Finding the Right Brewpub Location

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Today, we’re going to talk about winning beer competitions. In my opinion, about the only reason to enter a beer competition is to win a beer competition. It is oftentimes very difficult to do for most people, but there are some things that we do and that other winning brewers do that allow them to win multiple competitions and walk away with a lot of medals and bragging rights.

For a home brewer, it is mostly bragging rights that they get from entering beer competitions, but commercially, it can be a real boon for your business to regularly win awards for your beers in competition. Now, of course on the commercial side of brewing, the competition is very, very intense. I think it’s important to look at that at the outset. If you don’t have outstanding beers to begin with, you’re toast.

Why do we enter competitions? Well, as a home brewer, oftentimes, it’s great to get the feedback and learn a lot from the experience. Our brewers at Augustino Brewing have learned a great deal from entering into a competition including the beers that are going to grow and evolve into our flagship beers for Augustino Brewing. Many of them have gone into competition and won oftentimes multiple awards in beer competitions.

As a home brewer, it’s great to enter and get some of the feedback from those competitions, but ultimately at the end of the day, it’s about winning because it’s a competition. How do you win? As I already alluded to, crazy as it sounds, you just got to brew really good beer. That’s the first and foremost aspect of winning a beer competition. If you can’t brew good beer, it doesn’t really matter at that point because you’re not going to win anything.

In our case, at Augustino Brewing, we try to control as much of the process as possible and test our beers as often as we can both while they’re in production and then after production all the way to when they hit your glass. There’s many tests that can be done commercially that help this happen. The Brewers Association in particular has a fantastic book that is available. That helps you understand the various tests and the various testing equipment that you need in your craft brewery in order to make the best beer possible.

We try to do all of those things to make sure that the beer that gets to your glass is the beer we intend to get into your glass. Things that are worth asking yourselves, whether you’re commercial brewers or if you’re just home brewers, is what aspects of your brewing are you not currently controlling that you could control? Some of the most common things that we control, of course, are the gravities of our beer. What the gravity is before we pitch our yeast, what the gravity is at the end and how these are in terms of meeting the specifications that we intended to for that beer.

Things that are done less often on the home brewing side of things that we do on the commercial beer side is counting the yeast and the yeast cells the viability of the yeast in our beers. That helps us in terms of pitching the right amount of yeast to wind up with a good, clean fermentation that gets done at the time that we want it to get done. It also allows us to search for possible contaminants that might be in a final beer that gets accentuated through the brewing process or will make the yeast last fewer generations on a commercial scale.

Those are the things on the quality side that are worth looking at, but really in terms of the strategy behind winning awards in beer competitions is worth taking a look at. Now, what gives me the authority or expertise to provide any feedback on how to win competitions? Well, number one, I’ve won several awards throughout my brewing career. That’s the first thing. Second thing is I am a recognized beer judge in the beer judge certification program. Believe it or not that is something that exists.

That means that I am able to and that I’ve actually been training for a number of years to become a better judge of the flaws, of the styles and of what makes a good beer versus a not good beer. We know at Augustino Brewing that our beers are fantastic. The reason why we know they’re fantastic is because we have the brewers onboard that can recognize the sensory perception of the beers and determine what may be off in a beer. Also, even if it’s not off on the beer, does the beer meet the style?

That’s a big thing when you enter beer competitions because most breweries, or at least many breweries, make fantastic beers. There is a lot of very, very good craft beer made currently, but because there are so many great beers made, you also have to be cognizant of the fact that your beer is going up against many, many, many other great beers. If you’re, for example, entering an India pale ale, well, you’d better have number one an amazing IPA, but beyond that, you have to have a lot of luck to win in a category like that.

In order to maximize your chances at winning in a competition, part of it is playing the numbers. Part of it is saying, “Hey, you know what. Can I brew an outstanding version of a beer that has fewer entries?” For an example, in this past years, a Great American Beer Festival, which has many, many, many categories, the IPA, the American IPA to be specific, category had 312 entries. There’s a pretty good bet that of those 312 entries, there were probably 30 beers that had a really good shot at winning a medal because they were all made really, really well.

Well, there’s only three medals that are given out in any category and so, you have to be in that 30 outstanding IPAs and then get really lucky. If you’re lucky on average, you’re going to only win one in 10 years on a category. Take that in contrast to the lowest category in terms of entries. The pumpkin and squash beers only had 10 entries. If you could brew a really good pumpkin or squash beer, you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting a medal.

You also have the American light lager category had 21 entries. French and Belgian styles had 27 and German-style Doppelbock Eisbock had 29 entries. There’s still a pretty low chance in any of those categories to break through, but if you make outstanding beer, you can do it. We had a local brewery enter a category with only 31 entries, picked up a silver medal, so it can be done as long as you are entering great beer into categories that fit that beer because the style descriptions are the law.

If you’re entering a beer competition, whether it’s commercial beer or whether it’s home brew, you need to make sure you’re looking at the style descriptions carefully. You don’t want to enter beers into the category that you intended them to be. You enter your beer into the category that it is. You want to make great craft beer and you have to enter it into what it actually is.

You want to be mindful that the GABF, the Great American Beer Festival styles change annually whereas the beer judge certification styles change approximately every four to eight years. Even the best brewers don’t win every time. If you enter competitions and you lose, don’t get discouraged. Keep it up because judges are imperfect, too, and they all have their own biases. You might lose one competition and then win the next one. Thanks for listening and we’ll be back with more information.

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