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Soapbox Article 3: Beer Awards

Soapbox 3: Beer Awards Title Pic

Which one of these carries the most weight?

(Quick notice: Most of this article was written before the World Beer Awards for countries was released on 12th August)

Congratulations to all those breweries that won awards at the World Beer Awards in 2015. Japanese breweries were represented by Minoh Beer, who scooped awards for the Minoh Beer Stout and the Minoh Pale Ale, Tazawako with the Tazawako Beer Pilsner, and also Fujizakura Kanko Heights and their Fujizakura Heights Beer Rauch.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s brilliant to see Japanese beer getting recognition around the world; however, does that mean the awards are worth anything?

Since BeerTengoku’s inception, we’ve come across a lot of award-winning beers that we’ve enjoyed, and other award-winning beers that we’ve felt to be pretty average at best. The common theme between them is that they have all won awards, either in Japan, Asia, or globally. And without fail, the breweries proudly list the awards their beers have won, from “Best Local Beer in Wakayama” to “Best Beer Ever” (some exaggeration may be present here).

On top of this, breweries list their awards like a parent would list their child’s achievements or some newly graduated university student would list every single piece of volunteer work they have done. Great, you’re proud of your beer and what it has achieved; however, if the beer hasn’t won anything for eight years, can it still justifiably hold the title of World’s Best Imperial Porter? Furthermore, who decides which beer awards are relevant and which are not?

Let’s take the Japan Brewer’s Cup, an annual event organised by Shinya Suzuki from Bay Brewing. The event is a great chance for people to drink lots of different beers from Japan. This may be to the event’s detriment, however, as during the 2015 prize-giving ceremony, the crowd pretty much ignored the ceremony for the beer and were largely ignorant when asked who had won which beer award.

Moving onto the World Beer Awards, the rules of entry are pretty strict and it’s an event where beers are evaluated on an entry basis. If you don’t enter your beer, and pay a fee, then your beer can’t possibly be in the rating for World’s Best Flavoured Smoked Porter. One entry costs around 19,000 yen, with the price going down for multiple entries. An interesting if slightly draconian rule in the WBA is that the organisers will decide what category your beer will be entered into. It doesn’t matter what the brewery thinks its beer is; if the WBA says that your beer is a fish stout, then it’s a fish stout. Also, if there aren’t enough entries for the category, the Awards reserves the right to move your beer to the most suitable category, thus diminishing your chances of winning. For example. in 2010, there was the category of Asia’s Best Barley Wine, which subsequently disappeared in 2011, only to come back in 2012. But with over 70 categories at the 2014, surely your experimental fish stock old bruin will fit in somewhere?

Along with the World Beer Awards, we also have the World Beer Cup, which is organised by the Brewers Association in the USA. Confused? Me too. A beer can win the World’s Best Cheese Flavoured Pilsner yet but not even enter the World Beer Cup awards. What a travesty! In 2014, there were 94 categories of beers in the World Beer Cup, with over 1,400 breweries from 58 countries entering over 4,500 beers for judging. For Japan, 71 breweries entered with three winning awards. Coedo picked up the silver award for the American-style Amber Lager with their Coedo Kyara, and Fujizakura Kanko Heights took silver for their Fujizakura Heights Beer Weizen for the South German-style Hefeweizen. The most disappointing thing about these awards? Asahi won the International-Style Lager award (what the heck is an international-style lager anyway!). Yet the first two beers didn’t win anything at the World Beer Awards so does that mean they are truly the World’s Best?

It might seem like a small gripe. Some of you are probably thinking “go with what you enjoy and don’t worry about the awards”. And largely, I would agree with you. However, these awards can mean an increase or decrease in sales that may make or break a brewery, especially smaller ones. It’s understandable that if your beer just won an award this year then you would want to plaster that everywhere for people to see, but if your beer won an award back in 2006 and nothing since, then in my opinion it’s not relevant and is more of an annoyance. For me, seeing a beer clinging to a long-past award is an off-putting experience.

(Edit: These are not necessarily the views of BeerTengoku, rather the author themselves. This article may be edited for factual purposes later on.)

About the Author

Rob

Been drinking beer since longer than I can remember.
You can find me in a bar, on the slopes, or doing DIY.
I enjoy porters, imperial porters, golden ales, and amber / viennas.

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Comments 4

  1. Another factor to consider is the judging procedure and indeed the judges’ competency themselves.
    Plus, and a big plus, if rumor is to be believed, that one or two of these competitions basically sell their medals to the highest bidder, as it were. Lots of rumors going around over a certain beer fest or event or two. When you see brewery organisations that have money suddenly winning the exact same time they bring out a new range of revamped beers or start bottling or just arrive to Japan, then eyebrows are raised, especially when the crowd who ‘voted’ for them express disbelief in the choice of winner.
    Just saying. People are awfully and naively accepting here. If something wins gold, they assume it must be the best, rather than ask how reliable the competition or the judging is. Don’t ask questions, just get your wallets out.
    My biggest whinge is the judges themselves. Too many are guest judges or friends of friends. How many BJCP Judges do we have here? I’m guessing just the one and I’m pretty sure, being an american, that he hasn’t been invited to sit on any judging panels here. You have the Ray Daniels connected beer sommelier judging thing going on with Oda San. I’ve met a few of them and I’m not sure many or any of them have drank more than a US pint or two at one sitting or really feel or know that much about what they assume to.It always feels to me that for those guys, the ‘qualification’ (if you can afford it) is more a style or lifestyle choice, rather than a way to better understand and appreciate beer.
    It is good to try and have a standard in expertise and especially for judging beer, where a lot of future earnings is on the line for the breweries, regards to medals. Also for these competitions to be taken seriously, the gold medal winners should taste like it. Not always.
    Okay, is there anyone else I haven’t attacked? 😉

    1. Post
      Author

      Short and to the point, Chris. 😉 Wouldn’t say you are attacking anyone, merely setting the wheels in motion for more questions that need answering.

      I hadn’t really thought about the judges as I don’t know much about the selection process and their links to the industry. Are the judges impartial to breweries? Doubtful as everyone has their favourite beer. The judging process could also be more transparent too i.e. how are the beers judges and can the test be repeated to provide the same “winning” beer.

      Which beer competition are you talking about? Do you mean the Japan Brewers’ Cup?

    2. As somebody who has stewarded at a few beer tastings (in the U.S.A.), I inform you that the beers are judged blind. We (stewards) pour the beer into clear plastic tasting cups {usually 1 PETE}, and serve them to the judges. What they are told is the style of the beer. The B.J.C.P. has the definition of what that style should allow.
      I am not a CicerOne, although I’ve known Ray Daniels since 1990. The idea behind this is to be able to describe the flavour of a beer to somebody who has not previously tasted it.
      Which medal is the most valuable? Each of the illustrated medal awarders has a snag. The Great American Beer Festival, which just ended three days ago, is limited to beers brewed in the U.S.A. The medal-winning beers are judged in their final round on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. (The festival begins on Thursday night.) The obvious snag here is: GABF is always in Denver, Colorado. In a final round, which beer has the better chance of being judged best: One from Fort Collins, CO., or one from Baltimore, Maryland?
      But one must also take into consideration that even the macro breweries have good brewers. I attended GABFs when, to the alarm of many of the attendees (who booed and heckled), a macro brewer medalled in a category considered to be the exclusive territory of craft breweries.
      The only brewery that cannot brew a great beer is one that has closed.
      As far as coasting on a prior year’s award, one macro beer, which I am willing to admit I drink (especially if it’s on a ‘happy hour’ deal), still boasts about winning a ribbon (guess what colour?) in 1893. 😉

  2. Of course any food and drink competition (the most famous may be the Michelin stars for restaurants) is largely subjective to the taste of the judges, as opposed to e.g. a sports competition, where the results are pretty objective (without the doping…)

    But I very much appreciate it, if any craft brewery gets an award at any of these competitions. Even if not the very best beer gets a gold medal, we can assume that the worst beers will not get one, but at least beers that are better than average. And if these craft beers get more promotion and are in the media for getting an award, more people will hopefully become interested in craft beer. That is an important goal.

    I agree that all competitions should be as transparant as possible. That only increases the credibility, and therefore the trust that consumers have.

    I don’t mind to see a beer being promoted with an award that it won 10 years ago. If the recipe of the beer, all ingredients, brewing methods and quality control have not changed over time, I assume that it is exactly the same beer as 10 years ago, so the award is still valid.

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