Getting Started and Competition Planning

Getting Started

Whether or not your competition will utilize a committee or a single organizer, a variety of tasks need to be completed in timely manner. The first of which is to decide when and where the competition will be held. These tasks are not as simple as they may first appear. A great deal of research and investigation are required in order to find an ideal time and place to hold the competition. It is important to realize early that not all dates and venues are created equal.

Selecting a Competition Site

When searching for a competition site, a number of factors must be considered, including space, location, amenities, price, and the ability to bring homebrew onto the premises. There can also be legal issues in many states, particularly when the competition venue has a liquor license—check your local laws before proceeding. Even small competitions tend to take up a great deal of space, so a large room or open area with a lot of light, preferably natural, is necessary. The site has to be easily accessible on foot, by car, or public transportation. A remote location, regardless of size or amenities will likely not draw an adequate number of judges for a quality competition. The space must be available for an adequate amount of time to judge all the entries. Depending on the number of entries, this could be eight hours or more.

The amenities a venue has are critical for the success of a competition. The venue must be able to provide a private room for judging that is large enough to accommodate all the tables, chairs, and people needed for the size of competition. The tables available for the room must be large enough to accommodate all of the entries, judging supplies, paperwork, and still provide each judge enough personal space to perform the task of judging comfortably. The room itself needs to have ample lighting, preferably natural light, be quiet, and devoid of strong odors such as smoke, cooking smells, cleaning products, and bar or brewing smells.

The site must have adequate cooler space to store all of the entries and the ability to receive them at the facility and hold on to them for up to two to three weeks. A walk-in cooler is desirable for all but the smallest competitions. Portable on-site coolers can be used during the competition, provided the beers are staged in a walk-in cooler somewhere on the premises. The proximity of the cooler to the judging room and unlimited access to the cooler on competition day are also critical.

A sufficient number of tables and chairs should be available for judging or the ability to have them brought in is important. There also needs to be somewhere nearby to dump opened entries and access fresh drinking water, if bottled water is not to be provided. Water and glasses need to be free of chlorine or other sanitizer smells, or bottled water should be provided. Restroom facilities should also be adequate and readily accessible.

Most competitions run at least two sessions, morning and afternoon, with a break for lunch in between. Allow at least 2½ hours per session, an hour for lunch, an hour of prep work before the competition, and a half hour of clean up after. The site needs to be able to provide ample time to complete all tasks without rushing. If the competition will take up the better part of a day, the venue must have some means for providing food, either prepared on site or brought in. Good candidates for judging sites include brewpubs, breweries, and bars or restaurants with banquet halls or meeting facilities.

Unless funding for the competition is unlimited, price plays a large role in the selection of a venue. Look for places that may defer the room charge if food is purchased or those that are willing to work out a price reduction or some kind of package deal. Craft breweries and brewpubs are generally supportive of the homebrewing community and are frequently willing and able to work with competition organizers to make their facilities affordable. If located in your area, these establishments are great first choices. Banquet or meeting rooms in restaurants, union halls, or community centers are other options to consider.

Setting a Date

Choosing a date is not as simple as opening your calendar and pointing to an open Saturday. In order to get sufficient quality judges to volunteer their time at your competition, it is important to find a date when there are no other activities that may compete for their attendance. If you have some dates in mind, check to make sure no other competitions or major beer events are scheduled for that weekend, or for the weekends before or after.

Check the BJCP Competition Calendar to determine if other competitions are planned. People are often hesitant to work at competitions on back-to-back weekends. Avoid holiday weekends and spring breaks, as well.

If you will be relying on judges from outside of your area, expand your circle of research to include the areas from which you will draw your volunteers. Once you have some cleared dates in mind, choose one when your venue has availability for as long as you need the space or start with a handful of dates from your chosen venue and see which of them might be clear on the beer calendar.

Do not be tempted to pick a firm date and then find a venue that has availability on that date. A compromise in amenities will likely have to be made which compromises the overall quality of the competition.

Avoid weekends when beer festivals or other major beer events are held. Consider local sporting events or other large activities that may impact traffic or parking. Keep in mind that other conflicting events (not necessarily beer competitions) will impact judge availability.

Choosing a Name

The new competition needs to be given a name. This name is used when registering your competition with the BJCP. It can be something simple like using the organization’s name followed by the word challenge, brew-off, or cup. Or it can be more creative like using a play on words or something associated with the organization’s logo. When possible it is nice to get input from members. A naming contest is a fun and easy way to get this task done.

Registration and Publicity

Once a venue and date have been chosen, the competition should be registered using the BJCP Online Registration System. Registration should take place at least 90 days prior to the date of the completion and should be completed on-line. There is a small fee (currently US$30 – but authenticated, active BJCP members are eligible for a US$5 discount) associated with registration that must be paid using PayPal. Once registered, the competition is added to the AHA and BJCP calendars both on-line and in Zymurgy magazine, if registered early enough.

Visibility on the BJCP calendar or on your organization’s website is not enough to get homebrewers interested in your competition. Real work needs to be done to get the word out. Creating a flyer and sending/emailing it out to all of the homebrew clubs in your area, state, or region is a good start. A simple email without a flyer may work just as well, but doesn’t provide a visual or handout for clubs to provide at their meetings. A list of registered homebrew clubs is available from the American Homebrewers Association website. Making flyers available at local homebrew shops, and publishing in beer-related magazines such as Brew Your Own and posting on the AHA or BJCP Forums can also be helpful.

After registering your competition, you will be sent by email your competition ID and password for filing the required organizer report. Along with that we will provide you with an Excel spreadsheet of active BJCP judges and their contact information so that you can mail, email or call them to judge in your competition.

After the first year, generating interest becomes less like cold-calling. Emails can be sent to the previous years’ entrants in addition to the clubs in the area. If entrants were satisfied with their experience with your competition, they are likely to re-enter and tell friends. Word of mouth is great advertising.

Rules and Regulations

A civilized society cannot function without rules and neither can a homebrew competition. Rules give parameters for brewers to follow when entering the competition and help to create a smoother running competition from start to finish. Rules and regulations must be posted where they can be accessed by those wishing to enter the competition. Once rules are in place, they should be followed. When special treatment is given to one individual or in one situation, word gets around to other entrants who then have expectations of similar favors. Therefore, it is a lot easier to simply abide by the rules that are put in place.

The BJCP gives competition organizers broad latitude in setting competition-specific rules. This can create a unique and interesting competition experience. Following are some of the major decisions that need to be made to create the rules for your competition:

  • Type of Competition – Most competitions accept all BJCP styles from the most recent guidelines, although some do not include meads or ciders. Other competitions are more specialized and may only accept a specific type of beer such as high gravity styles. Some clubs add a featured category or two to set their competition apart from others and/or to increase the level of entertainment. Often these extra categories are related to the name of the competition such as the Menace of the Monastery for specific high gravity styles, the Smashed Pumpkin, a worst of show award, or an Eis-anything category. The best practice is to state the version of the style guidelines being used, and if any specific styles are added or excluded from the competition.
  • Entrant Eligibility – In general, homebrew competitions are open to all homebrewers who brew their entries on their home equipment. Beers brewed at commercial facilities on commercial equipment or brew-on-premise locations are usually not allowed. Professional brewers are sometimes excluded, even if they make the beer on homebrew systems. Competitions might limit entrants to only their local club members or to state residents, but this is up to each competition and organizer. The BJCP does sanction competitions for commercially-made beers so long as the BJCP rules are followed. There is no ethical problem with an entrant also being a judge in the same competition, provided that the person does not judge the same categories they enter.
  • Number of Bottles Per Entry – At minimum, two bottles will be needed for judging; one for the initial round where the entry is tasted and given scores and a second for the Best-of-Show (BOS) round, where the top beers from each category meet head-to-head and an overall winner is chosen (assuming there is a BOS for the competition). When the number of entries in a single category exceeds 6 to 10, the category should be split into two or more as needed.

In order to determine the best beers in split categories, up to three entries from each flight in the category move on to a mini-Best-of-Show (mini-BOS). A panel of judges comprised of the top two or three judges selected from the representative flights choose the three beers that best depict that particular style, awarding first through third places. The beer that remains in the bottle from the initial judging can be used for the mini BOS, but should be recapped immediately after pouring. If, in these situations a fresh taste is desired, a third bottle would be used. This, however, would require all entrants to send three bottles, just in case.

Things to consider when deciding between holding a two- or three-bottle competition are the additional cost in shipping for the brewers, the space need for the increase in number of bottles, and the significant amount of unopened bottles left over at the end of the competition.

  • Bottle Size – 10 to 14 ounce bottles are standard so as to increase the convenience of storing them in standard beer case boxes. Any size or shaped bottles that do not easily fit in standard case boxes are generally not allowed; oversize bottles are difficult to store and may lead to breakage. However, large (16 oz., 22 oz. or 750ml) bottles are often accepted for meads, ciders and some beer styles. Any lettering or graphics on the caps should be completely obscured with a black marker so as to maintain anonymity. Raised lettering on the bottles is not typically a problem, and the color of the bottle should not matter, as long as they do not obviously associate an entry with a specific brewer. Some competitions do not allow swing-top bottles to be used. Some competitions accept beer in any size container, which benefits brewers who keg their beer.
  • Entry Fees – Some competitions have a single cost per entry regardless of how many beers an individual enters. Other competitions utilize a multiple entry discount where the first entry is one price and all subsequent entries are a lower cost per entry. The savings is typically one dollar per entry. Still others charge a single fee for a specified number of entries after which all additional entries are free. No one wants to lose money on a competition so fees should be set to offset anticipated costs, without becoming prohibitively expensive for brewers. Check into the costs of other competitions in the area before setting a price in order to be competitive. Charging more for a competition, especially a new one, will deter brewers from entering. Typical entry fees are US$5 to US$7 per entry, as of this writing.
  • Entry Deadline – Brewers are generally given up to a four-week window of time to register their entries on line. At the end of the entry window, the entry forms or link to the online registration site should be removed from the website to prevent the creation of late entries. To keep storage of entries to a minimum, acceptance of deliveries at specified locations should be limited to a few weeks. This period is generally the last one or two weeks prior to the unpacking date. For convenience and to save local brewers shipping costs, drop-off locations may also be made available. Local homebrew shops or venues for beer club meetings are good options for this service.
  • Entry Cap – The popularity of homebrewing continues to drive competitions to an ever larger size. Left unrestrained, many competitions would wind up with hundreds of entries more than they could reasonably judge in their planned sessions. If you are constrained by the number of judging days, judging sessions, available judges, room size, or any other factor, consider introducing a limit to the total number of entries your competition will accept. Monitor the entries and cut off registration when you’ve reached your limit. Be sure to publicize the limit on your website so entrants will not be surprised.
  • Late Entries – Any entries received after the deadline are considered late. The organizer or committee needs to determine how they will handle these entries. Accepting them into the competition with full rights is one option, but defeats the purpose of having a deadline. Another option is to include the entries in the competition, but having their late status make them ineligible to win prizes or be included in the BOS should they qualify for those honors. Yet another option is to not include them in the competition at all. Regardless of how late entries will be handled, the policy should be clearly stated in the rules and regulations and the brewer of any late entries informed of how his entries were handled.
  • Walk-in Entries – Having to label entries and put them with other entries of their categories minutes before judging is a lot of work and can be very stressful. When there are a lot of walk-ins, getting them all processed and in their proper places can delay the start of judging, which starts the competition off on a bad note. The difference in temperature between walk-in entries and the ones stored in the same cooler for days can be significant. This may affect the characteristics of the entries, affecting the judging process. Some competitions, therefore, do not accept walk-in entries.

Other competitions allow walk-in entries from judges coming from out-of- town as a thank-you for their support and assistance. All other entries must be shipped or delivered by the deadline given. Note that walk-in entries only mean the actual bottles are walked in. All entries must have been registered by the deadline and payment received like any other entry.

  • To Mead or Not to Mead – Some people have real issues with having meads and ciders in a beer competition. Even more problematic for some is the possibility of a mead or cider winning a BEER competition. These concerns have resulted in some competitions that accept beer entries only. Other modifications have been made to other competitions resulting in a separate BOS round for meads and ciders. In either case, published regulations should be clear on how meads and ciders will be handled if they are or are not to be accepted.
  • Awards – Regulations generally include a statement on awards; frequently this is first, second and third place from the categories judged and the overall winner, Best-of-Show. Some competitions include an award for the second Best-of-Show, while still others also have one for third BOS. If meads and ciders will not be included in the BOS round, but their own BOS will be held, awards to be presented to them should be specified. Also, awards to be given for any featured category the competition will include should also be noted.
  • Scoring Limits – The AHA currently allows only one entry per brewer in any given subcategory at the National Homebrew Competition (NHC). This rule is often adopted by local homebrew competitions as well, although some competitions allow multiple entries per subcategory but limit the brewer to winning only one medal per subcategory. This allows brewers to submit the same beer with different yeast or of two different vintages and get the same panel of judges to compare them and express a preference.

While judging scores range from 0 to 50, many competitions also mirror the NHC by having a minimum score entries have to achieve to place/receive an award. This score is generally 30. Competitions may also determine a minimum that any entry can score. A minimum score of 13 is sometimes used as a courtesy so as not to completely discourage entrants even if they have submitted a problematic beer, but this is not a BJCP requirement.


Awards are no small detail; the organizer or committee needs to decide what awards they will provide to the category and BOS winners. The quality of awards given out can make or break a competition, so going ultra cheap is not necessarily better. To help offset competition costs, some competitions find sponsors for specific categories, places awarded, or Best-of-Show winners. Frequently used options include ribbons, plaques, medals, and trophies of some sort (glasses, cups, etc.).

Ribbons and rosettes come in a variety of sizes and colors for first, second, and third places. They can be easily customized with logo, place awarded, year, and competition name as desired. Cost varies greatly depending on the size, but is typically quite affordable. Ribbons are also lightweight and generally take up limited space, so mailing them to entrants who are not in attendance at an awards ceremony is relatively inexpensive. Plaques and medals tend to be more expensive and weigh more, adding to mailing costs, but are a nice change of pace when they can be afforded. Trophy shops are a good source for awards, but whatever type of award is chosen, order early and allow ample time for creation and delivery.

Prize Procurement

Some competitions include a raffle that provides both entertainment on competition day and revenue to help defray costs incurred for the competition. If the competition will include a raffle, a few months should be allowed for the procuring of prizes. This is definitely not the easiest job. There is no set rule for who, when, and how to contact, or how persistent to be when attempts go unanswered. The key to success is to recognize that these are business with many tasks to perform and that patience, persistence, respect, and gratitude are required to get the job done without alienating business and organizations.

Breweries, brewpubs, local beer bars, maltsters, yeast suppliers, hop producers, and the like are all good places to solicit. Although some people ask for specific gifts from the businesses they solicit, it is often best to allow the business to decide what they have available and are willing to part with. Gifts of apparel, glassware, books, signs, mirrors, gadgets, extracts, flavorings, grains, hops, certificates or other products are all great items for a raffle.

It is always a good business practice to include the names of the businesses that donated on your website as sponsors of the completion or to utilize some other form of public acknowledgement of their generosity.

Recruiting Judges and Stewards

The quality of judging is one factor that determines the success of a competition. Having a sufficient number of experienced BJCP judges is critical. Teams of two judges with at least one BJCP judge is the minimum ratio to shoot for, although the more experienced judges a competition can recruit the better. If teams contain three judges, then at least two of them should be BJCP judges. A team of two BJCP judges is often more preferable than a team of three judges that includes inexperienced or non-BJCP judges; a person desiring judging experience should first volunteer to steward before attempting to judge. Often a team of three judges will judge at a slower pace than a team of two judges, so this should be taken into consideration when planning flights and schedules. A list of BJCP judges with contact information is available through the BJCP when a competition is registered.

The timeframe for recruiting judges is not set in stone, but sufficient time for working the competition into judges’ calendars is necessary. Soliciting too early often results in some judges forgetting that they signed up. Wait too long and judges’ calendars get filled up. The timeframe used will also vary by season. Calendars fill up faster in summer and near holidays and spring break, so more advance notice may be required. Even after judges have confirmed their desire to volunteer for a competition, follow up must occur as the date nears since plans often change without notice to the recruiter.

Policies established for the competition can have an affect on judge recruitment. Offering walk-in delivery for entries is a nice benefit for out-of-town judges, if this can be accommodated logistically. Some competitions also offer some expense reimbursement or subsidy for out-of-town judges (offering to provide some gas money, discounted hotel rooms, offering spare beds with local judges, free admission to related festivals or events, etc.) is frequently a good draw for judges. Policies that restrict judges from entering the competition will have a negative effect on judge recruitment.

The BJCP has a Disability Policy in effect for judges. Competition organizers should be aware of this policy, and make reasonable attempts to accommodate disabled judges who volunteer. See the Competition Day section of this document for more details on specific accommodations.

Recruiting Stewards

Stewards can also make or break a competition, so having an adequate number of experienced or trained stewards is important. The number of stewards necessary will depend on the size of the competition and the number or type of tasks they will be expected to complete. Smaller competitions can be run with one steward for every 2 to 3 flights. For larger competitions, one steward per category is ideal since this better supports queued judging. Specific stewarding tasks and information on queued judging can be found later in this document. Stewards are often non-judge club members or other local beer enthusiasts or those who would like to one day become a judge.

Many judges suggest to interested parties that they volunteer to steward at competitions if they think they would like to learn how to judge. It is best for a brand-new person to first steward a few times before attempting to judge so they can learn the mechanics of judging. Do not seat judge volunteers with zero experience as judges without first recommending that they steward instead.

Estimating the Number of Judges Needed

One question most new competition organizers ask is how many judges do I need? The answer isn’t simple but it’s not overly complex either. Here are some thoughts that will help organizers answer this for themselves.

The following definitions from the Glossary of Terms are applicable to this discussion:

SESSION – An uninterrupted time period when at least one panel of judges sits to judge one or more flights of entries. Typically, morning, afternoon and evening are considered sessions at most competitions.

FLIGHT – A single grouping of entries that are combined for the purposes of judging, that are evaluated by a single panel of judges, and that result in a ranked ordering for purposes of determining awards. In large competitions, a single category may be divided into multiple flights with the overall winner determined in a Mini-BOS round.

Competitions need a minimum of two judges per flight. The number of entries per flight can range from a low of 6 to a max of 12; however, as a general rule try to limit the number of entries in a flight to 6 or 8. It takes approximate 10-15 minutes per entry to judge and fill out the judging form, so judges can judge 4 to 6 entries in an hour (although many are faster). Therefore, even slow judges should be able to reasonably evaluate 10 entries in about 2 to 2.5 hours. If a category has multiple flights (for example, 3 flights of two judges each to judge 32 porters), then allocate another 15-30 minutes for the mini-BOS that will determine the overall winning entries from the top three selected from each of the three flights. Note that some experienced judges may judge at a faster rate while inexperienced judges may take longer since they tend to be less sure of the styles and spend more time looking up the details of the style in order to judge accurately.

What this implies is that two judges can judge 10 entries in at most 2.5 hours, so estimate 2.5 to 3 hours for a session; this takes into account bathroom breaks and mini-BOS judging. A session starting on time at 9:00 am should conclude by 12:00 noon, if all the flights have about 10 or fewer entries. A 1:00 pm flight should finish by 4:00 pm. A Best of Show judging starting at 4:30 pm should finish in about an hour, so your competition judging should conclude about 5:30 pm, if the flights are kept to a reasonable number of about 10 entries max.

The number of judges needed is derived from the number of entries to be judged and number of sessions in which judging will occur. Average-sized competitions typically have a morning and an afternoon judging sessions on a Saturday or Sunday. Most judges will show up for both sessions, although sometimes there are no-shows or judges can only stay for one session, so take this into account when you finalize the number of judges needed.

You will have to make an initial assumption about the number of entries you will receive in order to estimate the number of judges needed. Using historical competition data or entry counts from similar competitions might help. Also take into account any potential entry cap, since this gives you a maximum number of entries. By closing the entry period a week before the competition, you can have an accurate count of entries and give yourself time to organize flights and create judging panels. The final number of entries received might be lower due to breakage and/or no-shows.

For example, assume a competition with 144 entries, which must be divided into judging categories. You might get 20 IPA entries, which would require two flights to judge. You might collapse some style categories that are lightly entered into fewer award categories. The goal will be to have about 10 in each judging flight. The 144 entries can then be judged in 14 or 15 flights. If you had an abundance of judges, this could all be done in the morning or the afternoon in one session. Typically, this judging will be done in two sessions in one day. So half the flights will be in the morning and half in the afternoon, unless you know you will have more judges in one session than another. In this example with 15 flights, we might schedule 8 flights in the morning and 7 in the afternoon. With two judges per flight we need 16 judges to judge all day, and extra judges can always be assigned as a third judge on a panel or be used to fill-in for no-show judges. With two judging sessions, the easy estimate is you need one-tenth the number of judges as the number of entries. Round up and always have an even number of judges. For judging to be completed in one session you need one-fifth the number of judges as entries. For three judging sessions, then one-third of the flights are judged in each session so you need a third as many judges, 10 for each session. The simple formula:

((E/L) x P)/S = number of judges needed per session (rounded up to next highest even number)


E = # of entries

S = # of sessions

L = average entries per flight (assume 8)

P = desired number of judges per panel (assume 2)

Of course things do not work out so perfectly. The entries will not divide up evenly into exactly 8 per flight. There will be no-show judges. Not all judges will be able to stay a full day. So always be sure to round up. Have extra judges on hand, and invite a few more to account for no-shows. Seat each flight with at least one of the most experienced BJCP judges and then the second judge in each flight can be less experienced. If you then have extra judges, you can seat three judges for some flights in order to utilize everyone who has given up their time to help you out. Consider the least experienced of the judges present as the third judge on some flights. Try to only put three judges on those flights that will not be involved in mini-BOS judging, so there is enough beer left for mini-BOS judging if the same bottle must be used for both judging and mini-BOS.

When you estimate the number of entries you will receive and the number of judges required and find that you may not be able to recruit enough judges to judge in the days and sessions available to you, then you should consider introducing an entry cap or adding additional judging sessions. Some larger competitions judge some of the smaller flights during the evenings preceding the competition.

These guidelines will help you to have sufficient judges to conduct a successful competition. Some competition software can help by limiting on-line entries as set by the organizer. New competition organizers are urged to solicit the aid and support of a local experienced BJCP judge as a key staff member to help with the organization to ensure that the competition meets the BJCP and judges’ expectations and goes well for you and all concerned.

Selecting Competition Software

Two types of software are commonly used for homebrew competitions. A web-based application is used for on-line registration of entries and a computer-based application keeps track of judges, stewards, entries and entrants, scores, and places awarded. The computer-based software chosen should allow for the formatting of address labels and pull/flight sheets. Using a spreadsheet or database program such as Excel, Access, or Filemaker to organize, manipulate, and print out various information as needed helps a competition to run more efficiently and smoothly, leading to a successful competition. More fully-integrated web-based systems are becoming available, and can be used instead of the separate components. Links to competition software members have recommended to us can be found on the BJCP website.

The BJCP does not supply competition software, but does provide information about compatible software where possible. Whatever type of competition software is used, keep in mind all the various functions that must be performed during a competition and try to select products that will allow you to run the competition the way you want. Some competition management software requires an active Internet connection to use; this may be an issue if the judging venue is remote or lacks modern infrastructure.

Some software products automate the production of an organizer’s report to the BJCP. If you use such a program, make sure the BJCP supports the format. It is still your responsibility to make sure you are awarding points in compliance with the award schedule listed on the BJCP website. The BJCP’s Organizer Reporting System enforces these rules automatically, and is the preferred method for entering points, even if competition software can create a report. The BJCP’s reporting system will notify judges that their points have been awarded, which can cut down on the amount of email you get from curious or impatient judges.

Creating Entry Number Labels

Entries at homebrew competitions are judged anonymously. Nothing can be left on the bottles that might give away the identity of the brewer. So that entries can be tracked, they are all given numbers at the time of unpacking, which are entered into a database with the brewers’ information. The numbering system used is completely up to the organizer, but generally consists of three- to five-digit numbers (e.g., 101, 102, etc. or 10001, 10002, etc.), used in sequential order. It should be noted numbers generated completely at random do not provide information to the stewards as to category. One numbering scheme which will provide category information is to use four digit numbers and the first two digits are the category and the last two are the entry number (e.g., 0101 is the first entry in Light Lagers (Category 1), 2315 is the fifteenth entry in Specialty Beer (Category 23), etc.). This numbering system allows the stewards and judges to immediately know if they are judging an entry from the correct category. It should be noted if you will have more than 100 entries you will need to move to a five-digit number with the first two being the Category and the last three being the entry number.

The number of labels needed per entry depends on how many bottles are required and if you will be unpacking and labeling all at once and doing the data entry later. In a nutshell, a minimum of two labels are needed per bottle, one for the neck and one for the cap. Placing a label on the cap is sometimes overlooked, which is a major mistake. Cap labels are critical to the efficiency of the competition. Scanning for numbers in cases is a lot faster than handling each bottle looking for numbers. One extra label can be used for the paperwork that accompanies the entries (generally a bottle label with brewer information) to use for data entry later. It is recommended to have all entry information available for easy reference during the competition (either printed or electronic). Sorting these by entry number makes locating the entry information for any given entry easy to find should there be questions from the judges during the competition.

Unpacking and Sorting

Unpacking and sorting can be done all at once, or over a period of time. If desired, the entries can be unpacked as they are received, and the packing materials discarded. The entries can be stored temporarily in mixed cases until sorted, which typically takes place a week or so before the competition date and/or immediately after the delivery window is closed. This option requires fewer volunteers, allows for division of labor, takes up less working space, and provides the opportunity to dispose of material over time. On the other hand, each entry is handled more times and by more individuals. Labeling of entries can occur either at the time of unpacking or sorting. If unpacking and sorting are competed together, the two tasks would be completed in the timeframe for sorting noted above.

Generally, there are two basic ways of sorting the entries, each of which has its advantages and drawbacks. The first is to keep all bottles of an entry together in a case. Depending on the number of bottles required, a case would hold (12) 2-bottle or (8) 3-bottle entries. This method makes locating entries for the mini-BOS or BOS round easier because they are already on the competition floor. The entries that move on can be pulled at the completion of that round without searching through cases in the cooler. Drawbacks include the greater amount of space (2 to 3 times) needed in the judging area to accommodate the larger number of bottles, increased opportunities for error in serving (opening more than one of any given entry), and the greater variation in temperatures of bottles at BOS time.

The second way of sorting involves separating the entries into categories and rounds. For this sorting process, multiple cases for each BJCP category would need to be created. For competitions with 2-bottle entries, one box would be for the initial judging and the second for the BOS. For competitions with 3-bottle entries, three cases can be created for each category so that the initial round, mini-BOS, and BOS round each have its own case. Another option is to separate the bottles into two cases with the mini-BOS bottles either combined with the initial round or BOS bottles. Cases are differentiated by rounds either by using numbers, letters, or different colored paper attached to the front of the box. Advantages to separating the initial round bottles from the second and third bottles include the reduced number of bottles to be handled on the judging floor at any given time, less space needed in the judging area, accuracy of serving (all bottles in case get opened), and similar serving temperatures and conditions for all BOS entries since all BOS bottles remain in the cooler. The main drawback to this method is the additional time necessary to return to the cooler to search for BOS entries.

Materials needed for unpacking:

Box cutters/pocket knives 

Pre printed entry number labels
Case boxes
Six-pack carriers or bottle dividers
Sheets of 2 -3 different colors of paper (optional)
Packing tape/tape guns (optional)

Whichever method of sorting or timeframe for unpacking is chosen, the same basic steps for unpacking, labeling, and repacking can be followed. Depending on number of entries, space and number of volunteers available, some modifications may need to be made. In general, once the window for receiving entries is closed, unpacking can occur. While there are many ways in which unpacking can be completed, recruiting a team of volunteers and assigning tasks to each individual allows for efficient completion of unpacking, labeling, and categorizing in assembly line fashion. Even large competitions can be unpacked and repacked in a few hours on a single day when some basic procedures are followed.

On unpacking/sorting day, three areas should be set up. The unpacking area will consist of the packaged entries and at least one work table, if possible. The labeling area will require a few tables and chairs for the labelers. The final area will be the sorting area, consisting of case boxes for sorting the entries by category.

If sorting by rounds, two (or three) different colors of paper can be taped to the front of each box, separating first and final round entries. Alternatively, a large “1” or “2” (or “A” and B”) could be hand written on a front corner of each case, but bright paper is easier to spot in a hurry. Also on each case, written in large numbers should be the category numbers. The pairs of cases, filled with six-pack carriers or internal bottle dividers, should be arranged on the floor in numerical order, each with the same color case (or round number/letter) in front of the second case of the same category.

The assembled group of volunteers can then be separated into four smaller groups, each with a specific function. These groups include unpackers, movers, labelers, and sorters.

Unpackers – Members of this group are responsible for opening packages of entries, moving the entries and any entry paperwork on to the next group, and disposing of packing materials. It is important to open packages carefully to prevent breakage and possible injury when breakage occurs during transport. Only one individual should open and unwrap entries from a single brewer. All entries from a single brewer should be move on to the next station as a unit, keeping the bottles for a single entry together.

As entries are unwrapped, all bottles should be checked for damage and ensure that each has a brewer label secured to the bottle. If a bottle comes without a label, look through the packing materials before discarding the trash. Any broken bottles, missing or wet labels, missing payments, odd-sized bottles, entries with too few bottles, or other concerns with entries should be brought to the attention of the lead labeler who is typically the registrar or organizer. If rules and provisions for how to address these situations have not already been determined, decisions will need to be made at this time and documented. Some resolution options to consider include:

  • For broken bottles – If time permits, the entrant can reship entries. If one bottle is intact, it can be judged during the competition but will not be eligible for a medal. If there is nothing to judge, entry fees can be refunded or not.
  • Odd-sized bottles can be disqualified on the spot and the beers disposed of properly. If allowed into the competition, provisions will need to be made for storage. The entry can be judged, but given the penalty of not being allowed to move forward or earn a medal. If accepted, reserving one or two cases specifically for odd-sized bottles makes for easier handling.
  • Entries with too few bottles can be disqualified on the spot and the beers disposed of properly. If allowed into the competition, the entry can be judged, but given the penalty of not being allowed to move forward or earn a medal. If there is a missing bottle for an entry, say one of the two bottles was broken in shipping and could not be replaced, then put the one bottle in the “A” case for judging with a note that it is a single bottle entry. A similar slip of paper in the corresponding location in the “B” case serves as a reminder that there is no second bottle and not a lost bottle.

Entrants should be informed of any decision regarding their entry either separately or through the scoring process.

Movers – This small group, if needed for larger competitions, is responsible for moving the entries from the unpacking area to the labelers, keeping entries from a single brewer together and with their appropriate partner. Once labeled with preprinted entry numbers and completely processed, members of this group then move the entries down to the sorters, checking to make sure the entry numbers and category/subcategories match.

Labelers – Members of this group work with sets of entries one entry at a time. Each set of bottles must be checked to make sure that the brewer and category information is the same. For this section, category refers to categories listed in the BJCP Style Guidelines or other style guidelines being used. Then the style number and sub-category letter are hand-written on pre-printed entry number labels. Having the style number on the cap makes sorting into the appropriate category box easier. One of these labels is then affixed to the cap and another to the neck of both bottles, wiping the bottles dry if needed to ensure that the labels stick. If using and on-line entry system an entry number label with the same entry number may be affixed to the upper right hand corner of the brewer label from one of bottles of an entry. If entries are not entered on line, the entry number can be affixed to the brewer entry form that was sent in instead. During the competition, the bottle labels with the entry numbers are saved by the stewards and used for data entry purposes at a later date. The bottles for that entry can then be moved forward to be collected by the movers and placed in six -pack carriers at the sorters’ station. One labeler should be responsible for labeling all entries of a single brewer. Entry numbers should be assigned in a numerical fashion. This is especially important when brewers have multiple entries. Should an entry only have one bottle, this should be noted on the label retained by the labeler and the sorters informed of the status of that entry.

Accuracy and legibility are critical. Labelers should double check to make sure that they are labeling a matched set of beers AND one of the labels with the same number. The correct category number and letter should be written on the pre-printed labels in a legible manner so that they can be accurately categorized in the case boxes.

Sorters – This very small group is responsible for taking the labeled bottles and placing them in the appropriate case by category, noted on the entry label. Prior to placing entries in case boxes, it is important to double check that the entry numbers and category/sub-categories of a pair of bottles match. Also make sure that the category/subcategory numbers written on the entry number labels are the same as those noted on the brewer label. Then the bottles can be placed in the appropriate category cases, one in the front box and the second bottle in the back box, if separating by round. It is helpful to place bottles in the same space in each case, filling the left half first, from front to back. This allows for easier consolidation of cases later on, if necessary. When boxes are filled in this manner, all boxes in a category should look identical to each other. If they do not, the sorter will know that an error has occurred and can work on correcting the problem before the process has gone too far. In the case of a single bottle entry, the single bottle should be placed in the front box and the same spot left empty in the back box. If keeping all bottles of each entry together, leave a space where the missing/broken bottle would have gone so that subsequent entries are not split apart. This entry will be judged in the first round, but will be ineligible to move on to the best of show round.

When all of the packages have been unpacked and all entries labeled and placed into their appropriate cases, consolidation of cases can take place as needed. This is accomplished by combining smaller categories with other small categories within a case box and marking the additional category numbers on the front of the case. It is critical to combine the second cases of beers in the same manner as the first and marking them as well. If some styles are to be judged at a different time from the main competition, make sure that those styles are combined in cases as needed during this consolidation process. Once consolidation is complete, cases can be closed and stacked in the cooler, with second round boxes on the bottom or further back in the cooler.

Once the unpacking process has been completed, entry numbers can be entered into the database being used to keep track of brewers, entries, and winners. If on-line registration is required, it is a simple task to add the entry numbers to the entries already in the database. If on-line registration is not required, entry numbers along with brewers’ information will need to be entered. All of this info must be entered prior to the start of the competition.

For smaller competitions, entry labels can be affixed to bottles when they are unpacked either as they come in or on a specified packing day. If unpacking and labeling is done over time, a final sorting should be completed once all entries have been received and unpacked. Smaller competitions could also use pre-assigned entry numbers that could be attached to the appropriate bottles as they are received if on-line registration is used. Conversely, entrants could be required to affix labels to their entries themselves. This would entail providing entrants with their entry numbers and informing them how to label their bottles prior to shipping.