Last weekend was the 30th Great American Beer Festival, a massive celebration of all things beer that takes place in Colorado every fall. In addition to the festival itself, and the myriad of events that take place in and around the area over the weekend. There is also a beer competition where beers from all over the country are entered, judged by a group of certified tasters, and then awarded medals. You can find the complete list of gold, silver and bronze medal winners for each style HERE. There are a number of festivals that have similar competitions, and many tasting rooms have their medals and awards on display. Whenever I see these types of awards I can’t help but glance through the winners, usually scanning by state to see which New England breweries picked up honors. After this list came out with a clear tilt towards the west coast there was an interesting debate on twitter about these competitions. Should we really care who wins medals and awards?
I have a two major issues with this type of judged competition. The first involves the entries. We usually only get a list of the winners, but have no idea how which other beers were entered in each category. This makes sense to an extent, no brewer wants to fall into the “loser” category, but it is impossible to know what the extent of the competition was. There is also an inevitable regional bias, many brewers from further away won’t make the trip and won’t ship the beer in fear that the time/distance will effect the quality. I know for a fact that a number of well respected Massachusetts breweries decline to enter any beers in this competition. You can imagine that the winners list would look a lot different if they had a more comprehensive number of entries.
My other issue with awarding medals is that the ranking of a group of well crafted beers can be subjective and effected by the preferences of the taster. I taste a wide variety of commercial beers as part of writing this blog, a small number are poorly made and the rest fall somewhere on the continuum between mediocre to amazing. I think if you gave a group of seasoned beer drinkers a bunch of beers in a style and asked them to put them to organize them in three buckets labeled mediocre, good and great you would see a lot of agreement. If you then asked them to rank the “great” beers I imagine things would start to diverge quickly. For example, I tend to prefer the east coast style of IPAs, with lower bitterness and fruitier hops, but I’ve still tasted some amazing piney/super-bitter west coast hop bombs. Others feel the opposite, and while we would agree that beers of both types can be top notch, we would probably have different opinions of which was best. With so many categories I imagine there are a limited number of people judging each style, and their personal preferences will be the difference between the winners and losers.
Even with these issues there is a good chance that I’ll keep track of the local winners of GABF medals, and seek out some of the beers that won. I am especially looking forward to trying Hexotic from Two Roads and Robot Crush from Aeronaut. So I’ll throw the question back to my readers. Do you pay attention to the winners of this type of competition? Does it effect the beers you buy to the point that you seek winning beers out? Is there anything that I missed that bothers you about judged beer competition? Let me know here or on social media!