(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.)