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7 Mistakes Brewers Make When Entering Beer Competitions

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Is your brewery considering entering a beer competition such as the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBAs), World Beer Cup, Asia Beer Cup or International Beer Challenge?

That’s great!

Beer competitions are the best way for a professional brewer to get feedback about his/her product from industry peers as well as potentially winning some medals or trophies to use in your brewery’s sales & marketing material.

Update February 2017 – Entries for the 2017 AIBAs are now open and close on 24 March 2017 but your exhibits don’t need to be in until late April.  But now is the time to start thinking about what you’re going to enter.

But I’m just going to tell you right now to stop.  That’s right, don’t bother entering any beer competition.

Save your money because it’s likely that you’ll make one or more of the mistakes below that will stop your brewery from performing as well as it could.

Here goes:

Mistake 1 – You Let The Sales & Marketing Department Fill Out The Entry Form

That’s right, brewers, you should be actively involved in the entry process for any beer competition.  Don’t leave it to the sales and marketing department alone. Get off the floor for a minute and make sure your awesome beers are being entered correctly.

Every brewery needs a marketing person like this.

For example, the AIBAs and World Beer Cup are judged under the Brewer’s Association (aka BA) style guidelines.  The BA style guidelines set out some 100+ known styles of beer and define them by the common metrics such as: Starting Gravity, Finishing Gravity, ABV, IBU, colour and more.

When your beer is judged, it is evaluated for any major faults and how well the beer matches the style guideline.

The beer is presented to the judges by the stewards who pour beers in a stewarding area that’s separate from the main judging area (judges are forbidden entry to the stewarding area).

That’s it.

Judges don’t know what beer they’re evaluating apart from the style and they certainly don’t see your fancy label that you spent thousands to design.

Also, just because your beer wears a label that says “India Pale Ale” doesn’t mean that it should be entered as an IPA in competition.

What happens if you’re attached to your beer style instead of your beer’s “style”.

Case in point, Feral Hop Hog which is usually entered as an American Style Pale Ale.  Remember this old label? That’s a champion trophy winning beer (and brewer) right there.

This “India Pale Ale” is actually a cracking American Pale Ale.

So before you go an enter that Session IPA, have a good think about what class it should go in based on it’s characteristics in a sensory evaluation and not what’s written on the label.

Mistake 2 – You Enter Every Single Beer in Your Range

So let’s say your brewery has 6 core range beers available year round and then a range of seasonals and some one-off beers which are released periodically throughout the year.  Should you enter every beer that you produced over the last say 12 months?

Absolutely not and here’s a few reasons why:

  • You may not have made a beer in a while and so what you have might not be fresh (see Reason 4 below)
  • The beer may not be appropriate for any style (unless you want to enter it in the specialty/other classes)
  • Your interpretation of a certain style might not be the same as the BA style.
  • You have some in-house production issue that is causing faults in your product (see Reason 7 below)
  • You have budget constraints.  It can cost up to $300 per exhibit to enter and that’s not including freight and the beer itself. That can add up quickly.
Do this only if you have deep pockets and every beer is gold-medal standard.

Sometimes, it’s best not to enter a beer … and that’s OK.

Let’s not forget, with the AIBAs, you can enter the same beer in Draught (aka keg) as well as Packaged (cans and bottles) and these are considered two exhibits.

Generally, I find that this is a great way to have the same batch of beer evaluated to pick up possible process faults with a brewery’s different pack formats but when I do that, I enter the same batch of beer so I know the beer has come from the same tank.

Should you do this for every beer?  Not really.  It’ll quickly double your entry fee.

Pick the beers which you believe will perform the best across both formats.

Mistake 3 – You Enter a “Specialty” or “Other” Class and Don’t Specify The Base Style on the Entry Form

Sometimes you have a beer in your lineup that doesn’t fit any of the classes as specified in the competition’s base classes.  This might be due to its technical specification such as ABV, IBU or colour.

These beers go into the “Other” classes.  They are classes that exist for beers that don’t fit into the traditional styles.

Or you may be thinking of entering that fruit/smoked/honey/chocolate/wood aged or low ABV beer.

These beers go into the “Specialty” classes which are given names such as “Wood Aged Beer” or “Chocolate Beer”.

The Specialty classes have a style guideline and it’s usually pretty broad with regards to their technical specifications.  Basically you just need to have the specialty ingredient in the beer.

When you enter beers into these classes, this is your only opportunity to use the “Brewer’s Notes” field on the entry form.

This is where you need to specify the base style.

The base style is where you refer to an existing style class in order to notify the judge as to what style guideline to evaluate your beer against.

Some entry forms require you to specify the base style but many don’t have it as a mandatory field.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to specify the base style.

Imagine if you’re a judge and you’re judging low ABV beers.  You get beers of many different types coming out at you in the same flight.

Dark beers, pale beers, wheat beers – you name it.

Imagine a judge looking at your awesome reduced ABV robust porter.  They only see a “dark beer”, can’t see your label and have no reference as to what you’re trying to make.

Is it supposed to be hoppy?  Is is supposed to have that biscuit malt character?

Don’t make the judge guess.  Tell them what exactly what you’ve made!

Soooo…..it’s a dark beer.

In the brewer’s notes, refer to the style guideline verbatim that your beer would be if it met the specifications of that style.

For example: “This beer is a reduced ABV Robust Porter. Base style: 13C Robust Porter.”

All of a sudden, you’ve given the judge the ability to turn to the correct page in the style guideline book and evaluate your beer according to your nominated base style.

Judges may (and that’s a big ‘may’) give you some leeway as to what you were trying to create knowing that getting all of the characteristics of a Robust Porter in a reduced ABV form is very difficult.

You will still need to have a well made, fault-free beer, however.

Mistake 4 – You Send Old and Stale Exhibits to be Judged

Old, stale and oxidised product is the most common fault spotted during judging however, some styles of beer can do very well when when aged such as barrel aged, Belgian-style or high ABV beers.

So if you’re sending beers in to be judged, especially hoppy styles, make sure they are as fresh as possible.

Please don’t be like this to a beer judge.

Relating to freshness, here’s some of the common mistakes that are made by brewers when submitting exhibits:

  • Your brewery has heaps of different beers and you want to enter them all but some of them haven’t been brewed in a while so they’re showing signs of age.
  • You’ve got that seasonal IPA from a while back that you really want to enter because OMG the punters really loved it when it was released but if you’re honest with yourself, it’s deteriorated since.
  • Your warehouse lacks adequate stock rotation and picking processes and although there is fresher product at the brewery or warehouse, an old batch is picked and sent for judging by mistake.
  • You’ve got multiple batches of the same beer but you don’t clearly mark your product with a batch number on the bottle, keg or case so you don’t know which batch is the freshest.

In general, put your best foot forward.  Unless it’s a style where age can add to the exhibit, send your freshest beer.

Mistake 5 – You Send Your Exhibits The Slowest Way Possible

So you’ve gotten your freshest products out, labelled them up and now you’re going to send your exhibits to the the competition to be evaluated so you send it via Australia Post or DHL on a Friday.

And then your beer is sitting on a hot, unrefrigerated truck all weekend.

And then your excellent, fresh product is now not as fresh as it could be.

A reliable and well timed courier service can get your exhibit to a competition in tip-top condition.

How a beer arrives to a beer competition is as important as how well the beer is brewed.  Spend the money to get it there in the best possible condition as quickly as your budget allows.

Mistake 6 – You Don’t Read The Entry Booklet

Every beer competition publishes an entry booklet and competition rules.

How many bottles/kegs do you need to send?

What are the key dates for the competition with respect to entries and sending exhibits?

What is the cut off date to get exhibits to the competition?

Are you thinking of being considered for a Champion Brewery trophy in the AIBAs?

Yes. Trophies. There are awards given over and above medals for the best Small, Medium, Large and Gypsy Brewer.

Only one brewer can win a trophy. Make sure it’s your brewery.

Read the criteria for these trophies to see where you fit and how the trophies are awarded.

Are you a first time entrant to a particular beer competition?

Many competitions have an trophy which is awarded to the best new exhibitor.  Go read the entry booklet to see what the criteria for this trophy is.

If you’re a new brewery, sometimes it’s best to postpone entering a competition for the first time until you have your production process and Quality Management all set up and bedded down.

Any trophy will be amazing for your brand so do it right when the time is right.

So sit down and take the time to read the competition’s entry booklet and craft your entry as best as possible.

Mistake 7 – You’re Not Honest With Yourself With Regards to Sensory Evaluation of Your Own Product

Yep.  It’s tough evaluating your own product.

You worked really hard on writing that recipe, designing the label, brewing the beer as best as you could and getting it out there for the punters to evaluate.

There really is a lot of emotional investment tied up in your beer.

But, if you’re going to be successful in the in a beer competition, don’t be subjective when evaluating your beer – be objective.  After all, that’s what the judges do when they evaluate your beer so you should do the same.

You’re going to fall into one of two camps with respect to not evaluating your own product objectively:

Camp A – The “My Shit Don’t Stink” Camp

These guys reckon that their beers are absolutely awesome, don’t need judging and any judges impartial but negative evaluation of their beer is just plain wrong.

Don’t be Caroline.

Often – these guys are also guilty of making some of the other mistakes listed above and most of all, they lack the understanding of how the judging process works.

Don’t get defensive about the standard of your product.  Understand the competition and own it.

Camp B – The “My Beer is Shit” Camp

Ahh the perfectionist!  Ever able to spot even the most minute of faults and nuances of his/her beer.

The perfectionist is reluctant to enter their beer because they fear negative feedback like those in Camp A but any minor fault is regarded as doom and relegation to the “also-rans” in the competition.

You’ll also see these guys sweeping their internal commentary under the rug when out spruiking their beers.  They have to.  It’s their job to sell beer.

If you fall into this camp, go and enter your beer.  Maybe your beer is shit but maybe you’re completely wrong and you’re sitting on a medal-winning beer.

Worse case scenario, at least you’ll find out why your beer doesn’t perform as well as it could and you have the opportunity to improve.

———————————————————-

Whatever camp you sit in, this final key to the getting your best foot forward for a beer competition and it can be the toughest hurdle to overcome.

The best way to overcome Mistake 7 is to undertake a blind sensory session in-house.

Or perhaps it’s better to have an impartial, professional and qualified third party evaluate your beers prior to entering them.

A professional opinion sets an overt contract between peers and removes the emotion around brewers giving potentially negative feedback to other brewers.  The pub or a social setting is not the place for professional feedback.

Conclusion

Don’t be shy, get in there and enter that beer competition!

Whether you do well or not, your product and your brand will thank you for it because at the end of the day, it’s all about continuous improvement.

And there’s always next year.

Rockstar Brewer is a craft brewery consulting service.  We have the systems and know-how through our quality management system that ensures you’re making beer to a high quality standard.

We can also help you get your beer line up ready for competition whether that’s doing an impartial sensory evaluation on your beer (and helping you select the correct entry class) or helping you improve your processes to ensure your beer is the best it can be.

Put your best foot forward when entering beer competitions – Contact us if you’d like more information about what we do.

Got a topic you’d like me to write about? Leave a comment below.

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5 thoughts on “7 Mistakes Brewers Make When Entering Beer Competitions”

  1. An abundance of very useful information Hendo. Ties a lot of things together for me personally. I look forward to continual insights from you on brewing beer…..Thanks

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