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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Following Washington's Lead - Best Oregon Beers?

Our neighbors to the north are embarking on an interesting experiment:
A couple of weekends ago, more than 400 beers from almost 70 Washington breweries competed at the first annual Washington Beer Awards. Many of the state’s best breweries competed in just about every style category you can think of, and the best of the bunch were selected as winners. The results will be announced at the Saturday, June 15 session of the upcoming Washington Brewers Festival at Marymoor Park in Redmond.
Selecting the "best" anything is a dicey business, and Washington adopted the tried-and-true GABF method of professional judging.  (They even used the Brewers Association guidelines.)  I think it's a great idea to highlight a state's offering, and I'd love to see Oregon promote its beer with annual awards.  I'm not sure this is the ideal approach, though.

Washington is going to announce winners in ninety categories.  That may be great for Evergreen State brewers, nearly all of whom will be able to boast some award or other.  But it completely dilutes the effect for consumers.  A better system might be Britain's, which has just eight categories (mild, three bitter categories, golden, specialty, winter, and bottled); a Champion Beer is selected from among the category winners.  Obviously you wouldn't use those categories, but something like IPA, dark beer, Belgian-style, lager, wild ale, strong beer, and small beer, say, would be clear and meaningful. 

I would also include the public in voting.  Maybe an initial judging to select a certain number of beers in each category and then open voting.  You could do it during the month of July as a tie in with Craft Beer Month.  Maybe give SNOBs a ballot, too, and consider that 25% of the tally.  Or have professional judging, SNOB ballots, and general public ballots and average the three.  But I do think getting the public involved is a good idea--these should, after all, reflect the regional tastes of Oregonians.  That would be interesting to people outside the state who might wonder how, say, Boneyard IPA became Oregon's favorite. 

Your thoughts?


  1. You know what I would like to see? A competition where drinkers are the judges, no BJCP, or whatever, certified tasters, but real consumers. And of course, as you say, a sensible number of categories, not the "everybody-will-get-at-least-a-medal" sort of thing that seems to rule most competitions.

  2. If your judges are qualified only by being "beer drinkers", you can probably skip the contest and just look at the sales stats.

  3. North Carolina does Carolina Championship of Beer - with categories same as GABF. I've judged the last two years and I think keeping it non-public makes it less of a publicity contest and entries are judged anonymously.

    Having only 8 categories doesn't make sense to me, kind-of like having pale ales compete with IPA' chance there.

    While 90 categories may seem too loose, following an already existing and up-to-date set of guidelines helps get entries, judges, and makes the overall judging easier.

    Asheville, NC

  4. @Anonymus

    Sales depend on a lot many more factors than just taste. People do buy what they like, but mostly they buy what is available and more often than not, what they are familiar with. (And let's not get into issues like price or marketing)

  5. No reason not to do both a side by side of public ballot as well as judging. Then you have two tests: the beer as well as the relative merits of judges as opposed to public voting.

  6. Anon, two points there. First, I don't think sales figures are illegitimate. Whenever issues like this come up, there's a sense that we need to protect the "best" from the preferences of the hordes--but why? It's not a coincidence that Boneyard RPM is both one of the best-selling IPAs and also one of the most-loved. Though I'm sympathetic to the idea that it shouldn't be solely about sales--which is why I'm suggesting the public vote be only a portion of the final decision.

    Adam, you may speak for many, but the part I think is most valuable in my noodling--the part I'd assert most strongly--is limiting the categories. Do that and winning the award means something--both to the brewery and the customer. I actually only listed seven categories, so add something that's not an IPA--standard session ale, say. All your pales and ambers could go in there. (This is Oregon, so IPA has to be a stand-alone category.)

  7. Incidentally, it would be cool if more states (and provinces!) did this. I'd enjoy seeking out, say, the best California wild ale or the champion beer of Colorado.

  8. I don't think the general public should vote. Think of all of those annoying "Beer City, USA" polls that Portland loses because someone else used social media.

    I can think of 12 decent categories- or you could just use the general BJCP categories and skip the letters, but there are too many lagered beers that we don't brew a lot of out here. (Full sail aside)

    Small Beer (Please bring back Mighty Mites!)
    Malt-forward beer (bock, alt, Scottish, brown)
    Strong beers

  9. With you in this.

    1) The proliferation of styles has diluted the meaning of winning. (I had an argument five years ago with the brewer of a large mid-Atlantic brewery on this very topic.)

    2) Of course, consumers should be involved. For whom are the brewers brewing?

    3) Agree with winowing the field with 'professional' judging or by weighting the pro judging (possibly better).

  10. I suggested my rules for such a thing, too.