Behind the Scenes at the Honey Beer Competition

Posted September 1, 2021 by Alyssa Stahr

For the seventh consecutive year, the National Honey Board hosted its Honey Beer Competition, providing an opportunity for the best brewers to submit made-with-honey beers. And also for the seventh consecutive year, the Brightly Creative team managed and ran the competition for our client. 

But, what does managing a competition actually mean?

The ramp-up to the event consists of accepting 241 entries in 13 categories, from braggots to hard seltzers to historical beers. Those beers are categorized (which proves to be very important later on), labeled and U-Hauled to the event location. 

Yours truly was a steward at the event, meaning I brought the judges the beers they were to judge. Not a bad gig. Each detailed judging sheet included categories such as honey usage, aroma, mouthfeel and various other judging criteria. Judges were tasked with filling out these sheets and discussing their findings with each other. As I observed the room, I noticed judges laughing, having serious discussions and debating the qualities of the beer.

There are various reasons breweries enter the competition. Some are finding their way through brewing with honey and would like their beers professionally evaluated. Other breweries are looking to add to their medal count. Others have no expectations, but are happy just to be recognized. 

My favorite part of the competition is the Best of Show discussion. This year, three BJCP judges took the task of evaluating the 12 category winners to be judged for Best of Show honors. I sat in for a “bee’s eye” overview of this conversation. “What is the honey doing,” was a common question, along with conversations surrounding honey character, brightness, carbonation, functionality and back sweetening with honey. It’s important to note that honey was key in this competition and surrounding conversations, something completely unique compared to other beer competitions. 

After a narrowing down process, the top three were named, and in true Honey Beer Competition fashion, there were some firsts. It was the first Best of Show from the Belgian-style category,  as well as a second place winner from the “other” category,” showing that honey can truly be showcased in all styles of beer. Fifth Hammer Brewing, a previous Honey Beer Summit attendee, used their knowledge gained from the event to brew an exceptional — now award-winning — beer: Break of Jawn, a Belgian-style witbier can conditioned with orange blossom honey. 

Rounding out the Best of Show winners included silver medalist, Spicer St. Christmas Ale from Akron, Ohio’s Akronym Brewing. The herb and spice beer was made with clover honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. The bronze medalist came from the experimental beer category: It’s Always Honey in Lithuania from Sahale Ale Works in Grafton, Wis. The farmhouse ale was brewed with Lithuanian yeast and back sweetened with honey. 

For a full list of winners, more information and pictures, please visit

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