I don’t know about you, but I’m the sort of person who, if they come across something that they like, tends to dive in, get involved, and not do things by halves. My life is already pretty full up, so when I attended my first homebrew competition a few years ago I made a promise to myself that I would only ever be a bystander at such events and not get too involved.
Predictably enough, I am now in the distinguished position of being Co-ordinator of the first Welsh National Homebrew Competition. Obviously, I will never learn.
However, there is no way that I would take on that role if wasn’t for a) Sarah Pantry having the (more important) role of competition Organiser, and b) having attended several more competitions and stewarded at the 2015 UK National. Anyone who has stewarded at a competition will tell you things like “it was a great day and I learnt loads” and “it was a long day but really worth it”, and for good reason. Below is a FAQ-style run down of what being a BJCP steward involves; hopefully it will encourage you to take the plunge.
What is a BJCP competition?
The Beer Judge Certification Program is an international organisation, with its HQ in the USA, which compiles a set of standards for judging beer competitions. It also provides a framework for how to run a competition and offers training for aspiring judges. Check out their website for more details.
One of the most important BJCP documents is their style guide. This sets out the different beer categories for a competition, and gives a detailed description of specific styles. It is important to note that you will probably disagree with some of the descriptions, and say things like “I love my signature stout but the BJCP says it’s a porter and I don’t want to enter it under porters”. If you entered the beer under stouts it would be marked down for being off-style, although the judges’ feedback may still say it’s delicious. Bear in mind that the BJCP is just concerned with offering a set of standards so that beers can be judged fairly in competitions; it is not trying to be the world’s Beer Police. I don’t let the BJCP styles dictate my brewing more generally, just for competition entries.
Are all homebrew competitions governed by BJCP rules?
No, there are many breweries that run competitions and they set their own rules and standards. The bigger, national competitions are likely to be BJCP.
What does a Steward do?
In a nutshell, a Steward looks after what’s called a flight of beers (see below), distributing beers to the pairs of Judges and making sure that the paperwork is in order and finds its way to the competition Organiser. They also look after important details like making sure that there is water and crackers for the Judges, making sure the slop buckets aren’t overflowing, grabbing a cloth to mop up after a gusher, breaking up fights (not really) and other practical help. A Steward is not the Judges’ slave; there is a sense of everyone working together to make the competition run smoothly.
What is a flight?
Competitors have to enter their beers under specific categories, for example ‘11B Best Bitter’. On judging day all of the entries under category ‘11 British Bitter’ (which also includes 11A Ordinary Bitter and 11C Strong Bitter) are organised together in what’s called a ‘flight’ and judged in the same session by the same pairs of Judges. Each flight has its own gold, silver and bronze medal winners. Stewards are given a picking list so that they know which beers to pull, and scores are recorded on this too.
What’s in it for me?
Apart from the satisfaction of a job well done, and free lunch (which, at the Urban Tap House, will be tasty), and meeting and working with some really good people, you get to try beer and learn about how Judges make their decisions. I tried some good beers, but in some cases the not-so-good beers were more interesting to try because the Judges could explain the flaws and what caused them.
Is it just about managing a flight, or is there more?
You can help for as long as there are jobs to be done. I was one of the first to get there and one of the last to leave at the UK Competition, and got involved in other jobs like labelling up the bottles (see below) as well as essential drudgery like shifting boxes of beer from a to b and cleaning up afterwards.
Labelling up bottles is important and everyone mucks in. When entries arrive they have the official competition label attached by elastic band. These are removed and replaced with printed stickers (on the cap and on the bottle itself) which just have the category id and the specific beer’s entry number. This is to anonymise the entry. It’s simple enough, but requires attention to detail.
How do I become a Steward? Can I just turn up on the day?
If you want to try your hand at stewarding, then please go to the competition website and register to steward when you sign-up. We need to know in advance how many Stewards (and Judges for that matter) we will have, so that we can plan accordingly.
Are there any dos and don’ts?
Do – get in the spirit of it and enjoy the day.
Don’t – bring your partner unless they are stewarding or judging too. They will get very bored. Or drunk.