How Does It Work?
First time entering a competition? Read this!
If you have never entered a competition, don’t be nervous! This page will give you an idea what goes on.
In short: BJCP sanctioned competitions are all about working with BJCP trained judges to evaluate and score entries against the BJCP Guidelines, while being blind to the identity of the entrant. Entrants receive standardized scoresheets describing the judge's perceptions of their beer and feedback for potential improvements.
First you brew the beer and package it up. This guide won't cover that stuff, however we highly recommend that you use 12 oz brown glass bottles. These types of bottles are pretty much the standard in the competition world. When entering a competition you need to register your entry in the competition software. To do this, register an account, go to the add entries page, then add your entries to the system. The BJCP 2021 Guidelines are used, so make sure you select the correct category to enter. This can sometimes be complicated with specialty beers, but the guidelines are fairly clear, plus you are always welcome to email us to ask for advice.
After packaging and registering your entries you need to get them to a drop off or shipping location before the competition deadline. If shipping make sure that you allow sufficient time for transit, and possibly also for slight delays. If dropping off, make sure you check the operating hours before going. Make sure you print your entry labels and affix them to the bottles using elastic band (no tape please) before shipping or dropping off.
Each entry is judged by a pair of judges as part of a flight of same and/or similar style beers, grouped into what we call “tables”. While judging a beer, the judges complete a scoresheet noting their impressions of various aspects of the beer and providing technical and stylistic feedback to the entrant. Judges are trained to be as precise as possible using constructive and descriptive language (avoiding generic phrases like “nice maltiness”). The beer is then given a score out of 50 at the bottom of the sheet by each judge. After the scoresheet is completed the judges discuss the beer, compare scores/notes, adjust if necessary, then work together to assign medals.
The reason BJCP judging is so useful is because the beers are judged blind and the judges are trained to use common descriptive terms. Blind judging is important because it removes all bias towards (or against) an entrant and allows complete honesty and a level playing field. Common descriptive terms are important because it ensures that the qualities being perceived by the judge can be communicated as clearly as possible, to be understood by multiple parties.
Tips on Entering Specialty Beer
When providing a description to the judges in the required info section, you want to be careful to only provide enough information to help you, instead of harming you. You also want to make sure to enter in the correct subcategory.
If you tell a judge something about your beer that they can't pick up it may hurt your score. This is where experience comes in, you need to know when to declare something, and when to keep it to yourself. A judge doesn't need to know your entire recipe to judge the beer, just a general description with enough info to identify the flavours they are tasting. Brewers are frequently penalized for giving too much info when the judge can't pick up a declared component. Don't include vital statistics like ABV/IBU/OG/FG, unless explicitly required in the subcategory Entry Instructions.
General hints (read pg. 60 of the 2021 Guidelines):
- Read the "Entry Instructions" section of the subcategory, if it exists
- In many cases , the base style doesn't have to be a BJCP defined Classic Style
- Eg. 28A/B/C allows "ingredients/specs/target character", in lieu of base style
- "When specifying the specialty ingredient, keep in mind that the more specific you are, the more judges will look for a signature characteristic. "
- "We have arbitrarily defined some ingredients as taking precedence over others (in order of highest precedence: wild, smoke, wood, fruit/spice, grain/sugar), but that only applies if you can perceive that ingredient. "
- "Put yourself in the position of the judge; write down the useful information needed to properly judge the beer. "
Think about it from a drinker's perspective, if you buy a "Grapefruit IPA" at a local brewery but can't taste the grapefruit when you drink it you would probably knock that beer a bit mentally since they set your expectations to something other that what you drank.
Example of bad description:
- American IPA with citra & simcoe & equinox hops, Carastan malt, and ruby red grapefruit
Example of a good description:
- IPA with grapefruit
Brewing “To Style”
Beer styles (even specialty ones) are very useful because they help group beers with similar flavour characteristics and balance. Using a style/subcategory name when describing your beer helps set the drinker’s expectation, without having to share the whole recipe or a paragraph long description.
“I don’t brew to style” is a common phrase in the beer community, and there is some truth to it, but really only when you consider the classic style categories (1-26). Even then, the classic style categories are fairly broad, as long as the beer is balanced. Outside of the classic styles there are specialty categories (21B, 27-34), each containing several subcategories, that capture anything else you could possibly brew. “Not brewing to style” isn’t a barrier to BJCP competitions, you just need to enter your beer in the right subcategory and provide a proper description.
Coffee porter (30A), strawberry witbier (29A), dry hopped brett saison (28A), kettle soured wheat with apricot+dry hopped (28C), Black IPA (21B), and even chili+chocolate+mango imperial stout (29B) are all at home in the available specialty categories. If you brew a hybrid of several other styles, that can be entered in 34B (Mixed Style Beer). If you think you have brewed something that is completely unique and fits no where else, please enter it in 34C (Experimental Beer).