You’ve seen them before. Beer cases proudly displaying all of the many achievements earned by the beers inside the package. After a while you’re blind to them. Have you ever bought a beer just because of all the awards it’s won? I’m ashamed to admit that early in my beer drinking life I have. This stuff really works for marketing, but do we really know what goes into the process of deciding what beer wins? I remember when I was a teenager I was talking to an older friend of mine that worked at a car dealership. I was telling him about a particular truck I wanted. He says to me “you don’t want that, it’s garbage”. I said “It won all of these awards…” He cut me off and said “Those awards don’t mean anything”. I remember being surprised. How can that be? How can an award not mean anything. Then I started to realize that it seemed like every product had won some type of award and I didn’t have a clue what the judging process was. If you really think about why an Olympic gold medal is special it’s because of the process. If the process isn’t exactly the way it should be, there is no way the result can be accurate.
If you check out the World Beer Cup website you’ll find some interesting info. This year 1907 breweries entered 6596 beers from 96 beer styles and they were judged by 253 people. Fees basically boil down to 160 bucks a beer which totals $1,055,360 in fees collected. That number is pretty startling, but you have to assume that a beer competition started by the Craft Brewer’s Association which is non profit must put the proceeds to good use. Also, that 160 bucks is a drop in the bucket when you compare it to the money an award like that can generate. If you’re sending garbage beer to the WBC, then I guess you can consider that 160 a nice donation to the CBA. The Great American Beer Festival is another event and competition put on by the CBA, so my gut is telling me that those events get a pass.
When it starts to get strange is the local awards. It’s very easy to find for profit beer competitions that are judged by dudes looking for free beer and ran by guys pocketing serious cash. I’m not that worried about these competitions being for profit. After all, the breweries themselves are for profit. My only concern is are the results accurate. When you check out their websites you don’t get the same transparency as the bigger competitions and when you inquire about specifics behind the judging process you get treated like an asshole.
I started looking into one of our local beer competitions and there wasn’t a lot of info online. On social media they bragged about over 1000 entries, but when I asked about exactly how many I was told they didn’t have that number. I asked who were the judges, how many judges there were, and what were their qualifications. I was only told “BJCP certified judges, brew masters and industry professionals”. My questions about the economics of the event were basically met with “This is a professionally run competition” which is fine, I just wish that there was no issue with my questions. I don’t mind what the answers were. The fact that you don’t want to answer them is what scares me. Are there any judges that don’t want to be named because they are afraid? It’s ridiculous. The fact that the LA IPA fest at Mohawk Bend feels like a more legitimate beer competition is scary to me.
I put the word out that I wanted to talk to a judge. The first judge that messaged me definitely thought I wanted to discredit him as a judge. He went on and on about his qualifications and then I just asked him if he was paid and he never messaged me back.
I had honestly given up hope when I got a random message on Facebook. “Hey dude, I saw your post asking for some feedback on the [removed] comp. I judged it and can share my experience if your interested or have questions.” We talked about judging and the competition and then he said “The last couple years I've questioned how this is all organized. The people seemed like they outsourced it to the [removed] folks, who seemed a little clueless. That would be my only complaint. Though, I'd like to see the money used to get more judges, provide a better breakfast and even a dinner (ya it can go late).” “You ever judge beer? Ideally you have a group of judges on one beer. In a category that’s do-able. My category was 20-some beers with me and another judge. Took 6 hours with a break for lunch and the [removed] people thought we could do more. Personally anything around 12 beers in a day kills my sense to judge/taste. I would of like a total of 4 judges on my category to get through them correctly. The style guidelines are from BA but the scoresheet are BJCP style (long form) which makes no sense to me. Not even sure if brewers get the scoresheet/comments back… Honestly didn't see any category with more than two judges”
Are breweries getting their money’s worth out of these awards? If they are boosting sales the answer is 100% yes. Maybe 50 bucks each beer along with the price of the beer and shipping is not a lot of money, but when you think that they collected at least 50K would you expect more than that out of the judging process. I believe the judges are trying to do the best job they can, but ironically the money isn’t going to them. It’s going to the people actively trying to spend as little of it as possible so they can pocket the rest.
It doesn’t bother me that these people make money. We should all make money. In fact, I’m going to start my own beer competition. On Saturday June 18th the LA Beer Guild is having a beer fest for LA Beer Week. I think this is a perfect opportunity to have the Worst Beer Blog Intergalactic beer competition. I am going to name the best beer in the entire universe (from those who enter). Entering is easy. Just have a check for 25 dollars made out to cash. I will collect the check and give you a receipt (business expense, write that shit off). After we complete your transaction I will judge your beer. I’ll give you a score sheet, this will tell you where you went wrong in life. Maybe you should’ve stayed in school. Maybe it’s not too late to give up brewing. At the end of the fest after I’ve personally tasted about 100 beers I’ll declare a winner. A digital trophy is free. If you want a physical copy, each plaque will be 49.95 plus tax and shipping. I’ll take a picture with you. Big smiles and handshakes all around. I will spend all of the money on “overhead” and you’ll use you award to try to convince people your beer is better than it is.