A Beer Judge’s Diary: BRAINSTORM!

By Ken Carman
By Ken Carman
 I was about to head off to help judge the first year of the Syracuse Homebrew Competition; my last “gig” had been Plattsburgh’s competition, when a brainstorm arrived on my mental doorstep like a craft beer fanatic at a new brewery occuring in a former dry county. Or “parish.” No need in leaving out my Cajun friends, eh? PARISH… the thought!
 Over the years I’ve noted occasional low entry levels at some competitions. This year’s Plattsburgh (first year) comp had 27, Salt City’s slightly over 100, Music City has been down a little from time to time. I thought my own competition in Old Forge, NY; which predictably was on the upswing, was severely down at one drop off point due, at least in part, to a Facebook snafu. Also a site problem where the entry limit was reached when it really hadn’t been clogged the filter screen on my entry “mash tun.” And then we have the inability to contact the manager at one drop off point so fermentation couldn’t even start there. All these things can happen, especially when trying to help manage a competition long distance.
 What to do, what to do?
 (Note: apparently entry level is not as far off as I thought, but I still think this a valid concept.)
 Here’s my brainstorm. Have competitions combine entries. You tell those who want to enter if they send an extra bottle: 3 rather than two, if their beer doesn’t win they will have a second chance at another competition. Their unopened second and the third gets picked up, or shipped, to the other location, along with entry info. If shipped I would think the second competition should probably pay for shipping, or those who enter, but that’s for organizers to organize. I would suggest the first, only because the object is to encourage more entries.
 I do think coupling a free entry competition with one with a fee would be enticing, or offering a cut rate for entering two competitions. But neither would be necessary: charge full rates, if you wish. Hey, charge extra. But remember: the object is to up entry level.
 Of course those who enter the first should be able to choose not to participate in the second. I’m suggesting nothing that would be mandatory here: the idea is to add incentive. One simple way to assure this would be for for those who enter to only send two bottles, rather than three, making that option clear on Facebook and websites. Two bottles would mean they would only be eligible to win one competition.
 I would also recommend the two competitions offer different prizes for winning to help entice brewers to participate. The prizes for winning competition #2 would be different. My own prizes are just one example: in an all collapsed big beer and odd brew comp #1 big entry gets $50, #1 odd (Experimental, Specialty) gets $50, #2 gets $25 and, this year entries have the option for moving on to People’s Choice at a brewfest. The winner of that gets a paid hotel/motel weekend in the Adirondacks. Those who enter increase their options if they win.
 I think those who win the first competition moving on too would be “OK,” but really you’d really need to ask for four bottles, just to be sure. Four bottles may be a tad too much to ask, and might defeat the goal: increasing entry level. But I must admit: I find giving those who didn’t win a second chance an attractive idea.
  I understand my own personal conundrum here. In my competition: Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale, that last prize might require a 4th bottle if brewers want to be eligible for People’s.
 Advantages: this promotes both competitions. It increases the brewer’s desire to enter. It increases feedback, maybe even variety of feedback. I think those of us who have entered one competition and scored poorly have had the experience of scoring well, or even winning, another competition. Different palates, different judging conditions all contribute. While we’re not supposed to judge one against another, when a flight has plenty of amazing entries, or far too many questionable ones, large flights, tiny flights; one can hardly expect none of that to have absolutely no affect. Sometimes judges don’t ask for a second bottle when maybe they should have. Honestly, there are so many variables I’m surprised at how well we do at not comparing them. But, in the end, judging is a very human endeavor,
 Run right, and that is the other question, isn’t it? I see no disadvantages. Of course making sure judges don’t know who entered is crucial, as is storage, etc.
 Now comes the question, dear readers. What do you think? Please brainstorm concerns, improvements. I want to do this next year, with Plattsburgh and Salt City (Syracuse) competitions, if possible. I’m open to sharing with other clubs, or only sharing with one if the first director who agrees to do this makes it conditional I only share with them. Of course multiple sharing is another idea, but personally I would think it best to set it all up so as to make sure no entry has to have more than three bottles.
  I do think it might take a year or two to perfect by those who try it, and would have to be adjusted… depending on the specifics of the competitions you’re combining. Of course, it can’t be repeated enough: integrity of the judging process should be rigidly monitored. If this concept becomes popular, perhaps the BJCP should establish guidelines specific to entry sharing?
 But, having helped run a competition many years, and run my own, isn’t this the very nature of competitions? You learn and try to pass those lessons on to next year.
 Have concerns? Feel free to post comments on any site this column is published on, or on a homebrew related Facebook page, you could message me: I certainly would enjoy brainstorming with others. Also, do you think the idea can be improved on, or specially designed for the purposes of your competitions? Have at it!
 So, again…
 What do you think?


                                                     -30-
Ken A Beer Judge’s Diary is one of many columns by Ken Carman: Certified BJCP beer judge, homebrewer since 1979 and seeker of both simple and complex quaffs who, until the very early 70s, thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast.
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