Recently we seem to have homebrew competitions appearing out of the woodwork and sadly most don’t have a clue what they are doing and how one should be run. The first thing you have to do is figure out if the beer is a best beer type competition where a group or a crowd is going to decide a favorite or if a table of judges will make that decision based on guidelines. Best beer is a cinch to do, all you need is cups and some method for those sampling to vote. It generally is not a great way to find the absolute best beers, but works well and everyone is happy. The latter is much more work and takes more preparation.
So let’s say you decide to have judges, now you need to have guidelines so you might as well register the competition with the BJCP instead of reinventing the wheel. Then take the Competition Handbook and read it cover to cover. Now that you have that under your belt let’s talk specifics. You’ll need to determine the maximum number of entries you are going to have and whether or not you are going to return score sheets. It you are returning score sheets then allow ~12 minutes per judging of each beer in a two judge panel. Yep, about four beers per hour. So if you want to have 100 entries it would take two judges 25 hours to complete the judging. So let’s bump it to 10 judges and and have the five teams judge at the same time. Now we only have about five hours of judging to accomplish. A good rule of thumb is about 10-15 beers on a flgiht at one time so for our hypothetical situation of 10 judges and 100 beers we would try to do a 2.5 hour flight of 10 beers and then a break and then another 2.5 hour flight of 10 beers.
There are ways to speed up that process. One would be to not fill out full score sheets and to use the ones in the AHA final round. Those are “tick” sheets and take about 5 minutes or so to complete. Doing this you easily cut the time required by 60%. An even faster method would be to not provide any feedback and to judge to style as the best. The judges could agree on a score for each entry and then simply take the highest in the flight as the winner.
Personally I could figure out a way to make a modest 100-150 competition go with ease. Once you go above 200 entries the complexity can be especially challenging. We once hosted the South Region for the AHA and 583 entries nearly broke up in half. We ended up judging in two cities over 5 days to get it done. When you break off more than you can chew it really can cause some heartache. There are a million ways to skin a cat, but just be sure you know what you are doing before you take on a competition.