Admittedly, the title of this post is perhaps a bit misleading. Stick with me, though. Reading this is not going to guarantee a win, but it might help your chances in your next Pro-Am.
Many craft breweries hold Pro-Am competitions and give homebrewers the chance to brew full size versions of their recipes in a production brewery and to have their winning beer served on tap to the beer loving public. It’s a great opportunity to share your talents with a wider audience. Not to mention the street cred you’ll enjoy from your fellow brewers.
I was fortunate enough to have my Robust Porter recipe selected by Chattanooga Brewing Company at their Fall 2015 Pro-Am, which afforded me the opportunity to help judge their Spring Pro-AM, which was held on January 18. I have previously judged beers at a few BJCP homebrew competitions, but this was my first time judging a Pro-Am competition. The approach is similar, but there are some additional concerns that come into play that you should be mindful of. I’m sure there are Pro-Ams whose criteria and judging are structured differently, so don’t take my advice as absolute, rather consider the factors at play beyond brewing good beer.
That said, Brew Good Beer
It probably goes without saying, but let’s not overlook the obvious. If you participate in BJCP homebrewing competitions, you know that a winning brew should be well executed with no discernable faults. Off flavors, aromas, and infections are deal killers. While strict adherance to style guidelines is usually less of a factor in a Pro-Am, the fundamentals of good brewing still apply.
Believe it or not, your local brewery may not necessarily be able to procure all the ingredients available to you as a homebrewer. Keep that in mind when planning your recipe. Choose ingredients that are readily available or that have available substitutes. Experimental or exotic hops might pose a problem. Also beware of ingredients that will be cost prohibitive when scaled up to a 10-15 barrel batch. Your saffron IPA may be very tasty, but the brewery may balk at buying a pound of for a one-off brew.
Your best Winter Warmer or Oktoberfest may not fare too well if for a summer release. Ask the brewery when they plan to brew and tap the winning recipe. If you are brewing a seasonal beer, make sure its appropriate for the time of year when it will be served.
Get to know the tap list of the brewery who is hosting the Pro-Am. Taste every beer on the wall. Be sure your entry either contrasts or somehow complements the brewery’s selections. Also check out the winning selections of the previous competition. There’s a good chance that, for the sake of variety, they may not choose the same style beer in back to back Pro-Ams.
Avoid the Sours
Unless the brewery already has a sour program, leave the bugs at home. Most breweries will be reluctant to introduce wild yeasts and bacteria into their brewhouse and many times they will specify that sour beers not be entered into competition at all.
Ask the Brewmaster
Lastly, get to know the brewery and the brewers there. If they care enough about homebrewing to host a Pro-Am, they are likely happy to answer your questions about ingredient availabililty, process, and their beer philosophy in general.
When you plan your next Pro-Am competition entry, remember this: They are likely not looking for just the “best” beer. They are looking for the beer that excites and inspires them and one that they want to share with their customers. Now all you have to do is brew it. Good luck!