I have been all grain brewing since 2009. I am by no means an expert, but I have tackled (with varying degrees of success ) 🙂 a wide variety of beer styles and can confidently predict the end results of a brew. As with most hobbies and interests, once you begin to feel comfortable with a discipline, it is the natural human progression to want to test your skills and push yourself harder.
My desire to test my skills in brewing serendipitously coincides with a steep increase in the number of homebrew competitions currently going on both locally and nationally!
Within the last few months there has been a flurry of competitions in the Leeds area. This has been driven by the members of my local home brewing group, Leeds Hombrewers, along with fantastic support from local breweries, as well as the Northern Craft Brewers, of which I am proud to be a member.
So why do we, as home brewers, have the need to enter into competition with one another? I am sure that somewhere out there, there are a number of ‘glory hounds’ who are all about ‘the win’, but I see competitions for their ability to help a brewer to hone his skills and test his abilities. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t enjoy winning, why enter a competition if you don’t WANT to win, I am merely suggesting that homebrew competitions can offer much more.
The challenge of ‘Style’
Where would a Home brew competition be without a defined set of style guidelines? I am not about to get into the cut and thrust debate on which set of standards are the best, or how a competition should be judged (this is my 1st blog post after all, plenty of time for that! ). Whether you stand before the alter of BJCP or not there is no denying the necessity of style guidelines for competition. It is the challenge of creating a stand out beer, within the specifics of a style that will help to push a brewer’s abilities and skills.
It is very hard to make a ‘bad’ beer. Follow basic brewing principles and a rigid sanitation regime and you are bound to produce beer at the end of a brew day and fermentation. However, brewing a particular ‘style’ of beer, can more challenging.
A competition can be an opportunity to brew styles of beers you would not normally brew, or at least bring forward a brew that is in the back of your mind, but always seems to get usurped by that West Coast IPA (again ) :-). This in itself can bring challenges to the home brewer, whether it be with convoluted mashing schedules, or using ingredients outside of your comfort zone.
Offer your homebrew to a friend of family member and 9 times out of 10 (hopefully) they will love it! This is a great feeling and any encouragement is great, however there remains a slight bias to say the least! Constructive, objective feedback, from a trained beer judge, positive or otherwise, is a valuable tool for any home brewer, aspiring or seasoned alike! This type of feedback mechanism can help you tinker with a recipe or brewing method to improve your next batch of beer.
From my limited experience of home brew competitions, the social aspect cannot be forgotten! They are a great chance to meet with fellow brewers, some you may already know from local clubs or online forums, and some you may meet for the 1st time! The Northern Craft Brewer’s inter-region IPA competition brought together brewers from across the country, and I feel safe to say a great time was had by all!
So in summary, home brew competitions can offer a lot more than the chance to compete against your fellow brewers! They can be learning and development opportunities, social events, as well as a chance for you to stretch your wings into styles you may be unfamiliar with. I plan on entering as many as I possibly can this year, especially the National Hombrew competition that is being organised by The Craft brewing Association and the Bristol Homebrewers (www). Fingers crossed I may ‘place’ with an entry, but more importantly I hope I can learn and develop my brewing as a result of the experience
“It’s not what you come away with, but what you take from it that counts”