A Beer Judge’s Diary: Competition Dos and Don’ts

Courtesy San Diego Beer Festival (Competition)

Continuing my plan to write about issues rather than some droll recounting of competitions….
 I started judging in the late 90’s.
 I’ve seen well run competitions, poor run competitions. Most of them are between the two. I’d like to share some problems I’ve seen. Have no fear, organizers, no specific comp will be mentioned, unless it’s one I started.
 Some things are so obvious: like not having spicy Italian food for lunch, and especially not placing it a few feet away from judge; especially with no cover.
 Let’s pose a problem: someone leaves the staff quickly. Even if there’s no indication they might be mad, or have a grudge, change the damn passwords. Lock them out. Not meanness, just security. They may seem the nicest person in the world to you (or not), but who knows for sure what’s going inside someone else’s mind?
 Play it safe.
 A minor error: if you are going to have a calibration beer. It should only be a BJCP example, and the style the judges are judging. If you have a competition where judges are judging many styles, unless you want to spent a lot of money, and a lot of time searching, then don’t do it. Giving an IPA to judges just before they judge stout? Want to ruin their palates? If not, won’t help them judge. Your judges should also understand this is ONE example. It doesn’t represent all good examples of the style.
 Next suggestion: if you have someone who has done a job for the competition many years, like sorting entries, and they want to help at all in that capacity, YOU ARE BLESSED. Don’t listen to the assumption, “Oh, it will be EASY!!!” It rarely is, not even with simple competitions. Labeling, sorting, can be intense, and I know one person who did it himself many years because he knew how easy it is for people to screw up.
 Small things matter; can complicate your comp. Like what you name your competition. I started and ran a competition for about 5 years: The Old Forge BIG Beer and Odd Ale Competition. Originally, first year, it was called The Old Forge Old Ale Competition because of alliteration. I never thought people might not read the description of the competition and think ONLY Old Ales.
 Oops. That’s on me.
 Whomever your judge coordinator is at least discuss before dates, locations and/or times are shifted. Their job is to contact judges. You can screw up their work, who will judge: or not. It will reflect back on the club too; and could screw up the comp.
 Let your organizer organize, your judge coordinate coordinate, and certainly don’t just listen to schmucks talking smack about them and assume they know what the hell they’re talking about, or don’t have some ax they’re eager to grind. Talk to your people directly.
 Never assume you have everything. Double, triple, check. Especially if your entries are dropped off at a business like a brewpub or bar. Otherwise you might end up doing what Millie and I did. Find out someone put some entries in the wrong cooler. You might end up staying up until the early morning entering entries the night before the comp.
 It’s also possible specifics about entries may have been missed. I know my old phone wouldn’t read them. Neither would my laptop. Digital may SEEM your friend, but I like to have a hard copy of everything. Hard drives crash, glitches occur.
 When using a private venue remember there are cameras everywhere. You’re a guest in someone’s business. There’s often some employee, supervisor or owner who thinks you’re no more than an unneeded intrusion. Don’t give them an excuse. Tell all your people.
 Early is better than late. Get a head start. That way you have more time if your estimates come up short.
 I’m sure I will come back to this rather wide and deep topic again. Hope some of this helped.


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 once upon a time thought he didn’t care all that much for beer. Then in the 70’s he discovered brews beyond the standard fare’ available on the east coast in the 60s. Thus the adventure began.
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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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