Preparing for the Competition

Gathering Essentials

Many of the necessary supplies can be purchased for the first competition and stored away for future use. The number of each type of supply needed varies by size of competition and may vary over time. There are a few suggestions to consider when purchasing supplies. Mechanical pencils should be plentiful enough for every judge, steward, and staff member to have one, with a few extra for when some run out of lead. Ideally there would be one stapler and one calculator available for each judge team, but one per table should work with judge panels sharing. One dump bucket per table is generally adequate if the reach is not too far from the judges. Two per table is easier for judges. Small paint buckets from home improvement stores make good dump buckets and stack nicely for storage. Small penlight flashlights are handy to have for checking color and clarity of entries. Many judges bring their own flashlights, but it is nice to have a couple on hand for judges to use, but they are not a necessity. If they are used, remove batteries during storage to preserve the life of the battery. Prior to any competition, supplies should be checked for quantity and condition, adding to or replacing as needed.

Supplies needed for competition

  • Cups or Glasses
  • Mechanical pencils with erasers Staplers and staples
  • Calculators
  • Bottle openers
  • Corkscrew (at least 1)
  • Dump buckets
  • Paper towels
  • Small flashlights (optional)
  • Required paperwork
  • Palate cleansers
  • Water (bottled or pitchers)
  • Ice (or refrigerated space)
  • Style Guidelines
  • Tables and chairs
  • Table signs
  • Plastic trash bags

Required Paperwork

No competition would be complete without paperwork; common competitions documents can be found on the Competition Supplies and Reference Materials page

Scoresheets are used to document judges’ evaluations of entries. The criteria for judging beers, meads, and ciders differ so there are specific scoresheets for each. In general, the number of scoresheets needed is 2-3 times the number of entries for beer, mead, and cider (depending on whether using two- or three-person judge teams). If there will be a calibration round, one more sheet will be needed for every judge in the competition. Although not necessary, it is helpful to print mead and cider sheets each a different color so that it is easy to differentiate them from beer scoresheets at a glance, or finding them quickly when needed.

The beer scoresheet is used for all but the largest competitions. When there are a very large number of beers to judge in a relatively short period of time with a limited judge pool, some organizers may opt to use the Beer Checklist instead of the full evaluation form. This checklist is exactly that – a simple checklist of sensory information that provides minimal feedback to brewers. If this checklist is to be used as a scoresheet, judges must provide additional written feedback in the comments section to justify the scores awarded and to provide explanation for boxes marked. Judges should be notified in advance and provided the Checklist Instructions and Beer Faults Troubleshooter if this method of evaluation is to be used, so they can familiarize themselves with it and get in a little practice. 

A judge instruction sheet is available as a guide to assist judges with their judging duties. If you have a number of novice or apprentice judges, it is helpful to have these forms available to them so that they are aware of their expectations.

Each entry needs one cover sheet whether beer, mead, or cider. Cover sheets provide a quick synopsis of each entry, its category and subcategory, score, and place awarded when applicable. Copy as many as needed so that every entry has one. Some software packages allow for the printing of cover sticker labels that are used in place of full page cover sheets.

Every judge team needs a flight summary sheet for each flight they judge. This form helps judges keep track of the entries their team has judged, their scores, the order in which they were judged, and places awarded. Completion of this form is frequently delegated to the steward assigned to team, but should always be checked for accuracy and signed by the lead judge before being turned in. Copy as many as needed so that one is available for every flight judged. Be sure to provide an additional summary sheet if a flight will have more than twelve entries.

The judge registration form was originally designed to assist the organizer/judge director with contacting and confirming the attendance of judges for the competition via mail delivery. With increased use of the internet in soliciting and confirming judges, the form now is filled out at the start of the competition and simply helps keep track of the judges and stewards who worked at the competition. Use of this form is optional as long as another method for checking in judges and stewards is used. If this form is to be used, enough copies need to be available for each judge and steward to complete one.

Competition evaluation forms were intended to be filled out by judges at the end of a competition to gather feedback that organizers and staff could use to improve future competitions. In most cases, the intended benefit has not played out in reality, so the form has become optional. However, judges should always be encouraged to bring concerns or praise directly to the organizer. If used, these evaluation forms are NOT returned to the BJCP; they are for the use of the organizer to make improvements in subsequent competitions.

Note: Once the numbers of all the forms have been calculated, make as many copies of each form as needed and then make a few additional copies. It is better to have too many copies than too few.

Setting Up Flights and Judge Assignments

After unpacking has been completed and the database updated with all of the entry numbers, flights can be created. Remember that if the competition is accepting walk-ins, they should be pre-registered and an entry number assigned to each so that these entries can be included in the flight printouts. A spreadsheet works well for creating the flights/judge assignments.

Assigning judges and creating flights go hand-in-hand. To complete either task, it is important to consider the space available, total number of entries, and the number of entries in each category. Then the number of judges that can be used per flight, the number of flights that can be judged per session, and the number of sessions required can be determined. If judging space is limited, it may not be possible to accommodate the number of judges needed to properly evaluate all entries in a single day.

For very large competitions, it is also possible that, even with sufficient judging space, time does not allow for evaluation of all entries in one day. In situations like these, smaller categories may be judged at other times and at other sites prior to competition day. If judges are to be paid for their service or reimbursed for travel expenses, which occasionally occurs, the budget available for this purpose would also dictate the number of judges a competition can use.

Organizers need to ensure that judges have adequate sample sizes from the size bottles provided. This becomes particularly important when a mini-BOS is planned. Limit extra judges if only one bottle is available or a mini-BOS will be performed. Judges should also be reminded that a mini-BOS is being used so that they don’t consume extra samples, or provide samples to non-judges before all judging of the category is complete. Single-flight categories can handle more judges than multi-flight categories. If using a single bottle on multi-flight categories, two judges per panel is the maximum size recommended.

Regardless of the number of sessions to be used and number of judges required, it is important to make final confirmations with judges prior to making judging assignments. The judge coordinator must be aware of which judges have entries in which categories so that these judges do not evaluate their own entries in the competition. It is helpful to assign these judges first and fill in with the judges without entries, as they have more flexibility. It is also helpful to know if judges have greater expertise in one category over another. Placing them in the position to judge styles they are most familiar with increases the overall quality of judging. The caveat is that if they have expertise with a style, they often brew that style and may have an entry in the competition.

When creating judge panels, it is also important to include a BJCP judge on every judge team. Even better would be to put any non-BJCP judge on three-judge teams with two other BJCP judges, or recommend that they steward instead. Then the organizer has the option to not include the scores from non-BJCP (including provisional) judges when determining results. The policy to be followed should be clearly explained to all the judges at the onset of judging.

Having a few three-person teams also makes easy work of modifying the schedule if a judge cancels at the last minute or simply does not show up. Some competitions assign two-person judging teams and keep extra judges in reserve until the competition begins so then they can be seated where needed. BJCP judges should always be seated if at all possible.

When assigning judges, it is often helpful to list judges in order of experience and begin to pair judges at the top and bottom together as the most experienced with the least experienced, with the caveats above considered. Then continue pairing more experience with least until all judges have been assigned for the session. Each judging session is assigned similarly.

Select the most qualified and/or experienced judge in each flight to be the head judge. This person is in charge of assigning the consensus score to each entry. The head judge is not necessarily the judge with the highest BJCP rank.

If a non-BJCP judge requests to be paired with an experienced judge that can help train them, take this request seriously and try to find a judge with not only the suitable experience but also the desire and temperament to train a new judge.

Creating flights is easy when there are sufficient entries, minimum of six, in a given style category. Each category then could then have its own flight. When there are fewer entries, the category would need to be combined with one or more other categories that are similar in some way. The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines contain tags that describe characteristics for styles (pale-color, standard-strength, malty, western-europe, pilsner-family, etc.) that may be useful for this purpose. Note that competition categories can be created from groupings of individual styles; it is not necessary to group style categories. The BJCP Style Guidelines provide additional guidance on this process, including some examples of alternative groupings. In general, try to group beers with similar perceptual characteristics since this is easier on the judges’ palates.

For small competitions, many or all of the judging categories may be combined and renamed rather than using straight BJCP style categories. When judging a combined category, each entry is judged as the category/subcategory in which it was entered, using the BJCP criteria for that category. When comparing them to entries from other BJCP categories within the judging category the judges need to consider if one entry is a better example of that style than another entry is to its own style. “Is this Blonde Ale a better blonde ale that this Munich Helles is a Munich Helles?” is how the thinking should go. This is the same process used on the Best of Show table, incidentally.

It is not necessary to judge all beers in a major BJCP style category within a single competition award category.

Competitions can combine BJCP subcategories to create their own competition award categories.

It is not required that all subcategories in a major BJCP category be judged together – they can be split into multiple competition categories. Subcategories from different major BJCP style categories can be grouped together to create a competition award category. Keep in mind that you are responsible for creating the competition categories for your competition, and for assigning BJCP subcategories (styles) to those competition categories. Competition categories and style guideline major categories are NOT the same thing. Some competition software may try to impose this restriction – if this is the case, choose other competition software.

When categories have more than 10 to 12 entries, it is generally best to split the category up into multiple flights. The size of each flight is generally as equal as possible. For example, if a category has 24 entries, it could be split into two flights of 12 or even better three flights of 8 or four flights of 6. It is generally better for judging purposes to have fewer entries whenever possible.

Flights with 6 to 8 entries are ideal. Smaller flights tend to save time and the judges’ palates. When splitting categories, it is generally best to include entries from each subcategory represented in each flight rather than separating by subcategories. Split categories require a mini-BOS round which immediately follows the initial judging of all the entries in the category and utilizes a panel of judges pulled from the judges that evaluated the split category.

Queued judging makes judging a split category more efficient. Mini-BOS and queued judging are discussed in detail in the “Judging Split Categories” section of Competition Day. Once all categories have been combined and/or split as needed, the flights can be scheduled. When scheduling flights, it is important to schedule split categories together and first. Once the large split categories have been scheduled, the smaller flights can be added in for the remaining judge teams. For the judges’ sake, it is nicer to schedule lighter beers earlier in the day, saving the higher gravity and more intensely-flavored beers for the afternoon.

The judge director and registrar then create flight sheets or pull sheets that list all of the entries in a particular category or judging category. For most categories, the sheet will list the entry numbers, and category/subcategory both by number and name. For categories that involve special ingredients and/or processes such as Specialty-type beers (fruit, spice, smoked, wild, historical, etc.), or meads and ciders, supplemental information should be provided by the brewer/entrant when registering these entries. This additional information should be included on the flight sheet to assist the judges in understanding how to evaluate each entry, as long as the information does not uniquely identify the brewer. The BJCP Style Guidelines specify what information is required for each style.

Generally, the entries are sorted by category and subcategory on the pull sheet. If the category is being split and queued judging is being used, which is preferable, a single pull sheet with all entries in the category should be provided. If queued judging is not being used, the entries can be split into separate flights for individual judge teams, with entries from each subcategory represented in each flight, if possible. If separate flight sheets were not provided, splitting of entries can be completed by the steward or lead judge. Again, this method is not recommended. 

Although not necessary, it can be helpful to have assignments for stewards set up in advance, outlining categories to cover and/or specific tasks to complete. This is especially helpful for larger competitions. When stewards are made aware of expectations before they arrive, any questions they have can be answered prior to the competition so when they walk through the door on competition day they can get right to work.

Many large competitions have a set of unassigned judges for each session (often called a “bullpen”). If there is a no-show judge on any flight, one of the unassigned judges can take their place. If there are excess judges, it can then be possible to create additional judging teams for larger flights using queued judging, or to add a third judge to flights with only two judges per team. Regardless, scheduling additional judges for each session gives the organizer great flexibility in dealing with unexpected last-minute events and inevitable no-show judges.

When grouping flights into judging sessions, arrange flights so that judges evaluate more delicately-flavored, lower alcohol, and lighter-bodied beers first and the more assertively-flavored, higher gravity, and fuller-bodied beers last. Judges will use the same process within flights to set the flight judging order.

Accommodating Judges with Disabilities

When a judge with a disability contacts you and requests to judge in a competition, discuss the extent of their disabilities with them and determine what possible accommodations can be made. If reasonable means of accommodation can be achieved, then inform the judge they may be seated at your competition and then coordinate the accommodations with the judge and your competition staff.

Accommodate judges with disabilities whenever possible, but you must consider if their participation will affect the quality of your competition. Therefore, the competition organizer has the authority to deny requests from individuals for such allowances. Remember that the competition organizer is ultimately responsibility for the quality of the competition and the selection of judges. Non-BJCP judges can be used if needed, but too many judges on one flight can slow down a competition. No judge (disabled or not) has a right to be seated. Refer to the BJCP Competition Rules for specific authority and guidance.

If reasonable means of accommodation cannot be achieved, then politely inform the judge that it is not possible for them to judge at your competition, and provide supporting justification if requested. However, do not turn away a potential judge without considering potential accommodations. The fact that it may take some additional effort is not a satisfactory excuse.

Examples of potential accommodations include:

  1. Use of a computer and voice recognition software to follow the Style Guidelines.
  2. Use of a computer to complete electronic scoresheets and a printer to print them.
  3. Use of a magnifier to perceive the alcoholic beverage and to complete the scoresheet.
  4. Use of large text documents.
  5. Use of scribes, readers, sign language interpreters, or other assistants to complete the tasks.
  6. Use of a side room or corner where the accommodations will not distract the other judges.
  7. Use of a wheelchair-accessible facility.

Feeding your Judges and Stewards

Alcohol and empty stomachs do not mix, so it is important to put food in the competition budget. If the competition is to start first thing in the morning, it is a nice gesture to provide the judges with some sort of breakfast food before they start judging. Bagels and cream cheese, donuts, muffins, and/or coffee cake along with coffee and juice would be sufficient. If an afternoon session will also be held, lunch should be provided. This can occur in a number of ways depending on whether or not the venue has cooking facilities. Lunch can be a big deal or simple fare depending on budget and organizer preference. Make sure that you work with facility staff before making any decisions about food for the competition. Do not forget to consider those who might be vegetarians, making sure that there will be something available for them as well. Some lunch options include:

  • A buffet lunch prepared on site, delivered, or picked up. The menu could be anything from soups, salads, and sandwiches to trays of pasta and bread;
  • Providing a coupon worth a fixed dollar amount and judges/stewards order off the menu;
  • Creating a smaller menu of similarly priced items for judges to choose from, using a coupon provided;
  • Sending judges out to a sandwich shop close by with a coupon for a fixed meal such as sub sandwich, chips, and a drink; or
  • Food can be purchased from the competition venue, brought in by the host club, or catered.

Note that if you are having judges/stewards choose menu items, get a count of what they will be ordering by midmorning and give the order and approximate lunch time to the kitchen staff so that they can be prepared for the slam.

Cups or Glasses?

Competitions need to provide an ample supply of cups for judging. The main requirement is that the cups be able to hold about 2 ounces (US) of beer, leaving room for both a tall head and to allow the judge to swirl the beer and smell the aroma without inhaling the beer. Cups or tumblers between 7 and 10 ounces are usually sufficient. Smaller 4 or 5 ounce cups can hold the recommended sample size, but often will cause splashing and spilling. Cups or glasses larger than 9 or 10 ounces are not only a waste of money, since fewer cups are available for the same price, but judges tend to pour excess beer into them, which may adversely affect mini-BOS judging.

The BJCP recommends that competitions use hard, rigid, clear cups for judging; these are typically made of polystyrene plastic. Avoid soft plastic cups that are usually somewhat hazy. Also avoid plastic cups that have patterns or any aromas. The recommended cups typically come 25 to a sleeve and 500 to a case. Count on having 5 cups per entry on hand, more if you are assigning three judges per flight. Estimating five cups per entry accounts for broken cups, judging, sampling by stewards, mini-BOS and BOS rounds. Better to have more rather than come up short during the competition. Excess cups can be stored for future competitions or tastings.

Type of plastic.  Hazy, soft plastic cups are typically made of PEP plastic, are indestructible, and have a rolled lip. While cheaper, these hazy cups make determining the clarity of the beer more difficult, and they often have an objectionable phenolic aroma. The BJCP recommends that soft plastic not be used. Only hard, clear polystyrene plastic is recommended.

Should you buy cups or tumblers?  Tumblers and cups with the same capacity will be taller with a narrower mouth than the cups which are shorter with a much broader top than bottom. Either is acceptable, but tumblers are preferred.

Odors.  Some plastics have an inherent lingering plastic aroma which is not desirable when judging. Judges typically have to set these out to air and dissipate the odor prior to using. The best plastic to use is odor-free; this is recommended. When purchasing, smell a cup just taken from the sleeve. If there is a noticeable aroma which does not dissipate quickly, avoid these cups in favor of those without any noticeable aroma.

How many to buy and have on hand?  Plasticware is only used once and then discarded, so it is always better to have extras than to run out. While an exact count of the number needed is hard to determine, we have found that the rule of thumb of having 5 to 6 cups per entry to be judged is a good number. This accounts for one cup used by each of two judges in judging, extra cups used for mini-BOS judging, sharing entries with stewards, the occasional third judge on a flight, cups used for water, broken cups, and those used in BOS judging. So if a competition is anticipating 200 entries, having a minimum of 1000 cups on hand is recommended. Plasticware typically comes 25 to a sleeve, 20 sleeves to the case of 500, so two cases would be the minimum to have on hand. Unused cups can be saved for the next competition or tasting so they will not go to waste.

Glassware.  A number of competitions have used small tasting glasses or wine glasses for their competitions. Using wine glasses for mead is especially desirable, and sometimes can be used for best of show judging. Clean, oil- and soap-free glasses are great to use for judging. However, few competitions will have a sufficient number of glasses available to use them without washing and reusing them. Competitions should take care to ensure that there are enough glasses on hand to allow them to be washed, rinsed, return to room temperature, drained, and dried before they are returned to the table for judging use. Glasses should be thoroughly rinsed and dried, and should not have any objectionable odor from cleaning products or from rinse water containing chlorine. Head-destroying detergent additives should not be used for cleaning. Whether using glass or plastic, size matters – use the recommendations for cup sizes previously described.

Some judges may ask to bring their own tasting glasses to the competition. It is up to the organizer as to whether to allow this practice, but such a glass would have to be rinsed and dried between each sample. Stewards and competition staff should not be expected to do this chore; it would be up to the judge. Those pouring the beer should also maintain a consistent sample size between judges. In general, the practice of using personal glassware is discouraged since it could be disruptive to the judging process, and a burden upon the staff and other judges in the flight. A judge who wants to do this should contact the organizer in advance for a determination, and should bring all supplies necessary to maintain their glassware in a usable state.

Sources.  Several sources of the recommended hard plasticware are available. The price tends to be about US$0.07 or less per cup. Wal-Mart, Costco, and BJs are good bulk buy sources for cups. Local or national restaurant supply houses (Sysco, Restaurant Depot, WEBstaurant, etc.) are also excellent sources of cups. Organizers may have to go through a restaurant or other commercial purchaser to buy these but they typically are a very good price. When these options are not available, the party stores such as Party Land or Party City carry cups you can use. While expensive in individual sleeves, they will typically provide a very good discount of up to 50% when you purchase by the case, but you may need to ask for the case price.

Brands and SKUs.  Here is a list of known good brands that are recommended:

  • Comet T7T, 7 oz. Clear Polystyrene Classic Crystal Tall Tumbler.
  • Fineline Savvi Serve 407, 7 oz. Tall Clear Hard Plastic Tumbler.
  • Comet CC8, 8 oz. CC8 Tall Clear Plastic Classicware.
  • PartyBasics, 7.5 oz. Disposable Hard Plastic Tumblers. Water
  • PartyBasics, 8 oz. Disposable Hard Plastic Tumblers. Juice

Reserve cups for judging.  Since sample cups are often used as water glasses, a cost savings can be realized by providing restaurant or bar glasses for water to the judges. Some competitions provide commemorative pint glasses to judges. Put those out for the judges to use during the competition; they can then take them home at the end of the day.

An additional problem with using judging cups for water is that they tend to be cleared away by stewards, resulting in even more cup use. Judges may choose to use a completely different style of cup for water, such as a red plastic Solo cup, to differentiate it from the competition cups.

If a steward is sampling along with judges, they may also be instructed to rinse and reuse their sample cup while the judges use a fresh cup for every entry.

Recycle.  Try to properly recycle used plastic cups; avoid tossing used cups in the trash whenever possible.