How do I enter competitions? Is my beer actually good enough to enter?

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Also check out Tips for Competition

Answer: Entering competitions is actually a pretty easy thing to do. The procedures for most of them are pretty much the same. Once you do it a few times, it becomes routine. After you win a few ribbons, it becomes addictive.

The first thing to do is get a copy of the entry rules and forms for any upcoming contests. Usually, these can be found on the web. If the website isn't listed in the Gazette, try checking the AHA competition website at http://www.beertown.org/cgi-bin/Cal/calgen.cgi?category=CP. Kevin Koenig usually has some extra printed copies at the shop. Or you can e-mail him at kevingk@earthlink.net.

Once you have the rules, the next step is to figure out what categories to enter. If you brewed with a specific style in mind, this should be a foregone conclusion. However, if you just threw something together, it could be a tough call. Look through the style descriptions for the competition and see which category and subcategory fits the best. If you're still not sure, bring a bottle to the next club meeting and we'll help you figure it out.

Once the style is determined, you need to fill out the paperwork. Usually, each competition has two parts to the paperwork: an entry form, and a set of bottle labels. You only need one entry form for all of your entries. Sometimes the registration is on-line. Fill out you name, address and the category for each of your entries. Some categories require special information, such as the type of spices in a spice ale. Depending on the competition, a recipe may also be required. Then, fill out the bottle labels. Most competitions ask for three bottles, so you'll need to fill out three labels for each entry.

Next you have to make sure your bottles are ready. If you normally keg your beer, get a counterpressure filler and fill up some bottles. Rob Kadota (rob@orl.ucla.edu) has one you can borrow. You need to have 12 ounce bottles that are either brown or green, with brown preferred. Since judging is done anonymously, the bottles must be free of any identifying markings. This means no sticky labels. Raised letters will disqualify your entry if they mention the brewery. However, if it says "no deposit" it's probably OK. If the caps have logos or exotic color, use a black marker to obliterate it. Black, silver or gold caps are OK. No flip-tops are allowed. Finally, take your bottle labels and wrap them around each bottle, using a rubber band to hold them on. Don't use tape or glue.

Once you have your stuff together, check the entry location and deadline. If we are collecting entries at the shop, which we do for most local competitions, Kevin will let you know when they need to be there. For others, you have to ship them. Wrap the bottles well to prevent breakage. Use UPS or Fed-Ex, since the US post office may refuse to send them. Whether you drop them off, or ship them, make sure you have a check ready for the correct entry fee amount. Cash isn't usually accepted.

If the entry window is fairly long, don't send the bottles in early. Sometimes they aren't stored well, which can rob you of points. This is particularly true of summer competitions in hot climates.

Finally, if you have any questions, stop by the shop. We'll take a look over the forms and bottles and make sure they're OK.

Here's a good way to tell if your beer is good enough to enter. Ask yourself (or your buddies), "Do I want another?" If the answer is yes, it's a potential winner. I know you guys have offered me plenty of samples that were top quality.

Even if the answer is no, go ahead and enter anyway. The judges will send you their scoresheets, which are loaded with suggestions on how to improve your beer. Also, don't be discouraged if you don't win the first time. It took me several tries to finally pull in a ribbon.

We're headed into the thick of the competition season, so now is the time to get ready. Set aside some bottles and check the Competition Corner for upcoming events. Next thing you know you'll be pulling in ribbons and becoming a competition junkie.