Probably the greatest aspect of brewing and beer in general is how accessible every facet of the field really is. If you’d like to try to recreate your favorite IPA at home, there’s a decent chance the recipe will be on the brewery’s website, or at least on a brewing forum like HomebrewTalk.com. Even at the commercial level, one will often find local breweries working together to create a collaborative beer or hosting a homebrew competition for the local community. These competitions are often entered by homebrewers as a way to gain some constructive criticism and attempt to take their brewing to the next level. But again, they are remarkably accessible to anyone with a couple extra 12 oz. bottles of homebrew and the five dollar entry fee. The fee will vary of course, but the point is, competitions are very ubiquitous and very easy to enter. Here are a few resources to get you started on entering your local competition.
The above link will take to you the BJCP sanctioned competitions around the US. There are probably other local competitions beyond this list as well, usually put on by very small craft breweries or homebrew clubs but this list is all you need if you live near a major city and most of the entry fees are very affordable, as long as you’re willing to see 24 oz. of your delicious homebrew go to the judge.
Homebrew competitions are mostly judged by BJCP certified tasters (Beer Judge Certification Program), they know about beer. Each brew is judged within its specific style guidelines which are meticulously spelled out in the above link. When entering a comp, you must select which style your homebrew falls under. Your beer is then judged on aroma, appearance, mouthfeel, and of course flavor. You may have a fantastic honey ginger double IPA, but if it’s entered under the English IPA category when it is in fact an Imperial IPA (though more likely a specialty beer), you’ll lose points left and right. Clarity is also a characteristic that is often overlooked when it comes to home brewing so be sure to double check your style’s appearance and may your lagers be clear and your Hefs hazy.
As you pursue the perfectly styled homebrew, you will run into questions and problems. The best resource for solving and answering these is the vast amount of information contained in the above forums. Regularly updated by avid homebrewers and even professional brewmasters, your question will no doubt be answered swiftly and accurately on either forum. As stated before, the homebrew community is very accessible and also very collaborative.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by the extremely specific styles or the plethora of other homebrewers with X amount of years of experience. The truth is, anyone can brew a terrific beer and even if yours doesn’t fall exactly within the guidelines for your style, there’s always the Best of Show or the Brewmaster’s Choice award. Plus, it only costs you 5 or 10 dollars and a couple of your brews to have a great weekend at a local competition where the beer flows freely and you’re surrounded by people with a love for beer. It’s the best way to improve your technique as well. Basically, there are many reasons to enter your homebrew into a competition and very few reasons not to, unless of course you don’t have 5 bucks to spare. Happy brewing and good luck in your future competitions.