Thursday, August 25, 2011

Homebrew Competitions – Go Big or Go Home!

As a self described “obsessed homebrewer”, I love the idea of being able to submit a beer that I made to a certified judge to have it evaluated. Not only is this a wonderful way to build confidence as a brewer, it is great to get feedback and advice from someone who has studied the brewing process, so that you can learn new ways in which you can improve upon your beer. Overall I would say that I am a big proponent of competitions in general. So much so that I am studying to become a judge myself.

With all of that said, I feel that there is a major flaw in the system. This is a flaw that lies more with human nature than with the BJCP, AHA or any individual competition coordinators. The problem with competitions is that the winning beers are often not based on the style guidelines for the category they are designed to be. In fact, competitions have become a very strategic pass-time. As brewers chart out which categories and styles will give them the best chance of winning a gold.

In the culture of craft beer and homebrew, we have continued to push the limits of what is possible in regard to flavor. Although this is wonderful and the benefits of such creativity are staggering. Have we forgotten the subtle beauty of a well balanced, well crafted beer? It often seems that we have replaced them with the biggest baddest Barley Wines, and mouth numbing DIPA's. Even with a category as familiar and old as a Dry Stout, we continually find new ways to make them bigger and more unusual. Don't get me wrong, this in itself is not a bad thing. The real problem comes into play when a beer that is submitted to a competition and is made perfectly for its style, is over shadowed by larger more flavorful beers that are not necessarily appropriate for the style.

The BJCP guideline are created to show us the distinctions and definitions of a particular style of beer as well as to draw a line in the sand between categories. But I feel that we may be moving too far away from what was intended.There is a certain amount of art that goes into the creation of each beer. That being said, I fear that we may be losing touch with the “classic” subtle flavors that made craft beer amazing in the first place. In no way am I suggesting that we stop moving forward in the creation of new imaginative beers. In fact I love nothing better than a big hopped up beer or basically anything oaked in a bourbon barrel. I just feel that we need to re-examine our palates and begin judging beers as they were intended to be, instead of how out of the box one can get. I fear the day we start to see Imperial Pilsner submitted to competitions.

Understand that when I discuss this as an ongoing issue, I am in no way referring to any of my personal beers, as I have not even come close to perfecting a style. But I will keep trying.

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