Society of Beer Advocates - Beer for all the right reasons

National Homebrew Competition 2019


Posted on October 18, 2012 by Greig McGill

There are a number of commonly asked questions around the area of styles. In this post, I'll attempt to address the most common ones.

Why use styles at all?

A lot of people complain that styles restrict their brewing by trying to fit their beers into boxes. Were it not for style definitions, judges would have no way of "comparing apples with apples" when judging beer, and it would come down to grossly subjective arguments over which beer the judges enjoyed more. Styles provide a set of criteria against which to judge how well a brewer hit their target. The concept of hitting a target is important and integral to being a good brewer.

Why BJCP then?

To be honest, it's a case of "because we always have". The BJCP style definitions are increasingly lagging behind in terms of reflecting modern beer styles and what is out there. For example, there is no style definition for Black IPAs or Imperial Red Ales. In the future, SOBA may switch to something like the WBC styles. That said, a good brewer shouldn't be limited by the BJCP style guidelines, as I'll explain next.

How do I choose the best style to enter my beer in?

As a brewer, you're a creative type. You've brewed a beer to your mental idea of what it should be. Perhaps that idea was "the perfect example of an English IPA", perhaps it was more esoteric, say "a deep red coloured, applewood smoke tinged bonfire beer, with just enough bitterness to balance the layers of chewy malt complexity and little to no hop aroma or flavour to get in the way of the malt".

With either of these, the process is the same. Read through the style list. Make a list of the styles you think your beer might match. Just because you were trying to brew an English IPA doesn't mean that's what the beer actually is. Look, smell, and taste your beer with a detached palate. Get friends to help. Compare what your senses tell you against what the style guideline says. Ignore technical specs such as gravity and alcohol content. If the beer tastes like the style description, then that's what it is, even if you know for a fact it's out of spec. The judges won't know that your IPA is actually only 4% or is a massive 8% unless it tastes that way. That said, remember that among our judging panel are some of the most experienced beer judges in NZ, and have judged on the international stage.

What if my beer doesn't fit a style?

There lies the magic that is Category 23! You should enter your beer in this category, along with a description of exactly what you were trying to achieve. If your beer is based on another style, but with a twist, state the base style. Remember though, you will first be judged against that style. If anything other than your stated "twists" deviate from that, you will be marked down.

If your beer is an example of a developing style like Black IPA, you should include the target style definition you brewed to - be it an established one (perhaps as per the World Beer Cup guidelines for American Black Ale) or your own. Either way, you should let the judges know via your notes what you were trying to achieve. Do NOT provide any technical specs on your beer in the notes field.

For example: Say "I was trying to achieve an opaque black ale with only a very little roast malt character, and plenty of hops. A beer that, if you drank it blind, you would think was an American IPA with a slightly roasty note". DON'T Say "I brewed a beer of OG 1.068 FG 1.014 using tons of Carafa Special II and heaps of US hops". The stewards will redact notes like this, the judges won't see them, and you'll be marked down severely for not providing brewers notes!

This is good stuff! I wish you'd told me BEFORE I entered my beers though!

Not a problem. Thanks to Webmaster Phil, you are able to log in at ANY time up until entries close and provide or edit your brewers notes. Read the style guidelines carefully! Some styles require a note, and if that's the case and you don't provide one, you could miss out on a medal!

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