Five judges, five experienced palates, a flight of eight commercially available beers. Stewards deliver the first three beers to the table in good order, and we get to work assessing and evaluating. Then arrives beer number four, and my nose immediately twitches.
I glance to my left and right, and my questioning gaze is met by one, then two, and finally all four of my fellow judges. We don’t speak of it, as we are not meant to discuss the beers until the flight has been fully assessed. Yet we are all acutely aware of the sickly aroma of butterscotch that has filled the air.
The reason: Diacetyl, and lots of it. The guilty party: Beer number four.
This scenario will no doubt be familiar to anyone who’s done more than a modicum of professional judging. A brewery spends good money to enter a competition, then spends more to ship the beer—the upcoming World Beer Cup, for example, costs $180 per brand to enter, with many categories needing up to 12 bottles or cans of beer for judging—but because the beer is notably flawed in some way, it all winds up being a complete waste. As a judge, all you can do is note the problem on your scoresheet and shake your head in bewilderment.
Today, with a couple of decades of judging experience under my belt, including some years organizing the Canadian division of the World Beer Awards and the new Canada Beer Cup, I can say with certainty that this sort of situation happens much less often than it used to—which is not the same as saying it no longer happens.
To protect your investment and increase your chances of winning, here is our best advice for entering major competitions—straight from the people who organize them. While some of it may seem self-evident, we take nothing for granted.