I entered three of my beers into the Ohio State Fair Homebrew competition. I got the results back last night. While none of my beers won any awards, all three scored reasonably well. The fair’s contest used the Beer Judge Certification Program to evaluate and score all entries. Presumably all the judges were certified – or on their way to being certified – according to the BJCP. I admire all the people whose palates are sufficiently robust to be able to identify and quantify the different tastes present in a beer: that’s not a skill I expect to ever have. Even with the BJCP guidelines in place, though, I think there’s simply too much personal opinion involved in beer tasting to make me want to try to compete again.
Each of my beers was judged by three different judges, and each provided his or her own notes about their impressions. The hand-written remarks were extremely hard to read, which I found frustrating. Moreover, the scoring charts were not consistently filled out, so it’s hard to compare one judge’s impressions of beer against another judge’s in any kind of uniform way. The raw point values assigned to each category, and the final cumulative points awarded to my beer, didn’t really mean a whole lot to me. I know they’re supposed to be the result of a somewhat objective comparison to each specific beer style, but not being very conversant with the BJCP program it was all a bit ambiguous to me. And the ranges assigned to my beers reveals that there’s an awful lot of subjectivity from each of the judges.
I didn’t expect to win anything with my beers. I entered in the hopes of getting decent feedback about my brewing techniques, to alert me to any significant problems or shortcomings of which I might not be aware. A few remarks provided helpful guidance about fermentation temperatures, but most of the remarks I found to be laughably off-base. Two of the beers I entered were from kit recipes, and not of my own creation. Both of these were dinged for not having enough base maltiness. I was told to increase the grain bill to remedy that problem. I suppose that’s a fair complaint, since the recipes didn’t include any mention of how closely they fit the BJCP guidelines for the style of beers they were.
The one beer I did enter that was my own recipe was the result of me changing a commercial recipe due to the availability of grains and hops at my local homebrew store. Two of the judges commented on their detection of a grain I didn’t use (chocolate). All three judges gave me contradictory suggestions for ways to improve the recipe in the future (more hops, less hops, etc). Clearly what makes a beer good – as well as what makes it fit the BJCP style – is a matter of personal opinion.
Despite my disappointment with the relative quality of the feedback, I’m glad I entered the competition. I learned that I don’t care to compete when it comes to my beer. The subjective nature of the responses affirmed my previous stance that I I brew for myself. I don’t brew to ensure that my creation perfectly fits within the guidelines of some arbitrary standard. I brew because I like to drink beer. I brew because I enjoy the process of brewing. If I like the beer I create, that’s more than sufficient for me.