Those lovely folks at LAB (London Amateur Brewers) have written us a guest blog post with some tips about entering your brews into competitions. I had my first experience of entering a comp with their recent LAB Open and it has been a great experience to get such detailed feedback on my ‘You Sexy Thing!‘ recipe and I’m looking forward to entering more competitions:
At LAB we love homebrew competitions. We run 2-3 a year including our showpiece the 400 plus entry LAB Open in May. LAB Open is a celebration of homebrewing where you’ll find everything from clean tasting malty pilsners, the hoppiest IPAs and huge barrel aged barleywines. It can be a bit intimidating to know where to start. In March I helped to organise the UK’s first ever lager homebrew competition (Lager than life), and I learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t. So here’s a quick guide from me with expert input from Rob – LAB’s co-chairman and winner of Champion Beer at 2018’s Brewcon.
Brew a really good beer send your best beers
You’re a homebrewer, I bet you’ve already made some good beers. If you are like me you have also made some not so good beers too, and chances are that between you and your mates the good beer is drunk pretty quickly. So if you want to make a splash at the competition you’ll want to have held some of the good beer back. Typically you’ll need about 3 bottles (we ask for 1.5l at LAB Open) so when you know you’ve made a good beer be sure to put enough away to enter a competition. Also be sure to think about when the competition is. Some beers need longer than others to condition, and leave a beer too long and it may taste stale and oxidised.
Rob from LAB says: “Another key aspect to making sure you’re putting your best beers in, and achieving the very highest awards you can, is the organisation and control of your brewing schedule. At one of my first competitions, the legendary homebrewer Fraser Withers won Champion Brewer with five medal-winning beers. Producing that many brews, all of sufficiently high quality, all peaking at the right time, and all packaged and prepared for one weekend is still an amazing accomplishment, and one that isn’t likely to be replicated, since it’s rare for a competition to allow more than three entries per person these days (a decision, I can assure everyone, that was not taken just to stop Fraser sweeping the boards).
Of course, it’s not all about prizes and glory, and you don’t necessarily have to enter your ‘best’ beer. The detailed and highly analytical feedback you receive from the judges can be invaluable in improving your brews, and it’s often worthwhile to enter a beer that’s not quite right, especially if you can’t quite place the flaw.”
Enter your beer into the right category
This one seems pretty straightforward, but you’d be surprised how many people it trips up. Our homebrew competitions use the 2015 BJCP guidelines for entry and judging. We use these to help organise the beers, but also to provide an objective guide to judge the beers against. For every beer you enter you’ll need to put it in a category and its important it is in the right one. A crisp bitter pilsner is the wrong category for an Hefeweizen, these beers are judged quite differently. Some beers are more difficult to categorize. There’s not a huge amount between a bitter, best bitter and and ESB but have a good read of the guidelines and see what best suits your beers.
Rob from LAB says: “Some of the best advice I ever got on this was: enter the beer as the style it tastes like, not the style you brewed. Classic examples of this are in the spice, fruit, herb, vegetable and alternative fermentable categories. If you can’t taste the cherry in your cherry saison, don’t tell the judges about it! At this point, your intentions are immaterial and if the judges can’t taste something you said should be there, then you can only get marked down for it.”
Follow the instructions
Every competition will have a set of instructions you need to follow to get your beers there. Pay attention to how to deliver the beers (drop them off in person or deliver them by courier?), look at how the organisers have asked you to label your beers and whether there is any additional information required about your beers (pale or dark, do you have to say how strong it is?). The organisers will do everything they can to make sure your beer is judged and scored, but if it doesn’t arrive or it has the wrong information that’ll make it really hard. Check you’ve sent the right beer! You’ve got a box full of home brew. You’re in a hurry. It was the beers with the silver caps right? Grab some bottles label them up and send them off to the competition. This happens more often than you’d hope. It’s easy to do – check your beers twice!
Rob says: “This is also pertinent advice for experience competition entrants, as many comps are changing the way they process entries. Recently LAB have started using a QR code on bottle labels. This makes processing entries quicker as we don’t have to remove identifying information and ‘blind’ the bottles for judging, but it does mean you have to check the specific requirements for each competition to see how you need to label bottles.”