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Competition Feedback

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by utahbeerdude, Aug 23, 2012.

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  1. utahbeerdude

    utahbeerdude May 2, 2006 Utah

    So I recently entered a homebrew contest (my first) with 6 beers. I did this for a couple of reasons: (1) to see how the whole thing worked, and (2) to get some feedback on my beers. As a bonus, one of the brews (Belgian Wit) garnered a ribbon. :) But the purpose of my post is to get some responses to the following question: What is the most useful thing that you have learned from the feedback that you have received from a contest?

    I'll start. One of my beers I entered was a Bo. Pils. Now one of my major homebrewing goals is to be able to brew a good pilsner. The feedback I got on this was that the part of the makeup of the aroma is butyric acid. Now this can come from contamination, among other things. For me this was key, as previous to this I had no idea what butyric acid smells like. Now I know. Your turn.
    Pahn likes this.
  2. NiceFly

    NiceFly Dec 22, 2011 Tajikistan

    I think the most useful thing I have learned from never entering a contest is that I just do not give a shit what other people think.
  3. yinzer

    yinzer Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    I learned that all of the Saisons served at Moeder Lambic in Brussels aren't orange enough. I'm never going to that place again!!!!!
    herrburgess, evantwomey and OddNotion like this.
  4. OddNotion

    OddNotion Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I've mentioned this in other posts i have made but the must useful feedback i have received was with regards to my yeast management. Since then i have been making bigger starters, built a fermentation chamber, began oxygenating with pure o2 and using yeast nutrient. While i don't care so much about the opinions of the beer overall, i do seek an objective opinion which is hard top get when its really just friends and family drinking my beer.
  5. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    One thing to keep in mind when considering judges' feedback is that they are fallible. If they point out a flaw, objectively taste your beer with that in mind and see if you agree. Have others taste it (a homebrew club is perfect for this) and see if they agree. Consider whether two or three judges picked up on the same thing or whether it was just one.

    The funniest thing I have read on scoresheets was from two judges, same competition, same IPA...
    Judge #1: Too much hop aroma.
    Jusge #2: Needs more hop aroma.

    Edit: I just re-read what I posted and it sounds like I'm saying 'judges suck,' which was not my intent at all. I think many BJCP are extremely good, and although anyone can make a mistake, I think they are generally very good at separating great beers from bad ones.
  6. jlpred55

    jlpred55 Jul 26, 2006 Iowa

    I just had a similar thing happen on a Bitter which the scores were 13 points apart:
    Judge(Master BJCP) #1: Fantastic bitter to malt balance, right on style. Body is smooth but might be carbed a little high for style.
    Judge(no cert) #2: Not to style, needs more hops, malt is weak- body and carb, right on.

    That is pretty much word for word. I just laugh when that happens- I don't really care I would rather learn something to improve my beers. So I will not carb so high next time!
  7. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    At least you know they were keeping their eyes on their own papers! Sometimes I've seen sheets that were virtual carbon copies of each other (typically when there's a master judge and an apprentice/non-judge), which I guess should be expected to some extent. I don't really know the protocol for discussion between judges before the BOS round. I know we have some judges here who could chime in.
    jlpred55 likes this.

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    I just like to win stuff. F the feedback. I'm a certified judge and have a lot of friends that are judges ranked higher than me, so I can get all the feedback I want pretty much anytime I want. They can't give me medals, though. :cool:
    Naugled and RochesterAaron like this.
  9. stakem

    stakem Feb 20, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Senario 1: A couple years ago I was on a hefeweizen kick brewing them weekly. I did a series to test out all the weizen yeast I could get my hands on and I varied the fermenting temps once I narrowed down the ones I liked the most. When I finally nailed down what I considered the perfect blend of fruit, clove and banana components, i brewed it again to see if my process was repeatable. I entered it in a competition and this was what my feedback looked like.

    Judge A: Awesome beer, I would buy cases of this if made public. Will you share your recipe?
    Judge B: Good blend of yeast, wheat, fruit and spice. Enjoyable experience, highly drinkable.
    Judge C: Sulfur bomb, DMS, Diacetyl, undercarbed and not attenuated. Yeast was underpitched or not a clean strain. Please revisit sanitation practices.

    Senario 2: I entered an export stout and the feedback sheets I got were for an american wheat ale. Somehow my paperwork got mixed up with someone elses.

    Senario 3: I entered a berliner weisse and was told my beer was undrinkable because it had a lemony tart edge to it which indicated an obvious infection in my wheat beer.
  10. sarcastro

    sarcastro Sep 20, 2006 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    At least someone admits to it. I have no problem with this. I get annoyed at the people that win all the time, and say they only do it for the feedback. They are delusional. I heard Jamil say that in one of his podcasts. He is delusional if he believes that he enters competitions just for the feedback. I like to to get good feedback, but that is hit and miss. My competitive nature wants medals.
  11. stakem

    stakem Feb 20, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I missed the edit window for my post above. I wanted to add that I really appreciate unbiased feedback and think competitions are worthwhile for that when done right by capeable/knowledgeable people. There is an opportunity for you to learn a lot. But when you have a bad experience and feel like you not only wasted your beer but had to pay a fee to give it away, it can be disheartening. I wish I could interview the judges before submitting my beer. If I mention berliner weisse and they have no idea what im talking about, I can walk away without wasting anyones time. Just my 2 cents.
  12. DSlim71

    DSlim71 Mar 3, 2010 New Jersey

    All this brewing and you still can't avoid infection? Should have learned by now.:p
  13. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Must have been an early podcast. I'm pretty sure Jamil eventually stopped entering competitions because he realized he was just doing it for the awards.

    But there are some people who do very well who really are doing it for feedback. At least I think they are, because they win and don't feel the need tell people about it.
  14. yinzer

    yinzer Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    I wonder with a situation like this that some feedback should be sent to the organizers of the competition?

    I'm sure that different regions/clubs have varied expertise. Someone told me once that I should be a judge, while I've traveled a lot and tasted a lot of beer and I don't think that I have the knowledge to be a judge. But what I worry about that with my lack of knowledge that I still might know more than who I'm pared with.
    JustinQ likes this.
  15. leedorham

    leedorham Apr 27, 2006 Washington

    I've learned to lie about the recipe and the date it was brewed.
    Naugled likes this.
  16. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    You just like having your picture taken between Gordon and Phil.
    MMAJYK likes this.
  17. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    13 points is way too high of a difference. Most comps have something like a 5 point difference. If over that, the judges talk it over and reconcile the difference to get to 5 (or whatever diff.).

    Everybody has different tastes. What would be thin and underhopped with one judge, might be perfect for the judge that has been to England and had real Bitter from the cask.

    I also often give more weight to the higher ranking judge's comments, but not always.
  18. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Jamil has stated that he has retired from homebrewing competitions. He will probably still compete, but with Heretic Brewing beers at GABF.
  19. BobCS

    BobCS Sep 15, 2006 New York
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    When I judge and find my comments are wildly different than another judges, I try to talk it out and develop a consensus if possible and I think this is common among most judges I know. Consensus isn't always possible, nor should it be, but usually some discussion can resolve contradictory comments.

    Some judges are better than others, and no doubt you'll sometimes get feedback that isn't useful, or is even laughable. Sometimes it's the judges own fault for judging a category they have no real knowledge of though, as volunteers, judges can get pressed for service in areas outside of their comfort zone. Another problem is palate fatigue - your ability to detect hop aroma might not be so great after you've had 8 or 12 other IPAs.

    I've judged with some real asses on occasion, but most judges really try to be as helpful, constructive, and objective as they can be. I know it's not necessarily much consolation when you've paid your fee, entered your beer and are scratching your head wondering what to make of your judging sheets. I will say that the quality of beers in competitions can be amazing, and if you make it in the top three that is often quite an accomplishment.
  20. sarcastro

    sarcastro Sep 20, 2006 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    I respect him for realizing that. I might have interpreted the wrong way, but that is how he came off when I heard it.

    I have no doubt there are people that are doing just for feedback. This was commenting on people that enter crazy amounts of beers time and time again. They are obviously doing for more than feedback. Honestly I have no issue with this. I get annoyed if they have a holier than thou attitude that they are above medals and just doing for feedback, when that is obviously not the case.
  21. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    What yeast and temp did you like best for your Hefe?
  22. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I used to submit my homebrews when I first started brewing to obtain some objective feedback to improve my brewing. I submitted an all Saaz hopped Bohemian Pilsner early in my homebrewing ‘career’ (1998). A BJCP Master Judge provided the following feedback:

    Aroma: Citrus hop (American Tettnang?). Pleasant but not quite to style.

    Overall Impression: A drinkable beer but not too style. Saaz hops character is preferred. Certainly a good session beer but review recipe as regards to style.

    So, I got a score of 28 (Good) but needless to say I was ‘dinged’ because I allegedly didn’t use Saaz hops.

    After this event, I have never submitted another homebrew to a competition.

    mattbk likes this.
  23. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    This is why as you learn to be a BJCP judge, one of the first golden rules they teach you in the class is not to try and guess ingredients and/or processes (ie hops, extract or all grain, yeast strain, etc etc). It just makes you look bad when you guess wrongly...
  24. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “ …one of the first golden rules they teach you in the class is not to try and guess ingredients and/or processes” Interesting! How is it that a BJCP Master judge did not get that lesson?

    Even if he did not mention specific ingredients like “American Tettnang?” and “Saaz hops character is preferred” how is it that a BJCP Master judge is incapable of discerning Saaz hops (particularly since this was the Bohemian Pilsner category)?

  25. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Jack - Even if you have a BJCP Master level judge on your panel, that does not mean you get great feedback. Some Judges are good test takers, and on the old testing system a high written score could more than make up for an average/good tasting score.

    Marc is right in that now you are taught not comment on ingredients, and if you do say "I assume you may have done/used this...".

    If one enters enough comps, one will find judges that will give the best feedback and you read those sheets closely if you get that judge.

    If you spend time being a judge, you reach the conclusion that "It ain't easy.".

    Edit - Jack, I see your comment to Marc, to make Master level one had to have an aggregate score of 90 on the test. The written had a 70% weighting. One could have an outstanding written exam and an good tasting score and make Master.

    The exam has changed this year to a little different system.
  26. premierpro

    premierpro Mar 21, 2009 Michigan

    If your good enough to actualy be able to read what the drunk judge has to say thats a good start. Then when you read stupid comments you ask yourself 'Why did I waste two bottles". I had a ranked judge tell me my Munich Dunkel needed more Munich malt. My recipe was 90% Munich. I belive that judges spend too much time looking for bad things then the good.
  27. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “If you spend time being a judge, you reach the conclusion that "It ain't easy.". Jeff, I can certainly believe that.

    A response I have is the following: if a beer judge (Master or otherwise) is incapable of properly discerning flavors/aromas (i.e. be an effective beer taster) and consequently incapable of providing reasonable feedback, what is the point of entering homebrew competitions if you are desirous on obtaining ‘good’ feedback?

    For the event that I illustrated, I spent $10 to enter, ‘lost’ two beers and obtained absolutely no benefit (I wanted ‘good’ feedback to improve my beer making). For me the ‘conclusion’ was simple: entering homebrews into competition costs money and beer with little benefit from a feedback perspective.

    I should mention that there were benefits from a Marc point of view. In my first competition that I entered (1997) I won ribbons for:

    · 2nd place for a Hard Cider
    · 3rd place for a Hefeweizen

    Both of these ribbons are prominently hanging in a glass window of my beer glass cabinet.

    But since I am more interested in obtaining ‘good’ feedback vs. winning ribbons I stop submitting my homebrews in 1998.

  28. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    You get ones back that have comments that you have to read between the lines. On a Helles a judge (pro - not BJCP) said that it would be better if decocted. I had boiled the decoction for 30 minutes hard. What he wanted was more malt and maillard character. So next time I might do a no sparge mash, and decoct, and change the yeast to one that will give more malt flavor in the finish.
  29. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    Jack - Some flavors I have a medium high threshold for, diacetyl is one. Sometimes I get smoke in small amounts, other times it has to hit me over the head to get it (might explain why I like Schlenkerla).

    On a good day I can pick out various hops. Saaz and H.M. can be distinct, but those are agricultural crops and can vary. At club meetings I sometimes miss those, might be the guy used with other hops, or I was just not getting it that night.
  30. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    The Master Judge was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In 1997 and 1998 I entered multiple beers in multiple beer competitions. In all of my sheets I found very little ‘good’ (actionable) feedback. During this timeframe I was still early in my homebrewing career and I was highly desirous of obtaining ‘good’ feedback. The competitions (and the resulting score sheet) were simply not providing that.

    It sounds like some changes have occurred since that timeframe (as per pervious posts from Marc and Jeff). Maybe things are ‘better’ now?

    All that I can say is that homebrew competitions did not ‘work’ for me (despite winning two ribbons since that wasn’t my motivation for entering competitions).

    bum732 likes this.
  31. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    To be a good judge, it doesnt mean that you can guess and disect every single ingredient in a beer. It simply means you can find faults, try to assist in helping fix faults, and giving as good of honest and unbiased feedback you can give. Judging is hard work. You can easily tell the people who take pride in it, and ones who dont give a rip. I like to think I fall in the former group.

    I know a bunch of "judges" around here that dont even brew! I cringe when I see some of their names on my scoresheets, yet, they are Certified judges. Like Jeff said, the test used to be weighed 70% on the written portion and 30% on the tasting, thus giving the edge to the people who took more time to study the book instead of judging beer. This has since changed, and now is weighed 50/50. When I took it back in 2008, I scored a 72 on the written and an 84 on the tasting, all in a 3 hour test. I wont kid you, it's a very very hard test. Ask anyone who has taken it in that fashion. I'm taking it again in September to try and achieve National rank and to get my scores weighed 50/50 in the new fashion. That alone almost takes me to National level, all I need is a few points higher on either section. I had only been brewing for about a year when I took it back then, so I think I can do much better now. We'll see.

    I've judged 20+ competitions and can say I've never gotten drunk while doing so. Afterward at the awards ceremony, well that's a different story. Drinking 2 oz at a time with flights usually smaller than 10 beers, it's pretty hard to do. Maybe your judge's handwriting just sucked. It's a common misconception about how judging works and how it's a party and all that to people on the outside. It's NOT all that fun and it IS a ton of work. But again, it's all about how seriously the judge takes it and how much pride they have in it. Nothing makes me feel better than getting an email from someone who I judged their beer and they thank me for the feedback and tell me that I helped them. I'd rather take that than a medal....OK, I'm lying now. ;)
  32. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania


    I fully understand that the human palate is a ‘variable’ test instrument.

    I was trying to illustrate my personal experiences with homebrew competitions. I was entering beers to obtain ‘good’ sensory feedback. After many beer submissions the homebrew competitions score sheets did not provide the quality of feedback that I desired. I then made a personal choice to ‘save’ my entrance fee money and my two beers per submission.

    I certainly do not want to discourage others from entering their beers into competitions if it will achieve what they desire. For instance, I happen to like Marc and I truly hope that he wins lots of ribbons!

  33. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    I've entered tons of competitions and won a few medals. Still, to this day, I know deep down it's all a crapshoot. All you can do is put your beer in the competition in the best possible manner and hope like hell you get a good judge that's not having a bad day. It still happens all the time. Most of the people that brew a lot for competition know this and you just have to take it with a grain of salt. Ask Jeff about his NHC experience this year. He makes some AWESOME beer (I got to experience his CAP at NHC 2011) and has won some medals in the NHC already, but got extremely unlucky this year. That's the life of competition brewing. It's kind of like poker playing. You put your money (beer) in the pot (competition) at the best time you can and hope for the best. Bad beats still happen even when you are a 99/1 favorite. You cant let that discourage you from playing the next pot especially when you've got a couple of aces in the hole.
    azorie likes this.
  34. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania


    You mention: “To be a good judge, it doesn’t mean that you can guess and dissect every single ingredient in a beer. It simply means you can find faults, try to assist in helping fix faults, and giving as good of honest and unbiased feedback you can give. Judging is hard work.”

    I do not want to overly argue the “find faults” and “helping fix faults” since I think that should be part of the beer evaluation process. I am guessing that where beer judges sometimes get a ‘bad name’ is that some folks think that is all that beer judges do. From a post above: “I believe that judges spend too much time looking for bad things then the good.”

    Let’s take the example of my Bohemian Pilsner I mentioned previously. I used a total of 6.5 ounces of Saaz hops (solely Saaz hops) to make that beer. The Master judge was so ‘motivated’ to “find faults” that he stated I didn’t use Saaz hops and that I should learn how to brew to style. What good is that? For the sake of completeness the other judge (BJCP certified) stated in the Overall Impressions: “Almost tastes like Cascade hops but surely not in a Bohemian Pilsner”. The bottom line (to me) is that I certainly did brew this beer to style but not only did I not receive feedback to that effect I received the opposite: incorrect feedback.

    You seem like a standup guy. I very much hope that you also provide positive feedback in your reviews when it is warranted.

  35. RochesterAaron

    RochesterAaron May 24, 2007 New York

    Any suggestions for choosing a competition to submit to? I've been brewing for a couple of years now, but have never submitted. I want honest feedback about flaws and the "this is great" from friends/family just isn't cutting it. When I point out flaws in my beers to them that I can taste myself they all claim to not be able to find them.
  36. CASK1

    CASK1 Jan 7, 2010 Florida

    I've been judging since 1995 and I believe the quality has consistently improved over time, especially more recently. If it's been 15 years since entering, I would give it another try (if interested). It'll always be hit or miss, like any endeavor, but your chances of reasonable feedback now are better than in 1997. The new exam format mentioned above places much more emphasis on judging ability compared to "beer knowledge", so I suspect the situation will continue to improve.
  37. jlpred55

    jlpred55 Jul 26, 2006 Iowa

    Yes I agree. I spoke with the competition organizer, to help future comps, and he was apologetic. I didn't care too much as I had entered the beer a number of times before and was sure of the score range.
  38. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “I've entered tons of competitions and won a few medals. Still, to this day, I know deep down it's all a crapshoot.”

    Marc, I admire your perseverance and the fact that you have the proper attitude here. You are entering competitions to win medals but you fully understand that” it’s all a crapshoot”.

    If I was desirous of wining ribbon I would also enter competition and I would adopt the exact attitude that you exhibit.

    Best of luck in your future competitions!

  39. MMAJYK

    MMAJYK Jun 26, 2007 Georgia
    Beer Trader

    Jack, thanks for the kind words and the always thoughtful replies! I can't argue with your assessment one bit. Judges like you mention above are what we call "fault finders". All they do is look for faults and sometimes they even make stuff up on their own to make them feel like they've done something. It drives me crazy and especially crazy when I am paired to judge with them! If a beer has a fault, fine, point it out. But, that's not 100% what juding is for. You can have a beer that has no faults, but it lacks the intangibles that make a good beer a great beer, thus they wont score very well. On the flip side, you can have a beer with some fault (stylistic or technical) that has all the intangibles in the world and it could score better than the one with no faults, but probably not much better. When a beer has no common faults, has the intangibles, and you could drink it by the case, that's when you start scoring in the mid-high 40's. Those beers, unfortunately, are few and far between it seems in the competition and juding world. I wish things were different in this respect.
  40. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Thank you for your thoughtful response!

    For me the entering competitions ship has sailed a very long time ago. When I first started homebrewing I needed (and wanted) ‘good’ feedback to improve my homebrewing. After 17 years of homebrewing (and close to 300 batches) I am of the opinion (perhaps mistaken) that I know more about beer than the judges who would be evaluating my beers.

    You post may be very helpful for other BAs who are considering entering completions.

    CASK1 likes this.
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