I have been brewing for about ten years and have had to work very hard to make good beer. My early batches were—not to put too fine a point on it—horrible. Several of them were literally fed to the pigs. I had to study and practice, finding out what I was doing wrong, correcting it, trying again, failing, correcting, trying again.
Some batches started out okay, but turned nasty within a few weeks (I was oxidating the beer as I bottled it, by not siphoning carefully enough.) Others got infected through careless sanitation. Others—especially those featuring Cascades hops—had a distinctively soapy taste. This, I finally determined by way of a professional water analysis, was caused by my extremely hard well water. And even when I had things more or less figured out using malt extract and switched to all-grain brewing, I encountered harsh bittering in my pale ales, which was also caused by the very hard water.
Several of my friends thought for sure I would give up. But it just seemed to me that making beer was not rocket science, that others were successful and that there was no reason why I could not be successful as well. So I kept at it, correcting one problem at a time.
I have gotten to the point where I can pretty consistently make beer that I enjoy and that my friends tell me they enjoy (and some of them would indeed tell me straight up if it wasn't good.) But there's nothing like a homebrew competition, judged by certified judges, to see if your own perceptions are accurate.
I recently entered four brews in the Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine, and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, WI to compete against a total of 80 other entries. And one of them, which I called Tower of London Porter, won first place in the Dark Ales and went on to win Best of Show out of the other first place category winners.
I won a very nice prize package, including brewing grains and malted milk balls from Briess Malting Company, two beautiful stained glass picture frames from a local artisan, a giant planter, two VIP tickets to next year's event (a $100 value), and a very (ahem) interesting crown and sceptre as La Crosse brewmaster. But mostly, I took great satisfaction in having my beer evaluated and appreciated in such a venue.
So thanks to the judges, my fellow brewers, and to the intrepid martyrs who were held in that dark Tower, to whom this brew was dedicated. Sancti Ioannes Fisher et Thoma More, orate pro nobis.