Friend’s Homebrew Win–A Big Deal?

(Image from American Homebrewers Association)

(Image from the American Homebrewers Association)

Dear Not My Father’s Beer,

So, my friend Jon won first place at a homebrewing contest in Sacramento last week. Is this a big deal and, if so, how should I respond?

Sincerely,
Non-hombrewer Dan

***

Dear Dan,

Any homebrew competition win is a big deal to the winner, and from what you say, I suspect Jon’s is a significant honor. Having said that, there are a lot of homebrew comps these days, and they’re not all created equal. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA) events calendar lists 11 just for this Saturday, May 6 (3 outside the U.S.). That doesn’t include competitions not sanctioned by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

After congratulating Jon, ask him about his beer—the style, what he thinks made it a winner, etc. Then ask about the particular competition. FYI: this can get confusing.

To better understand homebrew competitions, it helps to know a little history. In 1919, the 18th Amendment made the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, including homebrewed beer, illegal in the U.S. When the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, homebrewing wasn’t included. It remained illegal until 1978 when Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337 making it federally legal.

In actuality, the law hadn’t been enforced much for some years before, and the early pioneers of today’s craft and homebrewing movement had been quietly making beer at home for a while. As states slowly legalized homebrewing, the dearth of equipment, quality ingredients and educational opportunities made homebrewing considerably more challenging than it is today.

Word spread among want-to-be homebrewers about a couple of experienced guys in Boulder, Colorado who knew what they were doing. As more people sought them out, Charlie Papazian and Charlie Matson started teaching classes. Demand kept growing until, one day over beers, the friends kicked around ideas for a homebrewing newsletter, a magazine, even an organization. In 1978, they founded Zymurgy magazine and the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). The following year, the AHA held its first National Homebrew Competition (NHC), with 34 entries.

With homebrewers all over the country hungry for education and feedback, competitions began to pop up elsewhere. Aware of the need for an organized system, evaluation standards and training for judges, the AHA began to develop what, in 1985, became the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP).

Today, the AHA has over 46,000 members. The BJCP has administered its certification exam to 10,472 individuals worldwide. Cumulatively, BJCP judges have judged 1,293,739 beers and the program has sanctioned over 7,897 competitions.

Naturally, at BJCP-sanctioned competitions, all judges must be BJCP certified. Smaller competitions these days or those with less funding or located in areas where certified judges are not readily available may be non-BJCP sanctioned, but they’ll likely use the BJCP Guidelines for their judging.

Last year, the AHA’s National Homebrew Competition, the granddaddy of them all, saw 8000 entries from 3400 homebrewers representing 14 countries. To participate in the NHC nowadays, homebrewers apply at the beginning of February and choose their preferred judging site from among 12 U.S. cities for First Round judging. During that time, hundreds of volunteer judges and stewards (assistants who make a judging run smoothly) also sign up. Sample beers are shipped to judging sites in late February/early March. First Round judging runs mid-March to late April.

BJCP Guidelines recognize 33 categories with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place awarded in each, which means there’s a lot of work involved. If judges determine there are not three beers in a category up to BJCP standards, fewer awards may be given, as happened this year at the Sacramento judging in the Category 19: German Wheat & Rye Beer.

Dan, since you mentioned that your friend Jon won a first place last week in Sac, I’m guessing it was the NHC First Round. (Results were posted April 25.) If so, that is indeed a pretty big deal, and he now moves on to the Final Round which begins tomorrow, May 3. His beer will compete against the 1st place winners in its category from the other 11 First Round competitions. First, 2nd and 3rd place Final Round winners will be announced June 17 in Minneapolis at the Awards Ceremony that climaxes HomebrewCon2017, as the annual AHA conference is called today.

So, yes, Dan, offer your friend hearty congratulations and wish him luck—then ask when he’s going to invite you over for an award-winning homebrew!

Cheers,
Not Your Father’s Beer

***

Dan and his letter are made up, but 1st place winner Jon Ezell is real and one of the nicest, most unassuming guys I know. He’s also one of the best and most creative homebrewers in Monterey County. (Pho beer anyone?) I was thrilled for him last Tuesday when he modestly announced on Facebook that his cream ale had taken first place at a Sacramento competition. Please join me in raising a glass to Jon!

Ezell places in 2017 NHC

Jon Ezell

Jon Ezell in his home brewery (which doubles as a garage)

By the way, homebrewers, HomebrewCon is a terrific experience open to all. Click here for more information.

Finally, thank you to Julia Herz, director of CraftBeer.com for permission to share this video filmed during an actual GABF judging, the professional brewers’ equivalent of the National Homebrew Competition.

 

 

 

 

 

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