The Nevada BrewChallenge and Entering Homebrew Competitions
Have you ever wanted to enter into a homebrew comp? There are plenty of good reasons to compete, and the experience is well worth the small amount of effort that goes into entering! This week is all about homebrew comps, our most recent competition, the Nevada BrewChallenge, and what to expect when you enter a comp, whether it’s your first or your hundredth!
What’s the Point?
Many brewers are happy making their beer how they want, sharing with friends and family, and calling it a day. But as home fermenters, we all know that there’s usually a drive to make our next batch that much better. We’re always researching new ideas, bringing our beer to our LHBS and sharing with provisional judges (whoever is there!) for feedback, and trying new techniques, equipment and new homebrew installs to make improvements.
This is where competing comes in! Some of the best and most naked and raw feedback that you’re going to get comes from letting someone try your beer who is trained in judging beer and tasting it blind. This eliminates a lot of the environmental and emotional components that come into play when you give your buddy one of your beers and ask what he thinks. Of course he likes it! You just gave him a free beer, and he knows there’s more where that came from!
When a BJCP, Pro Brewer or other experienced beer judges try your beer in a competition environment, their whole goal is to taste it against the style guidelines where you entered it and see how closely it measures up. This includes looking for all of the beauty and potential flaws in your beer, and giving you feedback for each.I can’t stress just how much getting this raw feedback can help you improve your recipe formulation, brewing process, and overall finished product. The hardest part of receiving this feedback is actually listening!
You have to be open to the fact that your beer may or may not be the best beer ever brewed, and have a thick enough skin to know that the judge is not personally attacking you, but rather telling you exactly how she feels and what she tastes in the beer you entered as compared to the category you entered it in.Let’s be honest, though, the other fun part of entering a competition is the potential for GLORY! In our competition, The Nevada BrewChallenge, the 2020 winner gets to brew their beer at Pigeon Head Brewery on their pilot system and get it legally out into the world so that others can taste it! How freaking cool is that?! You’ll get to scale your recipe up, brew with pro brewers, and have your beer put into a real bar where the public can try a pint!! All category or ‘table’ winners will receive award medals to hang in the brewery and show off to their friends!
For all of us who homebrew, there’s always the thought of going pro floating around in the back of our minds, and having the opportunity to learn how to brew on a commercial system and learn what really goes into brewing professionally is both an experience and opportunity that is second to none!
How Does Entering Work?
On the surface, it’s super easy. You brew your favorite beers. You taste your favorite beers. You sign up and send them in. Dig a little deeper, though, and there’s quite a bit more to consider!
First and foremost, you have to plan! If you’re really going for the gold, you’ll want to decide what you want to enter and plan accordingly. Depending on the beer style that you want to enter, you’ll want to make sure that it’s at just the right level of maturity for the competition.
For example, if you’re entering a Barrel Aged Stout in the Wood category, but you just brewed it right before the comp, what are the chances that it will be at the proper level of maturation when it gets judged? Maybe that’s a beer that needs to be oak aged properly, and put into next year’s competition! The other side of that is if you’re entering a beer into one of the IPA categories. You’ll have plenty of tough competition, and you want your hops to be fresh and forward for when they get judged so that your beer stands out among the crowd!The next part can be the hardest for some of us. If you set out to make a Belgian Tripel, you usually have in your mind that it’s a tripel, no matter how it comes out. But what if, when you finally have it ready, it fits a lot better into the Trappist Single or Belgian Pale Ale category? That’s where the hard part comes in: you have to be honest with yourself about how it really tastes, and where it fits the best. Go through the BJCP Style Guidelines and put your beer where it fits the best! This will ensure that you get better feedback and increase your chances for that gold medal!!
Once you have all that figured out, it’s pretty easy to register your beer! We use an online application at the Nevada BrewChallenge that makes registration easy! You can go into your account after all of your score sheets are uploaded and download them to get your feedback, save it and go back to it any time!
This NVBC system makes it easy to organize and keep track of everybodies beers, both for those of us organizing and judging as well as everyone who enters!
What Is This BJCP You Speak Of??
Have you ever heard of the Beer Judge Certification Program, affectionately known as the BJCP for short? If you’ve competed before, you definitely have, but for those who haven’t, let me tell you about it.
This Judge Certification Program BJCP, is the current standard for most of the more legitimate competitions around, including the Nevada BrewChallenge, NHC, or National Homebrewers Competition, and many other competitions around the world. That’s right, there are tons of international beer competitions! It’s not just us making beer over here, but a wonderful, global phenomenon!
The BJCP helps create a standard of judging worldwide. This gives us all a set of standards to judge beer to. Iit is a great program full of competent and passionate people who are into helping all of us homebrewers make better beer through honest feedback and fun competition.
The program includes training regimens and doctrine for testing, including tasting exams, BJCP exams, and let’s people become certified beer judges. These are the guys and gals who are judging your beer! Dedicated people who volunteer their time both to train their palettes and learn what the standards are, then volunteer their time to taste and give you feedback on your beer!
It doesn’t pay anything, but you get tons of awesome information and training for your own beer, and it brings you together with other like minded beer enthusiasts who want to give back to the homebrew community! BJCP judges are awesome people, and very rarely petty or unhelpful when they try your beer, so keep that in mind when you read their review of your beer!!
The judges are trained specifically to taste and judge the beers in a certain way, based on 5 primary attributes. Each entered beer is scored based on Aroma, Appearance, Flavor, Mouthfeel and Overall Impression, for a total possible score of 50 points. Most judges will write extensive notes under each attribute, telling you what they taste and providing advice and feedback for each. This is where the helpful, honest feedback comes in!
Ok, down to the actual judging process. It all starts with the organizers and what type of beer you put in the comp. Remember that your beer will be judged precisely to the style of beer that you entered it into. Even though that is always the case, the beers and flights have to be organized in a way to where the judges can reasonably judge them, and that’s where Tables and Groups come in.
A Table is the culmination of anywhere from 6 to 15 entries that are put together to be judged by a specific group of judges, anywhere from 2 to 6, depending on the competition and the available judges and sessions.
Tables are put together with like beers and similar styles so as to preserve as much of the palettes of the judges as possible. At least 2 judges will silently judge and taste each beer, using either the Long Form BJCP Scoresheet or the Short Form BJCP Scoresheet (you can find and download these in the Competition Center on their website if you want to try it!), tasting the beer as thoroughly as possible and scoring it accordingly.
They then come together and talk about everything that they smelled and tasted in the beer, converse about how it fits to the style, and go over any other notes. This is where they come together on the final score.
While still subjective, and dependent upon each judges palette and skill, this is one of the most fair ways to give honest, blatant feedback to each entrant.
What is a Mini Best Of Show?
When the tables are bigger and there are multiple groups of judges on the same table, they will sometimes ask to do a Mini-BOS, or Mini Best of Show. They basically take all of the highest scoring beers and put them together to taste them again, all together, to decide which beer was the most well made and truest to the entered style.
This is why you might see a first place winner with a slightly lower score than a second place winner, or maybe score a 46 on your beer and not medal at all. Once their palettes are cleared, they pit all of the best beers in that table against each other with every group of judges that judged that category, and taste and converse until they all come to agreement on the best made and truest to style beer for the table.
The Big Winner - Best of Show Round
The Best of Show round is delightfully simple and more exponentially complicated. Somewhat like a Mini-BOS, every gold medal from every table gets it’s chance.
This is the main reason why competitions require 2 to 3 bottles of beer to be entered. If you didn’t enter enough beer, then you medal at your table and lose your shot at winning the BOS because there wasn’t enough beer!
In the NVBC, the BOS round consisted of 5 judges. As they go through the beer, they all taste and converse, debate and argue, until the best possible beer as agreed on by every palette at the table gets a majority vote, if not a unanimous one.They carefully review each beer, mead or cider specifically to the style that it was entered into, and since there are multiple styles, they carefully cleanse palettes between each beer and tasting to try and preserve as much objectivity as possible.
Once they decide the absolute best, the overall competition winner, they will also decide on second and third place, and the competition is set!
Now that you have a better understanding about how competition works, and what the point is, enter some beer in the Nevada BrewChallenge, or another competition! Find local resources to begin the process of becoming a BJCP and volunteer your time and energy to help your fellow homebrewers, as well as yourself! The American Homebrewers Association can help finding resources! To be a part of the Nevada BrewChallenge year round, Like us on Facebook and join the Nevada BrewChallenge Facebook group! We have tons of brewers that post up pictures of their projects and brew days, as well as tons of great beer and brewing information! Follow BrewChatter and the Nevada BrewChallenge on Instagram to stay involved and get tons of helpful information! Follow BrewChatterTV onYouTube for tons of fun, funny and instructional videos about brewing for competition and homebrewing in general!
Check out our Behind the Scenes at the Nevada BrewChallenge video!
Tell us all about your competition experiences in the comments below! Brew On!