Organizing Contests in your Homebrew Club


By Aaron Pigors

Homebrew Club Competition


Homebrew clubs often have regularly scheduled meetings that may include brewing-related topic talks, a tour of a local brewery, and of course sampling of homebrewed beer. There are many more activities a club can put on, and one rewarding type of event is running a club competition. A club contest can be a terrific introduction to evaluating and judging beer. Running a successful event requires a few reliable organizers, some good budgeting and planning, and plenty of participation from the homebrew club.


First it is important to decide on what type of competition to have. Examples of five types of homebrew club contests are detailed below. What will the rules be? Is the contest limited to certain beer styles? How are entries collected, sorted, and served? How will scores be assigned, and a winner be declared? Once you have a contest and the rules in mind, it’s time to start an organizing committee of a few reliable volunteers.


An organizing committee can be as small as a couple of people, or as large as necessary. List out needs for the contest to begin assigning responsibilities. Often, club officers can serve as the organizing committee. Some major tasks to assign are: budgeting, ordering supplies (including awards like prize ribbons), collecting and sorting entries, judging coordinator, event host, and servers. Good preparation is key to hosting a successful event.


Once a contest type is decided upon, rules are set, and organizing roles are assigned, there are just a few more steps to holding a competition. Select a venue, set an event date, and begin to gather the supplies. It’s important to communicate early and often to ensure good participation. Get the word out to everyone in your club! Give yourself plenty of time, especially if beer needs to be brewed specifically for your contest. Having advance notice and a 2-3 month lead time is needed for a good pool of contest entrants to fit their brew and fermentation time into their schedule.


Now, on to five types of contests your homebrew club can organize:


  1. Best Beer Contest. This is a straightforward competition that can be easy to host. Define a group of beers, “Octoberfest Beers” or “English Ales” for example. Entrants brew and enter a beer that fits the category. This type of contest works well at an annual meeting or party like a summer Cookout. Everyone at the event can sample all the beers and vote for their favorite. There are no complex scoresheets, and everyone can have a vote. In the end, the beer with the most votes takes the top prize.
  2. Beer Bracket. This contest pits beers head-to-head in a March Madness basketball tourney style bracket. It is a variation on the best beer contest, with a lot of structured side-by-side tastings. This type of contest needs a lot of entries to be successful. Fantasy brackets can be filled out with everyone guessing what the final results will be. At the end, it’s still a Best Beer competition, but with a lot more structure with the bracket layout.
  3. BJCP Bottle Swap. This contest is a lot less casual and works well for aspiring judges in your homebrew club. It is a great way to build palette and judging vocabulary, gain experience evaluating beers, and provide detailed feedback to the entrants. Print out beer scoresheets and provide them to volunteers who want to judge. Gather the entrees and judge the beers, filling out the scoresheets to comment on aroma, mouthfeel, flavor, appearance, and overall impression. This contest can be a rewarding experience for both the judges and the entrants.
  4. Culinary Contest. Host a potluck event, with the competition also providing the food for the gathering. One example is a chili-cook off where beer must be included as an ingredient in the chili. Everyone at the event can vote for their favorite dish, and a winner is declared at the end. Food is provided, a contest is held, and everyone is happy.
  5. Brewery Collaboration. Talk to your local craft breweries – like your favorite hangout or monthly club meeting location – to explore the idea of partnering for a contest and collaboration beer. Work with the head brewer or owner of the brewery to develop the parameters. Maybe the brewery staff, or mug club members serve as the judges. After the contest, the winning beer can be brewed on the brewery’s system in a true collaboration beer – a homebrewer’s dream!

Beer Judging

With a few good organizers and careful planning and preparation, any homebrew club can hold a fun and rewarding competition. Club contests are a great way to introduce new brewers to competitions, and they can provide helpful feedback for improving homebrewed beers.

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