Another year, and another iteration of the Great American Beer Festival has passed. If you aren’t in the know, it is THE beer award competition. Nearly every brewery does it. But after following the awards list over the years and entering a few (smaller) competitions myself, I’ve started to wonder. How much stock should we put into beer awards and why?
For full transparency into beer competition judging, competitions almost always use BJCP Certified judges. This means that each judge has passed a program where they have learned to identify the character defining details of every beer style. A pro of this is that there is something in place to provide integrity in a competition. However, I have a couple gripes with this system.
Contrary to two sentences ago, BJCP judges don’t necessarily mean integrity. They are human just like us, and biases towards certain styles. Even more egregious, they probably know a couple of the homebrewers competing. Favoritism is not uncommon. It is less prevalent the bigger the contest goes, but it is always a possibility. The beer world is indeed a small one.
My second issue is the rigidness of beer styles. Some of if not most of the most influential beers of our lives have been the ones that are from out of left field. They aren’t constrained by the boundaries of style guidelines. One such beer that comes to mind is Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust. There was a point in the early to mid 2010s that this was one of the most sought after beers out there, and with good reason. However, I remember seeing it only place 3rd in the American Pale Ale category at the GABF. It may be one of the great beers, but it’s not exactly an APA. See what I’m getting at?
I may be bitter* but I just hate seeing subpar beers getting awards while the next level ones are not getting the accolades they deserve. Sometimes, you just can’t beat street cred.
*no pun intended