Society of Beer Advocates - Beer for all the right reasons

National Homebrew Competition

2014 - Preparation

Posted on October 15, 2014 by Greig McGill

I thought I’d update you all on the process of running the NHC so you know what goes on to get your labours of love in front of some great palates for some quality judging and feedback.

It starts with a lot of schmoozing and grovelling! As mentioned in the sponsorship and prizes post, it takes a LOT of cash to run this competition, and that’s without paying a single person involved. Yep, everyone working on the NHC is a volunteer! Your entry fees get us about half way to where we need to be, the rest comes from our generous sponsors. It takes a while to line up these great companies and figure out ways we can provide enough value to them in order to justify their cash injections. As mentioned yesterday, the best thing you can all do to help this is to spend your money with them, and to thank them for helping out with the NHC. I know they’ll appreciate it!

About three months out from the competition, we review our technical systems. We start by looking at our requirements for judging – what beer style guidelines we will use, how judging will look, how many entries we might get, how many judging tables we will need, will we need any rule changes, etc. From this, Phil Murray tweaks the code which drives the website. This year took a herculean effort as we switched from the BJCP style guidelines to the Brewers Association ones. This was done due to the BJCP being too far behind the times – we were ending up with far too many entries in Category 23 – Specialty – simply because they had nowhere else to go! Many of these were Black IPAs/Cascadian Dark Ales which are nicely covered by the BA “American Black Ale” category.

We then need to contact our list of judges. Luckily, we now have a fair few “on the books”. Many are brewers and as a result, can be notoriously busy or hard to get hold of! It can take quite a while to nail them all down. We also run a trainee judge system. Because judging is a very different skill from brewing, not all brewers make good judges, and many great judges have never brewed a beer in their lives. We take on trainees who are keen to learn the process and temperament required for judging beer. These may be brewers who have never judged before, or simply interested parties – beer writers, journalists, or just keen drinkers! We pair them with experienced judges and they get the best training we can possibly give them.

At about this time, we also start assembling our army of stewards. These are the incredibly hard working crew who get the beer to the judges at the correct time and temperature every time. They have one goal – to ensure the beer presented to the judges is at the top of its game. It needs to be at the correct fill level, with the correct head, at exactly the time it is needed, and at the perfect temperature. No small feat! As you can imagine, with nine judging tables, this level of precision requires a small army of volunteers, and wrangling them is a massive mission in itself! I’m indebted to my wife Alexandra who takes on this daunting task.

After entries open, it’s a relatively quiet time… for about a week until the entries start arriving. We then collect them from the depot, every couple of days, open them up, scan them in using Phil’s amazing QR code scanning app (thanks again Phil!) and move them to cold storage at the judging venue. At close of entries, we end up with a very large pile of cold beer sorted by category and judging table, all ready for the final analysis!

Next up – what does judging day look like?


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