Weird article, right? I know. I just got back to my hotel room. I’m in between sessions on the Saturday of GABF 2013. I’ve had about 3 hours of sleep and my mouth still kinda tastes like whiskey (and a little like shitty cigar), so I’m definitely not at my finest. With all of that, you could probably construe this article as me being a sore loser. In reality, writing is my way of dealing with things; this is a lot closer to therapy for me and you just get to read it.
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Lucky you.

I’m disappointed. I can’t imagine any brewer who doesn’t get a medal not being disappointed. After all, we don’t get into this business to make mediocre shitty beer, and if I didn’t think my beer was fantastic I probably shouldn’t have started in the first place. You spend a LOT of money and a lot of time getting out to this thing, and it’s an exhausting, insane, shitshow of a week. You kind of want to get something out of it.

I came to the GABF this year knowing that I was at pretty long odds to pick up a medal today. Here’s why:

  • We’re pretty new. We’re still getting a lot of our processes down. And while I’m pretty confident in our ability to make great beer, I’m not 100% on our process for shipping a handful of bottles across the country for a competition. Let’s face it – we’re just getting into bottling now. We bottled these beers on a 90 degree day, put them in a cardboard box and shipped them overnight to Colorado. That beer sat in the back of a hot van, shook its way onto an airplane somewhere, it flew in a cargo container across the country before getting into another truck, hopefully making it there without breaking, and then finally, sitting in a warehouse for a month or more under unknown conditions.And, yeah, look, I know. A LOT of other breweries have the same thing going on, and I’ll get back to that later. I’m saying – I don’t know how my beer was when it got to judging because I don’t know how good our process is for doing this. We made it up.
  • We’re seasonal only. The beer we sent into the competition was the beer that I was pretty sure we’d have around when we had to send samples into the competition. It’s not like I had flagships to send.Funny story: Out of all of the beers we’re pouring at the festival, only 2 are currently available on the market in NC and those two are just a little left over from our summer brands and will soon be gone. We’ve moved on. It’ll all be back next year, but by in large we came to CO to pour beers that we no longer have in stock.
  • We’re not style brewers. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass if my stout meets the perfect metrics of a Foreign Extra Stout. I made it that way because it tastes good. But in what category do you put a Foreign Extra Stout made with Lemons and Lemongrass? Herb and spice? Experimental? We put it into fruit beer because why the hell not? What about our wheatless Berliner Weisse, or our English-Style Black IPA? We’re just not built for competition. I never have been as a brewer, the GABF will be no different.

I’m still pretty disappointed.

It’s nice to have people come up to the booth and tell us that the beer is great. It would be awesome to have a piece of hardware. Shit happens, eh?

Here are a couple of observations that I’ve been going over in my head:

  • The majority of the winners were states that were really close to the GABF. Makes you wonder a little bit about how much travel effects the beers that are getting judged. I mean, look, you’ve got two CO brewers and a CA brewer that just opened up shop in NC so that they could avoid shipping beer across the country because of the toll travel takes on the product. Funny that we should be sending beer back the other direction and expecting it to be great, isn’t it?But hey – I don’t want to take anything away from the winners – I tried quite a few of the winning beers and they were fantastic. On the other hand, I also had some fantastic stuff from breweries outside of the western 3rd of the U.S., too. It would be really interesting to see the GABF on the East Coast sometime to see how beers from CO and CA made the trip, or to see if there’s a different judging pool in a different geographic location.
  • There are 140-something categories in the BA Style Guidelines, but there are 84 medal categories. That means that a lot of those sub categories are getting mixed together, which means that if you have something fairly rare or special that you’re putting into one of the sub categories, at some point you’re getting lumped in with beers that are potentially very different than what you entered.I know how judging normally works, and I know that GABF is fairly unique, but if I got this right it should go something like this: Everything gets tasted and scored. Beers that score over X are all put in a medal round. Scores from X – Y are bronze, scores from Y – Z are silver, scores over Z are gold (which is why there are sometimes categories without a particular medal awarded). Beers are are in those ranges get tasted again in a “best in category” ranking and whichever one wins in that mini competition gets the medal. (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, this is how I understand it.)

    Now, let’s pretend your brewery made a Gratzer, which is a low alcohol, delicate, light, smoky Polish style beer. It’s got it’s own category (27E!) and style definition. In judging, however, it falls under “Smoke Beers” which is a huge category with a lot of BIG beers in it. Even if your brewery made a really fantastic gratzer and it was considered for a medal, if it went up against – I don’t know – a Smoked Russian Imperial Stout, then your delicate little gratzer gets really enormously overwhelmed in a tasting. And I think this is true regardless of how good the judges are. Judging is pretty subjective and pretty tiring to the palate, especially when you’re tasting really big aggressive beers like.. well… smoke beers. I’ve judged a lot of competitions and I know, too, that when it comes down to final rounds it can often be a matter of a subjective whim of a judge.

    I’m not saying this happened. But I do feel like a lot of my beers are pretty delicate, and it’s what makes them good. They’re never going to stand up against giant smack-you-in-the-face flavors, and that’s why we’ll never do well in competition, but I think that blending categories together (out of necessity, I know) exacerbates that problem.

    The solution is for me to lower my expectations.

And that’s it – for now. Until someone is douchey to me in the comments and tells me that my beer sucks (you’re wrong).

I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a long time, and so like I’ve been so used to saying in the past: Better luck next year. We’ll get ’em.

Congratulations to all of the breweries at the GABF – not just the ones who won. There has been some really outstanding, amazing beer. Kudos and thanks for keeping beer great.

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Categories: Brewers Association, brewery, industry, seasonality, travel
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Oct 2013 @ 12 01 AM

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