Quite often, new brewers feel a bit apprehensive about entering into homebrew competitions. Not only is there a competitive pressure, but using online competition software can be a bit of a headache. We’ve created this quick guide to help those interested in entering competitions overcome this obstacle. Keep in mind that competition is not just about the accolades and awards, it is primarily designed to allow brewers to receive unbiased feedback from certified beer judges and make you a better brewer.
Step 1: Prepare your beer
The first step to entering is simply packaging your beer, cider or mead entries. In general, competitions prefer simple brown 12 ounce bottles with a metal cap closure. You can enter bottles with different sizes or caps, but these are the most common. If you choose to recycle commercial bottles, this is also allowed, but all paper labels must be fully removed so that your bottle remains anonymous through the judging process.
Next, clean and sanitize your bottles before packaging beer. If you are planning on bottle conditioning, ensure you use a proper amount of priming sugar and provide enough time for your bottles to carbonate and settle before competition. If you’re bottling from a keg, fill bottles to a proper level and try not to over or under fill. In all cases, use sanitary methods when transferring your beer to the bottle. Cap your bottles and set them aside so you can keep your entries separate (if entering multiple beers). If you choose to mark your caps to keep your bottles organized, please black out any cap label prior to sending your beer.
Step 2: Register as an entrant
Next, you’ll need to visit the competition web site and register an account. You’ll be asked some simple information on who you are and where you live. This information is important to allow the competition staff to send you any awards you earn. If you wish to volunteer to participate as competition staff, you can also do this during your registration. Competitions are always seeking staff of all positions to help volunteer. If you know ahead of time, also choose how you will be sending your beers to the competition. Many entrants choose to drop off entries themselves, but you will also be given an option to ship your entries to a drop off point.
Step 3: Enter your beers
Once registered, you can then add entries to your account. Your brewer information will be automatically attached. If you had a co-brewer you want to give credit to, enter their name. Then you get to choose a name for your beer. You can be creative or simple, however you choose. Lastly is the most important elements. Choose the style of beer you wish to enter. Keep in mind that the style you choose will dictate how the feedback is tailored to fit your beer. For instance, if you enter a hoppy pilsner as a pale ale, hoping it will get an award, you may miss points for the beer not being fruity enough or having enough body, and your feedback will have nothing to do with the pilsner style. However, if you enter that hoppy pilsner as a German pilsner, hoping to get more feedback as to how to brew it better, you’ll get more pertinent feedback.
If you’re entering a specialty beer, such as a fruit beer, spice beer or other specialty area, you’ll be asked to enter additional information to clarify your entry. You are free to add as much information about the beer as you would like, but if you have a cherry vanilla beer and cannot taste vanilla, its unlikely the judges will find it. This may hurt your score and feedback on the beer. Some additional styles may require information on color and strength, as some styles have a range of values. You may also enter any additional information on your beer for any entry. Keep in mind this information is usually not shared with judges except for specialty styles.
Step 4: Prepare your entries
Once you’ve added your entries, you’re then ready to prepare your entry for shipment or drop-off. Again, check that the bottle is clean, with no label and that any identifying marks on the cap are removed. Next, go to the bottom of your competition profile on the website and review your entry. You will need to print your entry sheet for each entry you are sending. This will print a form that provides information to the competition staff to categorize your beer during the sorting process.
Cut out a label for each bottle of beer you are entering. Usually this is at least two bottles. One will be used for primary judging and one may be used for best-of-show judging. In some cases, a competition will request a third bottle to allow for more beer during pro-am selections. Using a rubber band, attach the label to the bottle. Do not use tape, glue or any other method. Once your bottle is sorted into its category and made anonymous, this label will be removed.
Step 5: Send or drop off your entries
If you are dropping off your bottles, it is usually best to place them in a common commercial 6-pack bottle carrier. If dropping off several bottles, use an appropriate box. Communicate to the drop off location person which competition you are dropping off for, and help them to place your entries in an adequate storage area (usually refrigerated or very cool).
If you are shipping your bottles, it is best to individually cover the bottles in taped bubble wrap and then wrap the entries in groups in additional padded packing material. Some brewers will also zip lock bag the beer and sometimes the entry label separately in order to protect them from breakage. Use a sturdy box to contain all the bottles you are sending. Send bottles only through USPS, as other carriers may not allow you to send alcohol in regular mail.