Everybody loves a winner! Broadcasting your success at beer competitions such as the World Beer Cup, AIBA (Australia International Beer Awards) or the Asia Beer Championship is a great way to let new and prospective customers know you have a great product.
They are also a great way to get independent, honest feedback on your brews and help you with your recipe and process development.
By their very nature not everyone can win a competition – it is, after all, ‘a competition’ – but everybody can benefit from the experience of entering one.
Here are five tips to help you navigate and benefit from entering beer competitions.
1. Use your brewers’ notes to guide the judges
Don’t leave this to your marketing department! This is a job for you who created the beer.
You know what ingredients you’ve used in your brew, you know the flavours and aromas you were trying to achieve. Nobody knows your beer like you so it’s up to you to tell the judges what makes your beer special.
Your brewer’s notes are the only opportunity you’ll get to communicate with the judges. Use it wisely.
Let’s be very clear here, this should NOT be a commercial description. What the judges want to know is how you’ve created your beer that may be different from the generic guideline they have in front of them not how the sunset over lake Toba inspired you to add pomegranate juice!
Keep it brief, but be precise.
Top Tip: If you are entering your beer into an experimental category or herb or fruit flavoured category, for example, don’t forget to include the base beer style.
The competition organizer has lots to do, if you don’t include any brewers notes they won’t hunt around the internet to find your beer description or base style and add it to the judges’ paperwork.
Including concise brewers notes are a great way to guide the judges; tell them what to look for and if they find it, they’ll mark your entry positively.
2. Don’t save on shipping
You’ve completed your registration and paid your entry fees, now you need to make sure your beer not only arrives on time but intact.
Pack your beers carefully with lots of protection and make sure they can’t move about during shipping.
One thing you can probably guarantee is your parcel will not be handled with velvet gloves, boxes get thrown around during transit and aeroplanes hit turbulence.
Insulate, insulate, insulate. If you can, include cold packs inside your shipping box.
Try to keep your beers as fresh as possible as once they leave your warehouse it’s likely they will not be refrigerated until they reach the competition organizers collection depot.
Send your beers by the fastest route possible, not domestic snail mail!
If you are shipping across international borders using a domestic service provider can result in your beers being stuck in warm customs warehouses on arrival. Duties may need to be paid and your beers may not even be delivered to the organizer’s collection depot.
If you have a friendly competition organizer he may arrange collection of your entries; if you don’t, they’ll never make it out of the customs warehouse.
All this can be avoided by using companies such as DHL or FedEx. Sure, they may be more expensive, but they’ll clear your beers through customs for you and deliver directly to the competition organizer. They’ll also provide real-time parcel tracking.
3. Read the competition guidelines
Read and re-read the category guidelines. Your IPA may not match the American IPA style guidelines if you have reduced its IBU’s (International Bittering Units) to be more approachable by your local clientele. Maybe it’s a better fit in the American Pale category.
With the rapid development of beer styles these days it’s not always clear which category a beer may come under. Take time to study the categories you are entering and make sure your beers fit those guidelines.
Check the labelling requirements, what information does the organizer require to be on your bottles? For most competitions involving bottled or canned products, a commercial label will usually do – but if you are handwriting your labels, remember not to use soluble ink!
If the organizer has provided you with your beer entry numbers prior to the competition make sure these are clearly marked and cross-referenced with your notes.
Do you want to compete for one of the Champion Brewery trophies? Typically, they will depend on your production capacity and you’ll also need to enter enough beers. You don’t want to be returning trophies when you realise you’ve entered the wrong category or miss out on a trophy by entering too few beers.
When do your beers need to arrive at the competition venue or collection facility? You want them to reach the organizers as close to the judging date as possible, but there are cut-off arrival dates – make sure you take notice of these.
The organizers have a lot of sorting of samples to do and cut-off dates are there for a reason.
4. Don’t enter old beers
Yes, you may have brewed a world-beating Golden Ale or seasonal brew four months ago, but is it still drinking as well as it did when it was fresh out of the tank? Chances are it’s not. Don’t enter it.
Remember you’re competing with breweries who are sending their beer fresh, give yours the best chance of showing well.
Any competition you enter will open registrations several months before judging so you have ample time to brew a fresh batch if you don’t already have one scheduled.
Like any other food product, beer decays – it’s a natural process that’s unavoidable. But you can avoid this by brewing fresh batches of the beers you’d like to enter the competition.
Be tactical with what you enter.
You don’t need to enter all your beers, focus on entering brews from your core range, ones that will benefit from winning awards (see below).
Once you’ve selected your core beers to enter add a few of your outstanding one-off or seasonal brews, ones you’re really proud of.
Of course, all rules have exceptions – if you’re entering a barrel-aged category, older would probably be better!
5. Use your awards
So you’ve won – congratulations! Tell your marketing department you’ve won, ask them to shout about it and make sure they do, you’ve earnt it!
Most awards organizations will supply you with digital copies of your winning award logo, it takes no extra effort to drop these into some of your adverts.
It’s always a great achievement to win an award, your customers would love to hear about it. To them it justifies why they drink your beer and support your brewery and they’ll tell their friends.
Your customers are your greatest sales force – never underestimate what they can do for your brand.
If someone has never tried your beer but sees you have been awarded for it it’s a positive point of differentiation for them and they are more likely to try it.
Awards help educate consumers on what is good beer.
Why not add the awards logo to your email signature, take out an advert in a local magazine or throw a party at your taproom or in one of the bars serving your beer to celebrate.
Tell the bars who serve your beer about your win. Send them the award logo, they may like to put it on their menu. It all adds to the buzz around your beer and helps them sell more.
But what If you didn’t win?
Don’t take the judges comments to heart and vow retribution, take note of their comments and tweak your recipe or process.
Beer judges give up their time not only to select the winners, but to provide honest, qualified and independent feedback to help you improve your brews.
Use the judges comments and advice to refine your processes.
Great brewers regularly talk of how they showed terribly in their first beer competitions, studied the judges feedback, tweaked their recipes and came back stronger the next year.
Go on, give it a go!
At the end of the day, whether you win or not, entering competitions is about improving your product.
These tips should help you ensure your beer arrives at the judges table in the best possible condition, after that it’s up to you how you act on their feedback.