I got a nice comment from one of the folks at Ska shortly after posting my Fair Criticism piece today. You can read it here. The comment reminded me that there are a few other nice things about AHA/BJCP Sanctioned Competitions. First off, I do know who judged my beers. They include their names, their Judging Qualifications, and e-mail addresses on the score sheet. This is nice because most of the judges are more than happy to answer questions about their comments (if they can remember them) or assist in trying to suggest ways to fix the problems in your beer. It is easy to ask these people for more insight in a non-threatening way, and more often than not they oblige. In our case, the comments and scores on our score sheet made sense, were completely fair and constructive, and will make us better brewers. The fact that we were judged after the winner of the category is just luck of the draw. I do not mean to imply that I would have "really" placed higher in the event if I got an earlier or later tasting.
The second nice thing is that all of the judges at all of the competitions are volunteers. They take their judging seriously and some have impressive formal training and/or street cred to back up their judgement. Of course, it is easy to say that volunteering to drink home brews all afternoon doesn't exactly qualify you as a Saint (Nothing does really), but there are a lot of competitions all over the country every week and a lot of entries to those competitions. It is difficult to find people with enough insight, expertise, and willingness to perform these volunteer tasks as well as all the tasks involved in putting on a competition.
The third nice thing about competitions is the craft and local brewing communities. Almost every person, at every brewery, and every judge is into beer like I am, and they will talk with you, share information and experiences (and sometimes a beer or two) with you. Almost anything you ask, they will talk with you about it. They are this way with Novice Newbe Homebrewer, as well as their so-called competition across town. I have heard and read stories of established brewery helping new upstart brewery, as well as tasted many a beer collaborations. This is crazy stuff. Imagine if Augustus Busch IV phoned Pete Coors to share a recipe tip, borrow a vat of yeast, got together on some crazy Festivus Beer, or sat down to judge beer for homebrewers together? Although, I bet if I shot Fritz Maytag (Anchor Brewing) or Jim Koch (Boston Beer) an e-mail, I might even get a real response. I should try this some day.
Putting on a competition takes a lot of volunteer effort, and relies on a lot of volunteers. I have been meaning to attend and volunteer as a steward (beer helper). This would give me a broader insight on how the judging is done, and might give me the impetus to start down the beer judge path. In fact, many friends are surprised that I haven't already. To know me though; I don't like to be involved in competition about anything. Sometimes, though, I get too wrapped up in them, however, and it is a side of me that I don't like. Still, the tight-knit, seemingly non-competitive brewing scene compels me to get more involved with beer competitions, even though I am weary of actually competing (to win, at least). I just wish that the rewards for winning weren't so great. It seems like the craft side of the industry is poised to lose something greater as a result.
In the interest of full disclosure, if I ever do win any Best of Show (especially to a Pro/Am invite, a Long Shot, or for any reason obtain a Golden Ticket to Sierra Nevada Beer Camp), I will scream like a little girl, cry, phone my brother, cry some more, and accept the prize with honor, awe, and hopefully a great dose of humility.