The 39th Great American Beer Festival competition just ended in Denver and it was the biggest yet! With over 9,000 beer entries from over 2,100 breweries, it was spectacular. Can you imagine how difficult it was to judge that number of entries? 290 medals were handed out in 97 categories. If you have never been to a GABF awards ceremony, you really should plan on attending next year for the 40th anniversary. It will be quite a party.
Charlie Papazian is retired now, so he doesn’t hand out the medals. It was always a thrill to receive a metal from him, and I’m so old I remember when he even shook your hand before he finally had to move to the fist pump so as not permanently injure his hand from a GABF weekend.
With competition so fierce, why even bother to go through the expense and hassle of entering a beer into any competition? My answer is simple: It is a great incentive to make better beer.
If you are entering a beer in the GABF, World Beer Cup, or State Fair, you are wanting to see how your beers compare to those of your competitors. To do this, you make sure there are no flaws in your entries. The carbonation and head retention most be spot on. There should be no off-flavors and the beer must be true to style. In other words you are a craft brewer and your entry honors the craft. The best way to do that is to make the best damn beer you can out of our brewery. Entering a competition forces you to dig deep into the style you are creating and the method of brewing that you utilize to create the beer.
If you are sitting in that audience waiting for the results, you have a knot in your stomach as your category approaches. As the announcer reads the winners and you are not among them, you put on a brave face, clap your hands for the winners, and feel generally awful. Then you get hold of the winners list to see how many people entered your category. If possible, you next sample the winners’ beers against your own and try to figure out what made their beer that much better than yours? It could just be the vagaries of judging, or perhaps you detect that the winners beer really is better than yours! So, you go back to the drawing board and you examine your methods and recipes, and make adjustments. Hopefully this will make the beer better, and who knows next year….
Many brewers get disgusted with the whole competition thing and avoid it all together. I don’t blame them. Their customers love their beer and that’s what really counts. For me however, if you want to be the best, it helps to test yourself against your respected fellow brewers. I enjoy the competition.
I covet my gold medal for IPA in the first World Beer Cup from 1996. However, there is no way in hell I would enter an IPA now with over 400 entries. Competition is so much more difficult when you have that many beers entered in one category. Instead, like most brewers, I look at categories where there is less competition and hope this strategy will give me a better chance at a medal. Yes I want to compete and make improvements on all my beers, but I would also like the opportunity to walk up on the stage and accept a medal.
I am suggesting that if you have never competed, make 2022 the year you become a competitor and push your brewery to excellence. If you are successful, that award looks pretty great behind the bar!
Special congratulations go out to our students for medaling at this years GABF.
12 Degree Brewing
Tennessee Beer Works
Little Thistle Brewing (way to go Steve!)
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