What You Need to Know
Are you considering the thought of putting together a homebrewing competition? Do you need help getting it organized? We're here to help. If your organization is planning on using a homebrew competition as a fund-raiser, we suggest caution. If you have a computer and a spreadsheet program, run the numbers. Calculate the costs of postage, prizes, printing costs, and food for the hungry judges. You'll probably discover that you'll need upwards of 75 entries to break even. As the number of entries grows, you'll begin to hit the point of diminishing returns. More entries = more judges = more food. A good number of entries would be 125 or so. If you're ready to take the plunge, let's go through the process step by step.
You'll want to get your competition sanctioned by the American Homebrewers Association / Beer Judge Certification Program. Without this sanctioning, you'll have a tough time attracting card-carrying beer judges since they'd receive no points for their efforts. Get your sanctioning eight months before the competition date so that these organizations have time to publish your event in their magazines and on their web sites. If your club has its own web site, use the power of the internet to publicize your contest. Warning: you might be surprised how effective this can be!
You'll probably want to send out flyers three months before your event. This will give contestants time to brew a batch without rushing things. The AHA has a full listing of homebrewing clubs on their web site. Watch your printing and mailing costs. You might consider sending out your information by bulk rate postage.
If you live in a metropolitan area, a few posters at homebrew shops and pubs might be worthwhile. Black and white on fluorescent stock is eye-catching. If you have a color printer and can justify the ink, color is always nice. The AHA has a big listing of homebrew shops around the world.
Believe it or not, gathering up prize donations isn't that hard. You usually have but to ask and it shall be given. Homebrew shops love giving gift certificates, especially the stores that have a mail order trade. They can write off the retail expense of the certificate and they're only out the wholesale value of the merchandise. Breweries are usually very generous with tee shirts. It's free advertising for them. Don't neglect the big grain and hops producers! (select the "ingredients" category)
Whenever possible, try to convince your generous donors to ship their prizes directly to the winners. It will save you the postage and give your donor a chance to slip in a catalog with the prize.
Try to come up with a trinket for your judges and stewards too. A nice certificate or a key-chain bottle opener would be nice. I've got a shelf full of judging glasses from my judging experience.
Your judging venue is very important. It has to be large enough to accommodate your judging tables comfortably. It should be well lit and free of extraneous odors. Ideally, it would have enough space to refrigerate a few hundred bottles of beer, especially in the summer. A kitchen would be nice. Restrooms are a must! While this might seem like a tall order, you might consider church basements, lodge halls, apartment social rooms, brewery hospitality rooms and other such sites. If you have to rent a hall, be prepared to pay up.
An army of beer judges needs to be fed. If you follow the judging guidelines, no panel of judges should score more than 15 beers at a sitting without taking off time for a real meal. Since a judge must swallow about one ounce of beer from each entry, they'll need some food and a rest between rounds. The food should be high in protein and carbohydrates but not too greasy or spicy. Baked potatoes with different toppings are a good choice. You'd be amazed how long four dozen spuds stay hot in a well insulated picnic cooler. Your propane burner and brew kettle can heat up a mess of chili too!
Whatever you do, don't forget to check the judge's math! You can use a computerized system for this but a human being should be fine. Check every score sheet for accuracy. Brewers hate it when their numbers add up to more than their final score. Provide plenty of pencils (and a sharpener) for your judges. Staple each beer's sheets together as soon as they're checked with a cover sheet. Since you won't have the brewer's name at this time, arrange them by beer number as they come in.
The Best of Show Round
Every beer judge alive wants to sit on the BOS panel. Unfortunately, you'll have to pick three or four from the pool. Best of Show panels usually discuss each beer openly and contentiously as they gradually eliminate one beer after another. Personalities and preferences clash. Fire hoses may be needed. We suggest that you explain your selection standards before the first round. Don't always go by judge rank. Consider the final beers in your choice of judges. You wouldn't seat a Weizen hating judge on a panel with two Weizens in the Best of Show. Have someone take notes (or video) of the judging. You'll want to keep a blow-by-blow record of the judging.
The Wrap Party
The judging is done. The facility is cleaned up. You're left with a stack of scores sheets and a few dozen leftover bottles of homebrew. Throw a party! Use the leftover beer as bait to encourage some friends and club members to sort, address, and stamp your brewer packets. Warning: Make sure you keep the beer in the refrigerator until you're at least half done with the task. Above all, don't leave the key to the scores out in plain sight or your helpers will sack the high-scoring beers, leaving you with the dogs. Offer a bottle of 40 point beer to the person who licks the most stamps. Don't forget to send in your judging reports to the BJCP. If you don't, your judges won't receive judging points and you'll be in serious trouble.
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