To Compete or Not? Thoughts on Homebrewing Competitions.
Our local beer Home-brewing contest in on this week and I did not enter to compete although I am planning to be active in the judging and social aspects of the competition.
My wife says that I am dumb.
She just may be right. Again.
I sample hundreds (maybe thousands) of beer every year. From commercial to rookie homebrews, I like to try as many as possible. As one can imagine, they range from the sublime to the substandard. Still, I figure that I am always better for trying them.
I’ve been asked for all kinds of feedback, and give it whenever asked. I routinely host beer pairing dinners, extolling the virtues of craft beer over wine.
I’ve given talks and helped trouble shoot many batches as my involvement in the craft beer world has grown. Heck, I even drank a beer at 6:00 am to support the cause. (And I really love my coffee)
But the one thing I almost never do is enter my beer in formal competitions. As a rule, I choose not to compete.
In the last five years I have entered a total of three beers into BJCP sanctioned events. I have however entered a few more into informal club hosted events (and in those I routinely cheat to take advantage of the theme or style, with a good degree of success). I’ve enthusiastically urged many people to enter great beer into competition, but I have consistently found reasons not to enter my beer to compete.
So why haven’t I entered beers into competitions again this year? As I tell my wife the reasons that I choose not to compete are many and complex, but to be perfectly honest she isn’t buying my story at all.
I’ve been thinking about this subject for quite a while and here are some of the reasons why I, and many others, have not put much effort into the competition scene.
1. All or nothing: Personally if I am entering a competition I want a chance of having the best beer in the competition and earning the most competition points. For that to happen one needs to send several top quality beer.
2. Pipeline: To be competitive one needs a variety of beers that are ready and at their drinking best. This means having beers that are everywhere from incredibly fresh (such as in a hefeweizen) to well aged (like Old Ales, Sours and Barleywines). This means brewing to a specific calendar that may or may not reflect our true seasonality here in North America.
3. Brewing to style: To have a good chance to win, a beer not only should be brewed to the classic style, it should also be brewed to the high end of that style for a greater chance to stand out amongst the other beer in the flight. What that means in reality (and has been discussed by many ) is that hoppy beers need to be very hoppy, dry beers need to be very dry and high alcohol beers need to be noticeably boozy.
4. Brewing the right style: This is where I am not in agreeance with many competitors. In competition certain styles are represented far better than others. Over the last few years it is no surprise that the American IPA and its relatives are incredibly well represented. Entering beer in that styles gives you a mathematically lower chance to win than entering a rarer style such as a Southern English Brown or German Alt.
5. Doing it again: For larger competitions, such as the AHA (American Homebrewers Association) sanctioned National Homebrew Competition one not only has to make a great beer, but one also has to brew it again at a later time.
6. Selfishness: One thing that separates me from those that actively compete is that when I brew a truly great beer I want to keep it around. I love to share it with friends and visitors, but the thought of shipping some off feels like a loss to me. Potentially great social times are more important to me than potential medals.
7. Expense: While competitions are not all that expensive to enter, that cost coupled with shipping several beers to competitions around the country/continent can add up quickly. Assuming ten dollars a beer to ship and enter, I can think of many better ways to spend my hobby money.
8. Kegging: Once many homebrewers begin kegging, they quickly learn to loathe the process of bottling. Kegs are a far better packaging and delivery system for beer and many folks dislike going back to bottling.
So why is my wife right?
Well, if one truly wants to stand out against the norm, then one simply has to be judged. And to be judged fairly it should be a blind tasting with neutral judges and not asking for feedback from someone that may want to spare one’s feelings.
So she has a great point. Maybe its time to consider winding up production in order to properly compete. Maybe its easier to find reasons to justify that expense and effort than it is to continue to sit back and dodge the issue.
I guess I need to have a beer and think about how to go about this. Ain’t life grand?