Every time I visit a tasting room, beer or wine, I see a lot of awards on display. It seems like every product is an award winner of sorts. But if every beer is an award winner, how are we, the gullible consumer, supposed to know what is actually the best? Most breweries use “award winning” in their marketing, a message I find misleading.
I really like the idea of beer awards. They give brewers something to strive for, they provide the chance for brewers to commingle, and they sound like really fun times. That being said, whenever I see a press release by an event or brewery bragging about some new award, I think about these things:
- 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. I feel like full disclosure is warranted, otherwise how can we trust the authenticity of an award?
- There are too many categories - Most events have 30+ categories. I feel like some categories are invented so that macro breweries win (sponsorship money?). 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.
- 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 rather prefer an award based on taste. A bad tasting beer that is very exemplary of a style beats a very good tasting beer, wtf?
- What beer was actually served? - Where did the beer the judge tasted come from? Did it come from a bottle off the shelf? Did it come from a cask, brewed specially for the awards? How did the beer get there? How was it stored? When was it brewed? How do we know the playing field was completely level?
- 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!
I’m writing this post because the winners of the Canadian Brewing Awards were just announced, an event I’ve written about before. There were 44 BC winners out of 111 possible awards, most of whom I consider deserving. Central City was named Canadian Brewery of the Year, which I think is totally awesome. While I’m very proud of how well BC did, I have seriously misgivings about these awards. First, check out the list of categories and the eventual winners. Now take a look at the entry form and consider the points I made above. Some key questions:
- What the hell is Phillips Blue Buck Pale Ale doing in the North American Amber Lager category? It’s a pale ale and it won a silver medal as an amber lager? Somebody made a serious mistake there.
- What’s the difference between lager and premium lager?
- Why is there a category for light beer? Shoot me in the head.
- How did Moosehead win four times?
- How did three terrible beers win in the fruit category?
- How did Driftwood, Central City, and Dieu du Ciel not win in every category of each beer they make?
These awards just seem incredibly incomplete to me. I won’t be buying beer based on the medals they gave out. I have more hope for the BC Beer awards, which are slated to resurface this October as part of BC Craft Beer Month. Here’s hoping they do our province proud.