It seems I complain about beer awards at least once a year, but for good reason. My big problem with them isn’t that they exist or that I don’t agree with the results (though I usually don’t), but that beer marketers grab onto these prizes as if their lives depend on them. Since the Canadian Brewing Awards happened just over a week ago, I’ve received numerous press releases and been subjected to approximately six billion Facebook and Twitter posts celebrating medals. Our savvy readership surely sees through these awards for the fluff they really are, but what about the unsuspecting public? Moosehead shouldn’t be allowed to have two of the top lagers in Canada; somebody at CAMRA needs to start a campaign about this (sarcasm).
But Chris, why are you being so mean to the beer awards? Let me state that I have a lot of respect for the CBAs, held this year in Victoria, BC for the first time. It seems like a great party/conference for brewers and beer industry professionals. I have no doubt that they use qualified BJCP tasters who conduct blind tastings with all sorts of integrity. Again, my problem with these awards is that they are misleadingly used by marketers to sway public opinion. I mean, just look at the winners in the eight lager categories this year, does that seem right to you?
Let’s get into the nitty gritty, lifted in part from last year’s rant:
- Brewers pay to enter - An entry usually costs $100 per beer. This means that only brewers willing to pay up (say $500 to a $1000 per product line per event) are actually judged.
- Who actually entered? – Almost no beer awards list all of the entrants in each category, only the winners. The gold medal for best IPA doesn’t mean much if only a handful of beers were actually entered. This past year, the BC Beer Awards listed the number of entrants per category, a big step forward, but they still wouldn’t tell me everyone who entered.
- There are too many categories - Most events have 30+ categories. The CBAs had 38 categories, that’s 114 medallists. BANANAS! Consider that breweries are more likely to enter if they think they can win and that awards events have an economic interest in soliciting as many entries as possible. Making everyone a winner seems like a pretty good deal for all involved. Again, I like that the BC Beer Awards only had fourteen categories.
- Beer is judged on style, not taste - If a beer most closely matches the style guidelines of its designation, it wins gold in that category. Maybe this is the only way to judge beer, but I’d much prefer an award based on taste. A lesser tasting beer that is very exemplary of a style beats a very good tasting beer, wtf?
- What beer was actually served? - Breweries are responsible for sending in their own products. There’s no way to tell if what won is actually what you can expect on the shelf. I sincerely doubt the Moosehead that won this year is going to taste like what I can buy at the store. If you were a brewer, wouldn’t you put a little extra love into your awards batch?
- There are a lot of awards - There are so many awards events and so many categories that everyone wins, rendering the whole idea of awards pretty useless. It’s like primary school sports day all over again, here’s your (Pabst) blue ribbon!
Let’s look at some of this year’s results:
- I can only really speak to BC beers, which I try all of.
- Gold medallist Barking Squirrel Amber Lager is not a good beer at all. I only ever drank it because they sent me free ones. The lager categories mostly make me sad.
- Lord of the Hops beat Fat Tug and Red Racer for NA IPA, that’s assuming the latter two were entered, who knows? Lord of the Hops is good beer that I like pouring into my face, but is it even top five in BC?
- Red Racer ESB is the best amber in Canada yay! Wait, what?
- Was Steamworks Pilsner, allegedly best beer in all of BC, entered? If so, why no win?
- The Light and Gluten-free categories make me want to shoot myself in the face with a bow and arrow, which would be really hard to do, but I would still do it because that’s how the existence of these categories makes me feel.
- Awards I really agree with and enjoy seeing, gold for Central City Imperial IPA and for Yaletown Oud Bruin.
- Does Dieu du Ciel enter?
- Okay, I love Powell Street, but Old Jalopy is the best Pale Ale and beer in Canada?
I will probably be stoned to death for even suggesting anything slightly negative about Powell Street, nano darlings of Vancouver. (Another thing that’s bothering me is how effusively positive BC beer commentary is right now. I mean, everything can’t be great and people need to hear the truth to improve, but that’s another post.) Like I said, I love Powell Street. I love how they built their small brewery in their spare time with their bare hands, just because they wanted to. I really like their beer too, but I’m going to go ahead and say that I don’t think Old Jalopy is in the upper echelon of beers. I’ve had it when it’s been really good and I’ve had it when it’s been merely average and I like to put it in my face, but it’s not even top twenty in BC for me, much less Canada.
But that’s how beer awards work. On that day, Old Jalopy was judged to have been the closest to a described style. You know what? Somebody had to win, and I’m glad it was Powell Street. They work hard and they brew good beer, hopefully this award will propel them higher.
That being said, nobody, not marketers, not brewers, and especially not the drinking public, should put too much stock in beer awards.