I got my two third-place ribbons in the mail yesterday from Homebrew Alley 7. My vanilla porter placed third in its category (Spiced/Herb/Vegetable Beer), and my Blonde Ale placed third in its category (Light Hybrid Beer).
I’m more excited about the feedback. First, all of the beers seemed to do well. I submitted an American Pale Ale, a Northern English Brown Ale, and an Extra Special Bitter. The ESB scored just as well as the two third place finishes in terms of points, so objectively it scored very well. There were just more competitive brews in that category I suppose. The Northern Brown Ale advanced to a mini-best of show round, so it was (at least) a contender for placing.
Second, I was surprised by the excellent, detailed feedback I got from the judges. I received very detailed score sheets for each of my beers (from two judges for each beer) with tips about what to look out for to correct for certain imbalances they were perceiving. This was really useful stuff.
The big take-away for me seems to be thinking more carefully fermentation temperatures. Most of the items pointed out for improvement were very subtle imbalances that seem to be avoidable through careful monitoring of fermentation temp.
So, I’m pretty happy overall. I think I did well considering this was my first time submitting to a homebrew competition (and this was a pretty good sized competition). But most importantly, the competition gave me some impartial, independent confirmation that my brews are pretty good. I love them, and I my friends tell me they love them. But, it’s nice to have this kind of feedback to let me know, in a completely impartial way, that I’m on the right track. And that it also gave me clear guidelines for further improvement was an added, unexpected bonus.