12 Oct 2013 @ 6:45 PM 
 

Thoughts from a brewer upon not winning at the GABF.

 

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.
gabf13_logo_inside
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.

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

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Responses to this post » (9 Total)

 
  1. Jon Simpson says:

    As Mystery’s biggest fan (well at least up there) I can state without a doubt you make awesome beer. Competitions can be tough ( Looking at you State Fair). What you produce and do for NC beer is amazing. PS- I would like to see a GABF outside of Denver. Love the place, but super sensitive to the altitude.

  2. Jon Simpson says:

    Also, if I see one more homebrew competition where a Pale Ale places in the Pale Ale category, I’ll puke. Those belong in the fruit category. I wish they would start enforcing BJCP guidelines. Or update the guidelines. On the other hand I entered what I called an “Imperial Brown Ale” in a “any style, get creative category” once. The tasting notes said it was out of style for an Imperial Brown Ale. Seriously.

  3. Jon Simpson says:

    That should have been “insert fruit here” Pale Ale places in the Pale Ale category……stupid phone

  4. Duncan says:

    I’ll claim to be high on the fan list as well. I travelled from California to visit Mystery and want to do so again.

  5. Ray Daniels says:

    Eric,

    You haven’t been properly briefed on how judging is done at GABF.

    I’m not an official spokesperson for GABF or the BA and I did not judge this year, but as one who has been judging GABF for more than 15 years, let me explain how things have been done in the past and almost certainly were done this year.

    1) There are no scores given. (Although feedback sheets are written for each beer in first round judging.) Decisions are made on the basis of discussion and consensus among the judges. Every decision involves at least three judges. Medals are decided by a full table which is usually 7 judges.

    2) In every preliminary flight the best three beers (usually out of 9-15 beers) are moved forward to the next round. The final medal round usually consists of six, nine or 12 beers and the top three are selected for medals.

    3) Initially, your beer is compared to other beers in the same sub-cat and the best examples will eventually be compared to the best examples from the other sub-cat(s). When sub-categories exist, the comparison of the best from your sub-cat to the best of competing sub-cats may happen as early as first round or as late as medal round.

    Only time medals are not given is when the judges feel that there are no beers in the medal round that meet the criteria for that medal in that category. (There are specific standards for each medal type.)

    Whew!

    Ray

  6. Ray Daniels says:

    And one other note: all judges taste and assess all the beers in the flight on their own before discussions begin so that they have a chance to reach their own opinion about each beer without being influenced by other judges.

  7. Andrew says:

    Erik,

    You make great beer that does not fit well into a specific category and was judged against almost 5000 other beers. You have created a brewery that strives to be different with its marketing strategy and brands you put out. Your beers are, for the most part, on the light side and VERY balanced.

    I am confused why it is that you are surprised that your beer does not perform well against breweries who strive to conform to a style and overpower you with one particular flavor profile of a beer or another.

    I’ll say it again: you make GREAT beer. Concern yourself less with what a couple of judges drinking last season’s poorly handle samples think and more with what your consumers in NC think.

  8. Andrew says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to add. If the guy who posted before me is who I think he is, I would print that out, wear it around your neck and call it a medal. It’s more of an honor than Natty Ice’s gold for Cream Ale

  9. Todd Ashman says:

    Andrew-

    The guy before you…yup that’s who that is…

    The GABF is heavily competed in…plain and simple. There was what 252 entries in AmStyle IPA? Three medals for 252 entries….

    I’ve been entering the European Beer Star a judging held in Munich and have prevailed in that competition three years running… In most cases the bottles came from the same bottling run as did for entries at GABF. Medal awarding criteria the same, only 3 medals per category just like GABF. Only difference is number of entries per category.

    There are some many entries per category at GABF that so many judges are involved that depending on where your beer gets placed you might find a judge that loves your beer but another may find he detests it. The only advice if you truly seek a medal is to look at how many entries there are in a category the prior year and enter the lesser entered categories. This doesn’t guarantee a medal but your odds are better…

    Finally, hang in there it isn’t a cakewalk like it used to be years ago…

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