Contest Karate

These beers may win a medal at a homebrew contest. How will you know? If you can snatch one before I make them disappear, the answer will come to you. (If you were smart enough not to punch a hole in your computer screen, trying to grab one of the beers in the picture, you are ready to begin your journey.)

This is an article about how to increase your chances at winning medals at homebrew contests. At this point, a very valid question you may have is, “How the hell would Chris know how to win medals?” Well, I used to enter contests fairly frequently. And, towards the end of my contest-entering phase, I did fairly well. Not ludicrously well, but I won a few medals. Much more importantly, I’ve judged and otherwise helped out at numerous contests, and seen how things work behind the scenes. My homebrew club (the Austin ZEALOTS), also has a pile of guys who are big into the competitions, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume you want to enter contests and win medals. If you simply want to continue brewing the beers you like, and occasionally enter a couple, that’s great. The point of homebrewing is to have fun. But this article is meant for someone who is looking to have fun by racking up a huge medal count and is willing to put the time and effort into doing it. So grasshopper — or cricket, or katydid, or whichever insect term you prefer — let’s begin your training.

Training Wheels

OK, not so fast. Before we get started with your actual training, let me just state the obvious — nothing in this article is going to help you if you can’t brew well. Contest-winning homebrews these days are free of any major flaws — diacetyl, phenolic, oxidized, or sour characters etc. — and possess enough charms to rival well-made commercial brews. If you enter contests, you will be competing against brewers who evaluate the freshness of their ingredients, have impeccably clean and sanitary breweries, build healthy yeast starters, keep their fermentation temperatures controlled, and enter beers at the peak of freshness (even if this means re-brewing a batch). If you aren’t willing to match their efforts, you aren’t going to be able to compete at the highest level.

Another thing that should be obvious is, the more you enter, the more you will win. Each of your entries will get a score — part of which is based on the quality of your beer and part of which is based on luck. Homebrew contests are judged by humans and things like palate fatigue, where your entry appeared in the lineup, the quality of judges evaluating your beer, and other factors all vary. Sometimes the breaks will not go your way, but sometimes they will. The more times you enter, the more you are likely to have an entry in the right place, at the right time, in front of the right judge.

Finally, everything I say in this series of posts just tilts the scales in your favor a bit. (And, for whatever it’s worth, nothing I suggest is counter to the letter or spirit of the rules — it’s all just studying the rules so you can play the game better.) Will anything I say help you? Your answer to this question will tell. Imagine that the weatherman says there is an 80% chance that it will rain tomorrow. Will it rain? If you answered “yes” or “no” — or gave a long soliloquy regarding what you think of weathermen and their predictive abilities — you are incapable of benefitting from the advice that follows. If however, your answer was, “Well, according to the models (that very in predictive ability), there’s an 80% chance it will rain, which also means there’s a 20% chance it won’t rain. So, it might rain or it might not,” your mind is ready.

Now are you ready to begin your journey? OK, great . . . come back tomorrow and we’ll continue. Right now your sensei feels the need to open a tasty beer and maybe play some Wolfenstein II on his PS4.

If you enjoy Beer & Wine Journal, please consider supporting us by purchasing one of my books, which include “Home Brew Recipe Bible,” by Chris Colby (2016, Page Street Publishing) and “Methods of Modern Homebrewing,” by Chris Colby (2017, Page Street Publishing). Both are available online through Amazon (linked) and Barnes and Noble. You can also find the nearest independent bookseller that carries them through Indiebound. You can also buy a copy directly from this website (see the sidebar to the right) — it costs a bit more (the cover price, compared to a lower price on Amazon, etc.), but I’ll autograph it and direct sales benefit this site more. You can also support this website through the donation button. Thank you. 


  1. […] of this article, I discussed brewing quality beer and entering as many beers as possible as ways to use “contest karate” to win medals at homebrew contests. In the second installment, the metaphor somehow changed to Sun Tzu’s […]

  2. […] is part four in this series — part one, part two, and part three can be found by following the appropriate links. in it, I examine ways to […]

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