This past week, we won our first homebrew competition.
I had not been super concerned with entering competitions until recently. When we first got started brewing, it was all about having fun and making great beer. I sort of felt like I didn’t need some “certified judge” telling me what might or might not be technically wrong with the beer we were making as long as we liked it and our friends liked it.
That attitude changed when we decided to pursue going commercial. Pearce convinced me that entering competitions wasn’t about validation of our recipes. It was truly about learning from qualified people AND bolstering our reputation as brewers. At this point, we have no street cred in the brewing community and we are really rookie want-to-be-brewers. If we enter some competitions and fail to impress the judges, then we will be able to take the critical feedback that they give us and improve our product. If we enter and win ribbons… well, that at least validates that we aren’t dolts.
Our first competition was the Savannah Brewers League ‘Merica’s Mug competition. This one crossed our radar a bit too late and instead of preparing and entering beers brewed specifically for the competition, we entered the two beers that we had on hand at the time. One was a heavily Mosaic hopped American Pale Ale that for some reason I entered as an American IPA. The other was an aggressive and seriously strong double IPA. Both of the beers had slight flaws that we knew about. The APA was sweeter than intended and the DIPA was not quite where we wanted it either. Regardless, we thought they were pretty damn good. The judges, on the other hand, thought differently. They provided detailed feedback about the flaws in the beers. Both beers were deemed to have had issues with fermentation control which may have led to off-flavors. The first beer was not entered in the correct category and it was considered too “fruity” and sweet with not enough hop character. The second beer was considered “pleasant” yet not hoppy enough by one judge and “not a good example” by the other and was deemed to have a possible diacetyl issue… Live and learn. In all seriousness, though, we took the feedback from the judges as constructive and it will lead to a better understanding of brewing in future batches.
After digesting the feedback we tightened our processes and really dialed in our fermentation temperature control. We studied a little more about what made beer better. We kept brewing and kept tweaking our process.
So we entered two beers into a regional homebrew competition called Brewtopia 2.2 several weeks ago. This is NOT your typical homebrew competition where you can enter any BJCP style beer, but rather a very specific brewing competition. The rules stated that we could submit ANY type of beer as long as primary fermentation was accomplished by a French Saison yeast (specifically Wyeast 3711 or WLP590.) Pearce and I were excited about the opportunity to take things out of the box a bit. We developed a recipe for a Saison aged on vanilla beans and figs as well as a Saison d’Hiver (a Winter Saison) brewed with winter vegetables and aged on beets. Raise your hand if you are thirsty. We totally over did it with the beets on the Saison d’Hiver and we knew it, but we entered it anyway because WTH not? I was pretty pumped about the Vanilla Fig Saison though. It turned out really nice.
I have realized that this post is much longer than I wanted it to be so I will leave it at this… We took 1st Place with the Vanilla Fig and 4th place with the Saison d’Hiver. We won our first homebrew competition. Does this mean we will become award winning commercial brewers? No. But at least we know that we are building a foundation to become great brewers.
If you are a homebrewer and you HAVEN’T entered a competition yet, let me challenge you to do so. Go fo BJCP certified competitions, if possible, or ones with a reputation for providing scoring sheets. The resulting feedback from the judges will make you a better brewer.