My brewing buddy Ken and I decided that we'd throw caution to the wind and submit a few of our beers to the biggest homebrew competition in the United States, the National Homebrew Competition, hosted by the American Homebrewer's Association. The competition starts with regional, first round competitions of up to 650 entries per judging center, then the winners from each category of those rounds move on to the final round, which is being held in San Diego, CA on June 6th.
I decided to enter my Cacao Idaeus, Fall Down Brown, and Dark Matter Doppelbock this year, even though none of them turned out the way I wanted them to. I thought it would be interesting to get professional feedback, and that it would be awesome to get some accolades for what my friends call, great beer (and I think so too).
So, we entered the beers, took them to the drop off site, and waited for the results. My beers didn't do as well as I wanted them too, but I know exactly why they didn't. And besides, they did just fine for my first time entering a competition. The Cacao Idaeus received a silver certificate with 30 (out of 50) points, and the Fall Down Brown got a bronze certificate with 27.5 points. Certificates are given to beers that receive a qualifying number of points from the judges, but don't place in their categories (click here for awards info). The Dark Matter Doppelbock (named Dulce de Doppelbock in the competition), got the lowest score of 24.5 points, but I now know why that happened. Doppelbocks have a particular characteristic that I didn't understand prior to a few weeks ago. First, they are typically decoction mashed, which I've never done (but will do next time), which makes the mash more efficient in many ways and adds some specific flavor development. Also, doppelbocks tend to be slightly drier than the one I made, which was cloyingly sweet because I didn't get good attenuation with the fermentation due to underpitching the yeast. However, all these scores are in the "Good" to "Very Good" category, so I'm pretty happy with them. Ken did brilliantly with one gold certificate and three silvers, though he didn't place in his categories either. In either case, it was a great experience and I will definitely enter again at some point soon, I might even do local competitions just to see how I do. I love competing on any level in just about anything, so why not for brewing?
I will say that since I've gone to brewing with all-grain methods, my understanding of how things should be done has gone up considerably. I understand a lot more about the techniques of brewing, as well as how I can more finely tune them to express the artistry that I'm trying to convey in my beers. Since I have so much tighter control over the entire character of my beers now, I can fully explore my range of creativity. But, mostly, I just want to brew beers that prove to people that beer doesn't have to suck, and it can, in fact, be extremely delicious (and you can make it in your garage, while drinking beer).