Homebrew Competitions in the age of Covid: 2021 CYTW Roundup Report

This report will go over the way the CTYW 2021 Roundup was held and will go into detail
specifically related to what alterations were made to adjust for the constraints that the Covid-19
pandemic placed on our competition process. The competition software we used was the BCOE&M
hosted software, version 2.2.0.

Competition Capacity

The first thing an organizer will have to consider is the overall capacity of their competition. This
will largely be based on the number of judges available in your area, as well as how quickly you want all
the judging to be completed.

For the Roundup, our intent was still to complete judging within one week of the start of the
competition. Due to all the unknowns related to this new format, the decision was made to reduce
capacity by 50% to avoid missing the set end date of the competition.
When considering your capacity, allow for some breathing room if things go sideways. At 100%
capacity, we may have actually still been able to complete our judging but without having done this
before, we may have risked having a scramble at the end in order to finish judging beers before the
competition was over.

Many of the items listed below will affect the overall capacity you will be able to manage; they
will be covered in finer detail there.

Updated Competition Parameters/Preparation

Items to consider here include how many bottles people will need to send into competition,
what types of packaging methods are permitted, whether or not categories will be restricted, and how
flights in large categories will be judged. Additional considerations to take into account are your judging
schedule and how you plan on gathering scoresheets.
One of the biggest changes this year organization-wise is that the workload on the front end of
the competition was far heavier than previous years. For a competition without a centralized judging
location, your full judging schedule will need to be determined before the competition begins. In terms
of fleshing out your schedule, you will need to consider some of the following questions:

  • Do I want to create judging pairs that will judge together for the whole competition?
  • Will I mix judges up throughout the week so they can see different faces and interact with other
    judges?
  • Do I plan on distributing the load equally between judges or will I lean heavily on judges that
    have expressed that they are available every day and lighten the load for judges that are only
    available 2 days of the week?

For our competition, the simplest way to deal with these was to create pairs that would judge
together for the whole competition and to evenly distribute the judging share between judges. After
receiving everybody’s availability, we paired judges up based on schedule compatibility (keeping
experience levels in account and trying to keep less experienced judges with our higher ranked judges).

Once the total number of judging sessions was determined, judges were assigned to their sessions,
keeping judges out of sessions where they had entered a beer. One item to note here is that you will
need to take a look at any co-brewers in entries that are in the system. The software didn’t scan for this
and we almost had a judge assigned to a session where he was listed as a co-brewer.

For larger categories, we did have a few groups of judges that were able to judge at the same
location while complying with the restrictions set out by the government. If you have this capability, use
this set of judges for your larger flights. They will be able to split the flight in 2 and cover a category over multiple sessions while reserving the second bottles for a mini-BOS on a separate date.

If you have multiple large categories that require several flights and do not have enough capacity in
judging groups like the group mentioned above, you will need to ensure you have an extra bottle (or
two) for the mini-BOS. Since this can get tricky, it helps to have a lower cap on your competition so less
mini-BOS’s are required. Many people also suggested restricting the number of beers that can be
entered in each category but to my knowledge, there is no way to do this in our competition software. This year, several of the categories were also adjusted wherever possible to create smaller groupings
that could be completed by a single set of judges.

Another item to think about is what type of packaging will be permitted. To be as unbiased as
possible, we were strict to our packaging rules this year and permitted only glass & plastic bottles. No
markings on bottles were permitted and cans were also ruled out this year to avoid potential
identification of a brewer and to avoid bias among judges.

Based on what we thought would work, we requested that three bottles be shipped for each entry and
in our competition this worked well. You will need two bottles for the initial judging (1 per judge), as well
as one for BOS should the beer move on. If you are planning on having a mini-BOS for any given category, you will need an additional bottle if judges can do the mini-BOS in one location or two if they need to take care of it online. For the BOS, you will also need to consider if one beer will suffice if judges can evaluate the beers in one location (outside or distanced), or if you will need the BOS to also be online (in which case you will need at least two extra bottles). This format means you will need anywhere from 3-6 bottles of each entry. Obviously 6 is a lot so avoid mini-BOS’s and try to get your BOS somewhere that judges can be together, even if they’re at different tables.

Bottle Shipping/Sorting/Distribution

Shipping bottles to competition this year was identical. We had them shipped to a central
location and we sorted them there. The main thing I would suggest adjusting is to give yourself one extra week to sort beers. When sorting, the main consideration is that now, instead of just unpacking,
labeling, scanning and sorting beers into style boxes, you will now need to add a second day to break
these boxes into packages for judges. To avoid any missed beers, allow for a week in between this to
email contestants whose bottles didn’t arrive and to recheck entries for anything that may not have
scanned in properly. Another thing to keep in mind for your sorting date is that even with our 50% reduced competition cap, we only had 25% less bottles, due to the third bottle being needed.

Since we had judges in pairs, a sorter would simply grab a sheet for two judges and take one bottle
for each judge, checking them off as they went, and leaving one bottle in the style box for BOS. With
judges switching partners through the week, there is more room for error as the process can become a
bit more convoluted.

Distribution to judges for us was done through pickup and delivery. We delivered to judges who
couldn’t pick up. The remaining judges picked up their packages from the sorting location. We also
included cups and crackers for those who wanted them.

Judging Format

The majority of first round of judging was done virtually, the only exceptions being those judges
who were able to judge in the same location. Judges would sign in to a video chat with their judging
partner and work through their flight in order, discussing beers after filling out their scoresheets.
BCOE&M has an option for using online scoresheets that was a huge benefit to our competition and
saved us from having to scan in hundreds of scoresheets. Once the award presentation is over, you can
simply click a button in the software and all scoresheets are made available to participants.

In general, feedback was very positive to the online judging format. Typically our judges found
that it took a bit of time to get used to the scoresheets, but after that, things flowed smoothly. This year
we also used the structured scoresheet style as opposed to the standard written scoresheet. The main
thing I would caution about using structured scoresheets is to ensure judges do take the time to fully fill
in their comments. It seems like the structured scoresheets were approached by some in a more relaxed manner, they would move the sliders, click checkboxes and neglect to add comments regarding for example the malt flavour characteristics, which are an important aspect of any scoresheet. I believe a simple reminder to add comments should suffice in reminding judges that people do want to see more than the levels of malt, hop and fermentation characteristics. This is more a judging issue than an issue with the virtual aspect but the new judging environment may have had some impact on how detailed the judges felt they needed to be. Some small notes to remind your judges of are:

  • Open your beers away from your computer. Gushers and electronics don’t mix well.
  • Due to potential packaging problems, sometimes a judging pair may have an infected bottle or a judge may not be able to evaluate their bottle. In these cases, judges should discuss between themselves. Generally, we tried to lean the consensus score towards the better bottle, similar to how we could open a second bottle if judging was in person and a potential bottle infection was suspected.
  • Judges should re-cap their bottles after pouring their beer so they can return and resample beers as needed.
  • Judges should only pour 2-3 ounces of beer. Some judges were pouring larger samples and then finding it difficult to get through their flight. Just because you have a full bottle of each beer does not mean your sample size should also be bigger.
  • If judges are using their own glassware, they need to make sure to fully rinse their cups prior to pouring a new sample.

A lot of these seem like straightforward things that BJCP judges should already understand but from
what I was hearing throughout the competition, some gentle reminders may help avoid certain pitfalls.

Best of Show

Your best option for judging best of show should be to have your judges in the same location at
separate tables to allow for social distancing. If you are doing the best of show outdoors, try to keep
beers shaded. If indoors, try to find a location where judges can sit at different tables but still within a
distance that they can discuss freely between themselves.

If online judging is required for BOS, you will need an extra bottle for each participating judge. If
this is the route you’re going to take, you may have to contact participants to send extra bottles so they
can be included in the BOS.

Awards Ceremony

For our awards ceremony, we reached out to a local brewery and had them prepare a coursed
meal and a special four pack for us for a paired meal. We’ve always done coursed meals with beer
pairings for our awards ceremony so we were trying to get as close as we could to past years’
experience. The brewery was able to provide the meal and beer pairings that would be sold through
their site and picked up from them the day before or day of the ceremony.

We also searched for a virtual presentation software that had some extra features to help bring
the social experience that we’re used to. What we settled on was Airmeet, a free online presentation
website where you can set up a room that has separate tables. Anybody can sit at any table and
between presentation portions, people can chat with their table, hang out, mingle with other tables,
etc. When we wanted to present, everybody would be removed from their table and pushed to the
presentation room. As we went through the awards, we were able to call winners up to the stage to
share a bit about their beer as well. It was actually really fun to have this and we had some brewers
from across Canada jump in and hang out for the night.

Summary

All in all, the 2021 Roundup competition was a big success this year. The virtual format we used
was efficient and once everything was organized and beers were delivered, the organizer role required
very little involvement apart from occasionally taking some questions or helping with some technical
items.

If we were to do this again next year, the main things I would consider altering are setting the
shipping cut-off date one week earlier and giving judges more notes to make sure they follow standard
procedure. With those things taken care of, I think if we asked for a 4th bottle (so we could have a set of mini-BOS series on the day before BOS), we could take care of a 400-500 entry competition.

BCOE&M took care of a ton of the headaches that could have been associated with running a
virtual format and I would highly recommend it to anybody planning on hosting a competition this year.

The main thing to remember as a competition organizer for a virtual competition is that you’re going to
have to plan a lot more before the competition starts. Since you can’t just give a random pull sheet to
judges as they show up during the week, you’ll need to have everything fully planned out beforehand.
Budget a few hours for scheduling judges and setting up tables and flights and you should be good to go. Hosting a competition isn’t impossible with the new restrictions everybody has in place, there is just
more planning involved than there would have been otherwise.

In terms of whether or not a competition should be local only or national doesn’t really affect
anything. The main reason to keep a competition local would be to naturally restrict your overall entry
numbers if you do not want to set a hard cap. The planning, sorting and distribution still needs to be in
place and isn’t affected by whether beers are being shipped or dropped off.

I wish anybody the best of luck in preparing a competition for the coming year! I hope this helps
answer any questions on what can be done to set up a competition and provides some framework to set you up for success. If you do need any clarification on anything or have any other questions, feel free to reach out at ed@yeastwranglers.ca.

Ed Fech is the competitions director for the Calgary Cowtown Yeast Wranglers.

1 thought on “Homebrew Competitions in the age of Covid: 2021 CYTW Roundup Report

  1. Excellent write-up, Ed. And also, you did a great job coordinating the competition. Thanks for doing so, and thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope other clubs will follow suit, and use your recommendations so they too can run some very successful competitions while this pandemic continues to interfere with physical get-togethers.

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