This may prove to be a controversial or unpopular post. I'm going to broach the subject of home brew competition judging and my opinion of the whole process. If you know even one thing about me, it’s that my opinions are pretty strong, so buckle up here, guys.
Adam and I are coming fresh off a competition where none of our beers placed. Fine. It happens. No big deal. You win some, and you lose some. I always get kind of nervous about competition, because I do care what people think of our beer. I want people to like it and tell me their thoughts on it, especially people who have had training in tasting and judging beer. We look forward to receiving notes on each beer, so we can figure out how to improve and where we might have gone wrong. That’s really why we enter competitions now and again: We want to submit what we think are our best beers, win or lose, and get notes from certified judges to help us learn and improve.
This most recent event was a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP)-sanctioned competition that followed the 2008 guidelines, though apparently not all the judges were BJCP certified. We entered a saison (that had just won another competition), a Belgian blonde (similar to our Golden Strong but lower in ABV), and our newest brew, a traditional Berliner Weisse. Like I said, we didn't place, but we thought, hey, let's see those tasting notes.
These were the most absurd and ridiculous tasting notes and score sheets that I’ve ever seen in my life! If you’ve ever taken the time to do any research on BJCP judges and what they’re supposed to know and do, well, these tasting notes delivered the exact opposite of that. What I am interested in as a competing home brewer is improving the beer and constructive feedback on how to do that—not in anyone’s personal feelings or egotistical bullshit written down on paper, and certainly not having points deducted from a score because of that. If you can’t offer objective, constructive feedback on the style of the beer that you are judging, turn in your BJCP Judge’s certification immediately! These notes revealed that the so-called judges were not even familiar with the styles per the 2008 guidelines. Many of the scorecards were not filled out completely. Some judges were noted as BJCP-certified, some were not, and others did not even indicate their qualifications. So, who are you? Do you even have a Cicerone Certified Beer Server (level 1) certification? Do you brew? Do you work in the beer industry? Are you just some person who is an “enthusiast” of craft beer?! I just don’t think it takes that much time to circle a couple of numbers on a piece of paper! If it’s not worth your time as a judge to complete the paperwork, then don’t be a judge! I’m comparing the samples on the BJCP site to the score sheets we received, and it’s like night and day.
I don’t want anyone to think I’m going on about this because I’m a sore loser. I’m not a sore loser. I come from an art and design background where critique is constant. I want to know what I’m doing right and wrong at all times here. Brewing is important to both Adam and me. Hell, we’d like to be doing this professionally really soon! So if you can’t effectively tell me what your perceived problem is with my beer, why it happened, and what you think I can do to fix it, then you shouldn’t be judging competitions. Just because you like to drink beer and can memorize BJCP guidelines (I’m simplifying the certification process extremely here), that doesn’t mean you should be a competition judge.
At this point, I feel torn about competing again. If our beers are going to be judged by people who are ultimately unqualified, I’m not crazy about the idea. If I see a BJCP-sanctioned competition, I should feel assured that it’ll be fair and well-run, and that I’ll receive constructive feedback per their guidelines. However, after this last experience, I’m not so sure.
How about you? Have you competed before? How have your tasting notes and score cards looked? I’d love to hear from you about your experiences.