23 out of the 27 medals went to the members of the club hosting the comp. Seeing that made me wonder if something was going on there, but then looking at big picture, only 100 entries, and probably only a handful of out of state entries...so more likely not collusion.

My club hosted a comp for new local brewery in the town our club is located, it was limited to 30 entries, all had to be "amber beer below 6%", and we had 8 judges, 4 club members and 4 outside BJCP judges. 4/5 of the BOS beers were from my club, and I wound up winning BOS, which allowed me to brew at the brewery and go to GABF. Someone who had entered from other club in our state then wrote a letter complaining about the process saying our members should not have entered and judged. However, none of us judged our own beers, nor were our members part of best of show judging. After that, the comp that his comp was in, nobody from our club medaled in their comp for 3 years running, even with beers that medaled in every comp they were entered in. I was adamant that they were somehow marking bottles from our club and telling judges to score the marked bottles low as pay back for the brewery comp accustation. For example, I had a beer that averaged 37.5 in 4 comps, it scored 27 in theirs. Every year beers from our club consistently scored 10 or more points lower in that comp.
 

Mutant

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I often pick a solid beer and send it to different competitions to see how well those competitions are actually executed. A beer that won a Silver at the 2020 “The (Very Unofficial) NHC 2020 SF Region 1st Round Awards” in the Strong UK category, plus other events, and had been given a decent review by the two initial judges at the Big Beers Festival only to be trashed by the final judge by making comments that didn't apply to the style I had submitted.

What I've learned is that judges sometimes placed on pedestals and shouldn't be.

Also, just found a competition in Roseville, CA that is $65 per entry. That is ridiculous
 

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I am planning to enter my first competition in the middle of august that only allows Belgian style entries and I really want to get feedback on this new saison recipe I have created. I basically want to throw a little bit of strawberry & lemon peel in the boil and then add some hibiscus petal to turn the wort red. For the style, I have to indicate whether it will be a pale colored saison or a darker color saison, but I was wondering if they would disqualify me or just take a lot of points off for breaking the style guidelines? I’m sure it varies greatly between judges and competitions but I’m not sure how important color is from a judges perspective.
 

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I am planning to enter my first competition in the middle of august that only allows Belgian style entries and I really want to get feedback on this new saison recipe I have created. I basically want to throw a little bit of strawberry & lemon peel in the boil and then add some hibiscus petal to turn the wort red. For the style, I have to indicate whether it will be a pale colored saison or a darker color saison, but I was wondering if they would disqualify me or just take a lot of points off for breaking the style guidelines? I’m sure it varies greatly between judges and competitions but I’m not sure how important color is from a judges perspective.
See the example score sheet I posted earlier in this thread. Appearance/color/clarity is 3 points out of a possible 50. Nobody is going to “disqualify” you. Spices are common in Belgian styles, fruit peels, grains of paradise, etc. If you go in the light category, they can hit you for being too dark. If you go in the dark category, would they be less likely to hit you for being too light? Maybe. Just make sure the beer matches what it says in the guidelines. If its not a good match, think about entering it under herb/spice/vegetable beer if you get a good bit of flavor from the hibiscus, or fruit beer if you get good fruit flavor from the strawberry and lemon. Or put it in more than one category and see what happens.

Good Luck.
 
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BrewDrinkRepeat

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I looked up two competitions somewhat near me and both require 4 bottles per entry. Is that a new standard? When bottling to enter , the keg kicked and one only has about 10oz. Wondering if that is an issue
We need more than the standard two bottles for virtual judging.

When judging in-person, one bottle is for the table judging, and the second is if your beer makes to BOS. Occasionally comps will ask for a third bottle to be used for mini-BOS, but in my experience that is atypical.

For virtual judging, we need to be able to give one bottle to each of the judges to take home, plus a third for BOS.

My guess is the fourth bottle is for mini-BOS; in my area all of the local comps have arranged the judging to eliminate mini-BOS while judging remotely, but perhaps others have not. I can see judges working remotely, then a dedicated set of mini-BOS judges handle those separately (like we do at NHC). Then BOS.
 

BrewDrinkRepeat

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I am planning to enter my first competition in the middle of august that only allows Belgian style entries and I really want to get feedback on this new saison recipe I have created. I basically want to throw a little bit of strawberry & lemon peel in the boil and then add some hibiscus petal to turn the wort red. For the style, I have to indicate whether it will be a pale colored saison or a darker color saison, but I was wondering if they would disqualify me or just take a lot of points off for breaking the style guidelines? I’m sure it varies greatly between judges and competitions but I’m not sure how important color is from a judges perspective.
Forget color for a moment... obviously I have not tried your specific beer, but I will tell you that if the strawberry, lemon peel and/or hibiscus are very noticeable in the finished beer (as opposed to simply being a color addition) then entering the Saison category would be inappropriate; you would need to enter fruit and/or spice/herb/veg (whichever is most appropriate for the flavor and aromas of the finished beer).

Edit: this of course depends on the competition. Some do not go strictly by style, and specialty beers are accepted in the "standard" categories. I can see this being more of a possibility in a Belgian-only comp, as Belgian beers are much more difficult to pin to style guidelines than others.

Best thing to do is check the competition's website or contact the organizer for clarification. In general, though, my advice above applies -- adding special ingredients to a beer, even one that is otherwise dead-on to style, will usually pull it far enough out of the category that it needs to be entered elsewhere.
 
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BrewDrinkRepeat

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I haven't judged a competition since 2000. Back then I was a BJCP certified judge. I used to travel around the country judging competitions. And back then, a BJCP judge had to be qualified to judge all styles in accordance with BJCP standards. When did judges become specialized in a particular style opposed to all categories?
They haven't. It's really no different than it's always been -- judges have varying degrees of experience, some have drank/brewed/judged most or all of the styles, and some aren't even close. Most judges strive to do well at any category they are assigned to, barring physical or sensory issues.

(For example, I cannot judge smoked beers, my palate is absolutely shot two beers in, so I always ask not to judge them. I won't do a good job, certainly not up to the high standards I place upon myself, so why bother?)

And I've long held that any moderately experienced judge should be able to judge a style they've never had in their life, simply by using the guidelines. Part of being a good judge is being able to interpret the guidelines and "connect" them to what you are perceiving in the beer in front of you. It's not ideal, we should all strive to gain experience with the full range of beer styles, but it's not always possible.

In regards to mead and cider, the BJCP have separate certifications/endorsements for those now, and one can become a mead-only or cider-only judge without ever taking the beer exam (although most judges added those certs to their existing BJCP rank -- for example, I am National + Mead).

And to add to the confusion, you do not have to have either the mead or cider certification to judge meads or ciders, taking those exams is entirely optional. (Most, but certainly not all, organizers will try to fill the mead and cider flights with certified mead and cider judges, but it's not always possible.)
 

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Forget color for a moment... obviously I have not tried your specific beer, but I will tell you that if the strawberry, lemon peel and/or hibiscus are very noticeable in the finished beer (as opposed to simply being a color addition) then entering the Saison category would be inappropriate; you would need to enter fruit and/or spice/herb/veg (whichever is most appropriate for the flavor and aromas of the finished beer).
I haven't brewed it yet but was planning on doing a trial run next weekend to see what flavors shine through the most. You bring up a good point though and maybe I will reconsider sending it to a different competition where I am able to categorize it better, thanks for the feedback!
 

CascadesBrewer

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Maybe with the NHC announcements later, some people will have some first hand experience on what they did to win!

I am gearing up for my first real attempt at a competition. I had 4 beers ready to go for a competition in 2020 that was cancelled. Now I have 4 beers in the works to submit into a competition next month. These are all recipes that I have brewed several times (with some minor tweaks). Some have done well in my informal club competitions. The Saison and Dubbel have been bottled for a bit. The Porter was kegged a bit ago, and the IPA is in the fermenter.

In the past I have entered beers in a few competitions. It was always: "Hey there is a competition next month. What do I have around that is decent?"

I read an article about Jamil Zainasheff. Back when he was heavy into competitions, he had a storage room full off beers of different ages ready to go into competitions.
 

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I looked up two competitions somewhat near me and both require 4 bottles per entry. Is that a new standard? When bottling to enter , the keg kicked and one only has about 10oz. Wondering if that is an issue
I have no idea what the fourth bottle is for, the norm is three. You can send only two if you wish but you cannot be entered in BOS if you would win a 1st place. You also are required to indicate only two entries were sent so people aren't hunting for the third. I guess the forth bottle is for the registration PARTY.
 

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I have been a competition brewer for 21 years and have been a consistent winner (patting my own back). I have to say there is a small amount of luck involved. How many flights have been judged before tasting your beer, what style did they judge before, can they read, are they wasted, and last but not least,, do they really know what they're doing? Sad but true some BJCP certified judges aren't that qualified.
I had a BJCP judge knock my French Saison because it did not have coriander and orange peel (an option not a requirement, did they read) and, wait for it, it was highly carbonated. My friends and I which consisted of well seasoned brewer's and professional brewer's had a good laugh reading that score sheet while drinking said Saison. You have to take the hits with a grain of salt. Think I'll have a Gose next. Prost
 

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So, seven years ago would have been under BJCP 2008 guidelines. What category did you enter it in?
I had an identical situation about 10 years ago. I've entered numerous comps over the years, and had entered a local one promoted by a new brewpub (now defunct) that was a limited comp of only a few categories (IPA, APA, lagers, etc), but all were BJCP categories and certified judges. Cascadia IPAs were all the West Coadt rage then, so I thought I'd jump to the head of the IPA line and enter one.

All the comment sheets were very complimentary about my beer, but it was DQ'd for not being within style guidelines. My one and only CDA. And now it's a separate style. Does that mean I can enter my Key Lime Sour as a Category 36 instead of a Provisional X4 Catherina Sour this year?
 

VikeMan

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All the comment sheets were very complimentary about my beer, but it was DQ'd for not being within style guidelines.
Unfortunately, at the time dinging it was the appropriate thing for the judges to do. I've never entered a black ipa, but if I were going to do it under the 2008 guidelines, I would have entered it as a Specialty Beer (the old Category 23).
 

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I am planning to enter my first competition in the middle of august that only allows Belgian style entries and I really want to get feedback on this new saison recipe I have created. I basically want to throw a little bit of strawberry & lemon peel in the boil and then add some hibiscus petal to turn the wort red. For the style, I have to indicate whether it will be a pale colored saison or a darker color saison, but I was wondering if they would disqualify me or just take a lot of points off for breaking the style guidelines? I’m sure it varies greatly between judges and competitions but I’m not sure how important color is from a judges perspective.
Recipe sounds, to me, amazing. However, it's a real "chap shoot" as, whom knows, the mindset of the judge(s). All the hard work, etc and get "dinged" as it's "not to style".

Maybe better to enter into the experimental category.
 

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I am planning to enter my first competition in the middle of august that only allows Belgian style entries and I really want to get feedback on this new saison recipe I have created. I basically want to throw a little bit of strawberry & lemon peel in the boil and then add some hibiscus petal to turn the wort red. For the style, I have to indicate whether it will be a pale colored saison or a darker color saison, but I was wondering if they would disqualify me or just take a lot of points off for breaking the style guidelines? I’m sure it varies greatly between judges and competitions but I’m not sure how important color is from a judges perspective.
They will take a point off for the color if it's very red. You could also enter it in the fruit beer category.
 

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I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that, to win, one must enter a beer which scores more points than any other entry in that category.

Captain Obvious
This assertion is objectively true. However, in my experience, judging is subjective, way, way subjective, and therefore the statement is not true/relevant to the OP's query.
 

Dgallo

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Brew a solid to great beer to the style guidelines. That’s how you’ll be judged in any certified competition. Also make sure you enter your beer in the correct category especially in a style with subcategories (made this mistake in my first competition, entered a beer with the wrong sub category and scored 23 but all the comments said “great for ______ style”
 

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The New Jersey State Fair Homebrew Competition is open, and while I'm not going to enter a beer, it got me wondering.

What exactly does it take to win in a competition? Can anyone who has entered and won - or the some of the judges for that matter - weigh in on what exactly the beer is being judged on?

If brewing a Weiss beer, for example, is it being judged against the judges' perception of the style? Like, how good of an example of a Weiss it is? Or are competitors expected to put a new twist on a Weiss - like an interesting choice of hops, or fruit, etc.

Or does it simply come down to taste in a given category? "This is the best-tasting APA in the category, so it wins"

I've never even considered entering a competition, and probably won't unless it's on a whim, but I am curious.

Thanks!
Sometimes it just takes the intestinal fortitude to put a beer in the competition. My advice if you're curious and you think you've got a decent beer, enter it and see what happens.

Otherwise:
  • Understanding the guidelines you'll be judged against
  • Process control
  • Temperature control
  • Pitch plenty of healthy yeast
  • Good Sanitation practices
  • Correct carbonation
In other words, much the same as brewing a good beer. Sure, there's some game-play involved - I would only enter a fresh IPA, Weiss, or Kellerbier - but otherwise, if you have a beer you think is pretty good, go for it.
 

bwible

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They haven't. It's really no different than it's always been -- judges have varying degrees of experience, some have drank/brewed/judged most or all of the styles, and some aren't even close. Most judges strive to do well at any category they are assigned to, barring physical or sensory issues.

(For example, I cannot judge smoked beers, my palate is absolutely shot two beers in, so I always ask not to judge them. I won't do a good job, certainly not up to the high standards I place upon myself, so why bother?)

And I've long held that any moderately experienced judge should be able to judge a style they've never had in their life, simply by using the guidelines. Part of being a good judge is being able to interpret the guidelines and "connect" them to what you are perceiving in the beer in front of you. It's not ideal, we should all strive to gain experience with the full range of beer styles, but it's not always possible.

In regards to mead and cider, the BJCP have separate certifications/endorsements for those now, and one can become a mead-only or cider-only judge without ever taking the beer exam (although most judges added those certs to their existing BJCP rank -- for example, I am National + Mead).

And to add to the confusion, you do not have to have either the mead or cider certification to judge meads or ciders, taking those exams is entirely optional. (Most, but certainly not all, organizers will try to fill the mead and cider flights with certified mead and cider judges, but it's not always possible.)
Just for example, here are the appearance sections from an ordinary bitter I entered a few years ago. These are 2 judges judging the same beer. Under that, look at what they both wrote for “overall impression”. This was before covid - 2 guys sitting at the same table judging the same beer.
 

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Dgallo

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Just for example, here are the appearance sections from an ordinary bitter I entered a few years ago. These are 2 judges judging the same beer. Under that, look at what they both wrote for “overall impression”. This was before covid - 2 guys sitting at the same table judging the same beer.
“Ugly drinking” ... what a ****** comment. How hard is it to say it’s “out of balance”?... I can’t believe anyone certified would word it in such a way
 

bwible

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Its bad handwriting but I think it says very drinkable. My printing/writing wouldn’t be a whole lot better. 😄

The point I was making is one guy says brilliant clear for appearance and the other guy says hazy but acceptable. One guy says cut back hops and the other guy says hops are great for style. One guy says medicinal flavor detracted, the other guy doesn’t mention that.
 
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Dgallo

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Its bad handwriting but I think it says very drinkable. My printing/writing wouldn’t be a whole lot better. 😄

The point I was making is one guy says brilliant clear for appearance and the other guy says hazy but acceptable. One guy says cut back hops and the other guy says hops are great for style. One guy says medicinal flavor detracted, the other guy doesn’t mention that.
Now with my beer googles toning down I can clearly see it’s say very lol disregard my recent post hahah
 

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In 5 years of homebrewing I've entered four comps; for the first one it was a Pliny clone that I knew was horrible, but I'd already paid the entry and said the heck with it. Got horrible scores, as expected. The last three (one state fair, and two locals) I ribboned (2nd) & medalled (two silvers and one gold). The best comment I ever got was from one of the IPA's I entered, telling me that it was a technically good beer but slightly tannic in flavor; that judge even offered some pointers on how to combat it (lower sparge temperature, avoid oversparging). I enter comps for the feedback, and maybe just a *leetle* bit for the kudos and swag. My HLT has a brewvision thermometer that I won in the last competition I entered last year before everything went to hell, and my favorite shirt is from Blichmann with BEER GEEK in huge letters on the back, from the same competition.

I would say, resoundingly, YES enter as many competitions as you can; the feedback, as mentioned many times above, comes from someone who more than likely doesn't know you from Adam and only judges your beer, not your process, brewery, bank account, etc. More competitions entered=more diverse feedback=possible pointers to improve.
 

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Just for example, here are the appearance sections from an ordinary bitter I entered a few years ago. These are 2 judges judging the same beer. Under that, look at what they both wrote for “overall impression”. This was before covid - 2 guys sitting at the same table judging the same beer.
I've had my complaints with judging but you are reading more in to it than what they are actually saying. First the judges are only 1 point off on Overall Impression and the judge that had an issue with the bitterness said it was a bit over not a lot (pallet). On appearance same on points and the one judge said Slight haze not hazy, big difference. What one person sees as clear might be a slight haze. Was the beer bottle conditioned, did the bottle get rousted at the end? I have judged anywhere from two to four competitions a year for 20 years. I don't let small things bother me as long as I get the points. And I agree that some judges need to print better so we can read the damn things and NO cursive writing.
 

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Just for example, here are the appearance sections from an ordinary bitter I entered a few years ago. These are 2 judges judging the same beer. Under that, look at what they both wrote for “overall impression”. This was before covid - 2 guys sitting at the same table judging the same beer.
If you are drunk, everything is a bit hazy
 

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If you are drunk, everything is a bit hazy
Absolutely! In a large competition a team of two judges will judge anywhere from two to four flights in a four hour period. A flight can have from 6 to 11 beers. Our club the North Texas Home Brewer's Association offers free Huber and or rides to all judges or you can sit and eat a sandwich and coffee and sober up. As I've said I have had issues but judging is hard work and a lot of fun. I also gain much knowledge from the score sheets. I'm getting beers ready for competition as we speak.
 

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Absolutely! In a large competition a team of two judges will judge anywhere from two to four flights in a four hour period. A flight can have from 6 to 11 beers. Our club the North Texas Home Brewer's Association offers free Huber and or rides to all judges or you can sit and eat a sandwich and coffee and sober up. As I've said I have had issues but judging is hard work and a lot of fun. I also gain much knowledge from the score sheets. I'm getting beers ready for competition as we speak.
I'm waiting for the judge sheets from AHA Nationals. Just heard they will not arrive until end of this week. Submitted a non-standard Eisbock and don't expect more than 38 points, but will use the results to compare to what others have said and my unofficial ability to judge beers. I need to brew something, but it has been too hot. Last Friday it was 116F on the mercury thermometer in the shade. Even using kegerators for fermenting, it is just too hot to boil anything or do much than drink beer.
 

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Just heard they will not arrive until end of this week. Submitted a non-standard Eisbock and don't expect more than 38 points, but will use the results to compare to what others have said and my unofficial ability to judge beers.
38 points seems oddly specific. Where did that number come from?

Also, when you say non-standard, do you mean "clearly doesn't fit the style guideline?" If so, 38 points may be a wee bit optimistic. Either way, Good Luck!
 

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38 points seems oddly specific. Where did that number come from?

Also, when you say non-standard, do you mean "clearly doesn't fit the style guideline?" If so, 38 points may be a wee bit optimistic. Either way, Good Luck!
Been doing it long enough to have a good understanding of the judging and numbers. The highest I have ever received was a 44. The reason for 'non-standard' is that the grain profile uses some UK malts which I can taste. I had only made a small batch resulting in only 12 bottles being available plus a few before freezing. It is an Eisbock, but I know it isn't my best Eisbock. If I get a better score, I'd be surprised.

I don't really drink much anymore, but enjoy the challenge of brewing, competing and giving away free beer (with the hopes the bottles are returned). My primary drink is homemade carbonated mineral water (I rotate through 4 kegs), where I drink over a gallon a day.
 

Mutant

Drinking problem: Can make more than I can drink
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Received judge sheets from AHA Nationals. Very unimpressed that they didn't follow the normal scoring method of assigning a number. At least the "Unofficial" judging at SF last year provided the standard scoring methodology. Even the comments this year were sparse. If I cut corners making my beer as much as they cut corners on judging the beer - I'd just bottle up from a keg of Modelo and send it in.
 

VikeMan

It ain't all burritos and strippers, my friend.
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Received judge sheets from AHA Nationals. Very unimpressed that they didn't follow the normal scoring method of assigning a number.
They didn't provide a score? That's ridiculous. WTF?
 

Brewbuzzard

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Received judge sheets from AHA Nationals. Very unimpressed that they didn't follow the normal scoring method of assigning a number. At least the "Unofficial" judging at SF last year provided the standard scoring methodology. Even the comments this year were sparse. If I cut corners making my beer as much as they cut corners on judging the beer - I'd just bottle up from a keg of Modelo and send it in.
That isn't good, cheaping it down
 
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