As a home brewer, one of the best things you can do to learn and grow is to share your beer with others and ask for feedback. No, not just your best friends from college and your Uncle Bill. Share your beer with people who will give you good, honest feedback – and most importantly, share it with people that will tell you your beer sucks. Below, I have compiled some fun ways to gather feedback on your beer, as well as compare it to others. These can all be enjoyable, but make sure you are think-skinned enough to take some tough criticism.
Enter a Competition
Yeah, you’ve probably heard this one before. Entering competitions is a great way to get some honest feedback on your beer from the experts. And yes, they are experts – I looked into taking the BJCP certification exam and it is no joke. However, there are always pros and cons to entering a competition. Your beer is not going to be judged for taste, but rather, it will be judged to see how well it fits the category you enter it to. So even if you get a low score, it doesn’t necessarily mean your beer is bad, it just means that it was not a good example of that particular category. The judges will usually give good feedback as well as some suggestions for improvement, though if you enter a category that doesn’t fit, it is often hard to tell if the feedback is to bring your beer into that style or make it better. Competitions also cost money, but you could end up with a medal or ribbon at the end of the day!
If you know other home brewers, try organizing or joining a homebrew swap. Bring a couple of beers to share and give honest feedback to each other. You could even print off a BJCP style-sheet and treat it like a competition, without the strict category guidelines or entry fees. While you and your fellow home brewers may not be experts, you will at least have some idea of the brewing process and will be able to share advice and tips. Simply talking about brewing can help make you a better brewer.
This is an interesting concept that some friends of mine started and is off to a running start. Find another homebrewer and brew the exact same recipe on the same day (not necessarily together) and then set a date to taste and compare. Have others taste and be the judge and announce a winner of the duel. This can be really helpful, as you will be able to discuss the differences in your techniques and see how the beer was affected. Even using the same grain, hops, yeast and possibly water, you will be able to notice slight differences based on individual brewer styles and techniques. This can be a great learning experience.
You may have heard of the Iron Chef show on the Food Network. There have also been several Iron Brewer competitions sprouting up. What this entails is organizing a group of several home brewers and selecting a special secret ingredient and having each brewer make a beer that utilizes (and features) the special ingredient. It is often interesting to see what different styles and directions come from the single ingredient. You can learn a lot about different brewer preferences, as well as get some great feedback on your own beer. And you can even push yourself, and your home brewing friends, outside of your comfort zone by trying to use really unique ingredients.
Challenge a Craft Brewery
Earlier this year, I challenged a local craft brewery, Lonerider, to a duel. I wanted to have a group of other beer enthusiasts (home brewers, beer bloggers, and beer industry folks) do a blind taste testing between my brown ale and Lonerider’s award-winning Sweet Josie Brown Ale. It was a great experience, as I was able to generate some great, honest anonymous feedback (we had everyone fill out BJCP score sheets) and compare my beer to a great example of the style – which gave everyone a benchmark to compare to. I learned a lot and it was fun to see the different aspects of the beer that others tasted and commented on. The best part is that it only cost me a 6-pack of beer, and it was easy to get volunteers to come drink. Not to mention how awesome Lonerider was about donating a 6-pack of their own for the cause!
Again, these are just a few creative ways to get feedback on your brew. I encourage all home brewers to get your beer out in front of people. Heck, it was at a party where Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing let everyone try his homebrew that he first announced that he was going to start a brewery! So share your beer, gather feedback and learn from it. It is seriously one of the best, most fun things you can do. And if you ever want someone to taste and give feedback, just let me know, as I am always happy to volunteer my taste buds and feedback!