The effects of the increase in the number of first round sites has not yet been experienced. This summer at the second round, a bunch of judges are going to have to wrestle with even more entries. That means that the judges that volunteer to participate in the second round may have to give up more of their convention schedule to attend to the competition. I've done it in the past, I'm not sure that I'll continue to do it. Hopefully there are a bunch of highly experienced judges at the second round to make this fear a non-reality!
It was great to hear the report from the SF bay area and the large contingent of judges that made their competition a breeze. Having 6 or 7 million people within an hours drive does make it more likely that there are plenty of judges willing to make that short drive. Hat's off!
There are too many places like Indy where that population drops off to the million or two million range in the nearby metro area and the nearby judge pool drops off quickly too. Especially when there are several 1st round sites within 5 hours of town. We had over 50 judges signed up at one time for Indy and that would have made our 1st round a breeze. Unfortunately, life gets in the way of a major commitment like driving several hours and spending a bunch of money to volunteer your time and judge. We made it through, but it was a trial for some folks.
Based on that tendency to run out of judges in an area, it appears to me that the 750 entry limit is a problem in some areas. As mentioned above, having a Certified or higher judge in every judge pairing is highly desirable. I think that if an area does not have a large population of judges with that experience, their capability to host that large an entry pool probably needs to be curtailed. I realize that this could severly reduce the nationwide number of entries, but that might be a consideration. Possibly those sites with high populations of experienced judges could grow beyond 750?
Another option may be to further expand the number of judging sites across the country. I don't like that option much since it places further strain on the second round judging. But if the AHA can't support the judges enough to make them want to contribute their more of their time and money to judge at these first round sites, its a price that will just have to be paid.
I've argued that AHA really needs to substantially increase the NHC entry fee and put that increased income directly to supporting the judges that do support the competition. In the past, all I've received from these first round comps is a single lunch for each year's competition. I've also received some door prizes at the comps, but from what I can tell those prizes were courtesy of the local homebrew shops and not the largese of AHA. A lunch is not what I would call 'support' and it certainly is not a sufficient lure for anyone traveling a long way. Its no wonder that we were left lacking judges here in Indy.
I've heard from members of the AHA competition committee and they have expressed that they have a problem with any sort of compensation to judges whether they travel far or not. I have to say BS to that. If that is the case, the competition committee needs to get 'compensation' out of their mind and insert 'support' in its place. Right now, this competition is not supporting its judging pool.
I've also taken a quick look at the Ninkasi award winners for the past 7 years to see how many medals it took to win. In most cases, it was 4 or fewer medals. Sometimes only 2. (Gordon had 7 in '09). That suggests that there should be no problem with limiting a brewer's entries to say 5. It would also mean that a brewer would have to think long and hard about which of their brews they feel are most likely to compete well and place. That would help prevent the entry of the relatively poor beers I sometimes judge in the first round sessions. A higher entry fee would also help winnow out that chaff.
I implore the competition committee to rethink the current NHC competition structure. As I have said in the past, THIS is the top competition in the country and it carries the biggest bragging rights. It gets all the press and accolades. There needs to be more support for judges. We need more highly experienced judges at every table. We need fewer poor contest entries. Maybe we need even more judging sites. Maybe we need fewer entries overall in the national competition. A lot of considerations for our representatives!