How to enter a beer brewing competition

(This article was submitted by Ken Noesgaard of Saskatoon, SK. He documents his experience with brewing beer in the BIAC and the steps involved in entering a brewing competition.)

I have been brewing beer since 1985 and all-grain brewing since 1999. Before deciding on my BREWHA BIAC I was mashing in a 10 gallon Gott cooler with a false bottom and boiling in a 20 gallon aluminum stock pot on a propane burner. The equipment spread throughout the kitchen and into the garage and the process took 12 hours including setup and cleanup.

In December 2012 I had a heart attack which stopped my brewing for a few years. In spring 2015 I decided to start back up again, but this time with a properly designed system that didn’t occupy the whole house. After researching RIMS, HERMS, brewing trees and trying to find a spot for my brewery in the house I came across the BREWHA website and researched the BIAC design.

The fact that it was self-contained and stored in a closet was a big selling point. The fact that it was all polished stainless steel and made with commercial quality fittings sold it. I chose the small BIAC because it uses 110 volt 15 amp house plugs and doesn’t need a winch to lift the colander when full of wet grain.

I received the BIAC in 2 wooden crates on July 13, 2015 and put it together. I filled it with water and did a practice run to test everything and check for leaks. Emails to Nathan with questions were promptly answered and I was ready to brew.

My local brewing club – the Saskatoon Headhunters Brewing Club – had scheduled a national brewing competition (their first) for September and it occurred to me that I had time to brew a couple to enter. I know that the reason for competitions is to give feedback to brewers – you get back the judges score sheets and they tell you what is good about your beer and what may be faults. They even suggest how you could improve the beer. That’s what I wanted – feedback from someone who is an expert beer judge so I could fix my process. I have new equipment, my processes have changed I need to know if I’m doing something wrong.

I found out that Beersmith software has settings for BREWHA equipment so I purchased that and started creating recipes. My first was an English Dark Mild Ale. I started at 7 am on Saturday (I always started at 7 am since brewing took 12 hours) filling the tank with water. By noon I had pitched my yeast pack and was done for the day. 5 hours!!!

I talked to a couple of friends who had never done an all grain brew and invited them to come over and brew with me. I designed 2 beers to their specifications (a London Brown Ale and a Black IPA) and over the next month brewed those 2 and a Special Bitter. 4 beers done in one month. I made the decision to enter all 4 into the competition – why not?

I went to the competition website and filled out the entries and paid the $6 per entry fee. I printed out the entry sheets and bottle labels, attached the labels to the bottles with rubber bands and dropped the entries off at the office (if it was in another city I would have had to ship the bottles).

The organizer of the competition sent out an email that he needed stewards to serve beer to the judges, I volunteered for 2 days. That gave me a chance to see how a competition was run. Stewarding involves preparing the bottles of beer, making sure they are handled carefully, at the right temperature and poured properly while keeping the identity of the brewer secret. The judge only gets to know about the style of beer they are judging – all beers are identified only by entry number. The judges are sequestered in a room in pairs judging beers organized by style. All beers of a similar category are grouped together – you don’t want to taste a Munich Helles immediately after a Russian Imperial Stout!

One benefit of stewarding is you get to sample the beer left in the bottle that doesn’t get poured for the judges! Even if there’s only 2 ounces left, there were 512 bottles of beer!

Judging went on for 6 days. I was stewarding the last day and as we were cleaning up at the end the organizer was tabulating the scores. I heard him say “Silver Medal for Brown English Beer – Ken Noesgaard”. What?? I won a Silver? Awesome!! I continued cleaning up until I heard him say “ Gold Medal for best IPA – Ken Noesgaard”. What??? A Gold!!

I was floating! I collected my prizes as we packed all the other prizes for the other winners in boxes for shipping. We went out for dinner all together (and more beer) and chatted about the contest and all the great beers we had tasted. Entries came in from Victoria to Halifax. 256 entries in all, 12 recognized BJCP judges.

My BIAC had proved itself as not only making good beer, but making beer worthy of recognition among the country’s best! 2 of my beers did not place, but I have decided much of that was under hopping or milling my grain too fine causing astringency.

I recommend entering a competition with your beers, not specifically to win, but to get a really good appraisal of your technique by an expert beer judge. 

I’m including a copy of the judging sheet for the Gold Medal IPA. I scored a 41/50 and I will use the comments to tweak my recipe to hopefully push that up to a 47!

The competition website: http://saskatoonheadhunters.ca/