THOUGHT PIECE the carling team

Is It Worth Entering A Beer Competition – Part 2

Genevieve Upton at the recent International Brewing Awards. All photos of judging are from that competition in 2024

OK, you have chosen which beer competition you wish to enter. You provide the details on-line and pay the fees. You package the entries up and bite your finger nails until the results are announced. But what happens in between? These competitions do not organise themselves. The organisers will need a budget to balance income from entry fees and perhaps sponsorship against the costs of room hire, judges expenses and the costs of looking after them, stewards to pour the beers so that anonymity is assured as well as technical services costs to provide fridges and dispense equipment for kegs and maybe casks. Then you have to tidy everything up afterwards. The Excise can insist that duty suspended beer samples must be destroyed and should not be taken home by staff.

The income part of the equation is the riskiest to ensure entries numbers are on target and sponsors come forward to support the event. This means strong promotion in the marketplace is essential to alert brewers to enter and put sponsors messages in front of them as well. Regular press releases and promotion by whatever social media platform is in vogue at the time is essential and it is clear that some competitions are better at it than others.

Chairman of the Judges Rob McCaig adjudicates and deep thought with cheese and crackers below

Where do you get your judges from? Competitions tend not to publicise the panel too much but it will usually be a mix of beer writers, beer sommeliers and cicerones as well as time served brewers. Thankfully so called celebrities have yet to make an appearance on beer judging panels! However forty years before the mash tun brewing the same beer may not prepare a light US lager brewer for the onslaught of a generous dose of late Simcoe in the craft beer classes. It is often quoted that some brewers take the view that ‘I am not paying to cart my beer half way round the world to have my beer tasted by someone who does not know what they are talking about’! He would not win any awards then? Carriage of beer over any distance in hot weather can be a challenge, brewers have been known to club together to share refrigerated transportation and a couple of competitions have a deal with trusted international logistics companies to move beer about if you ship your entries to a pick-up point.

Judging will always take place in panels, at least three of them and if a class has to be split due to numbers, each panel must select three beers to go forward as the gold, silver and bronze beers could, by pure chance, be submitted to a single preliminary panel. As the final decision approaches and the number of beers still in decreases so the number of judges doing the tasting will increase.

A spell on the non-alcoholic classes will be rewarded by a session with the barleywines. There are stories of an earnest young brewer who went at his task with some gusto and had to be put to bed at lunchtime! Usually judges are well behaved. When the Australian judging took place at the University in Ballarat, they took their social responsibility very seriously and judges were breathalysed before lunch and at the end of the day. Perhaps surprisingly they could all have driven a car.

Judge providing feedback to the entrant at the GABF

One thing of great value to entrants is judge feedback. Certainly World Beer Cup judges are expected to provide constructive comments on each beer sampled and detail why a beer failed to progress further and indeed why it did. Another job for the stewards and back room staff but if you have paid $150 to enter so it is fair that everybody gets a report from, hopefully, the experts.

Commercial worth is perhaps more difficult than judging whether a beer meets the standards for a particular beer style. These are laid down by the US based BJCP – Beer Judge Certification Program and are used as the basis for World Beer Cup judgements as to whether entries are within style criteria. Some events will check %ABV contents on the finalists to make sure the beers are within the competition bands. Panel discussions can be lengthy and hard fought to reach a consensus conclusion.

Last time we explored a plethora of beer competitions worldwide. To the drinking public these all sound very credible as they include the words World, European or International in their titles.

Does the public imagine a hardened band of sozzled tasters wading their way through the million odd beer brands which Beer Advocate reckons there may be in the world? Few competitions trumpet how many entries they get. Even fewer release the names of entrants. I am told that many years ago, local brewer Keo in Cyprus won a prestigious award and discovered that Carlsberg the market leader at the time had also entered but without success. The ensuing publicity released by Keo was not to the Danes’ liking so publishing all the names was discontinued. There was a similar event in 2002 after Miller Lite won gold at the World Beer Cup. A high profile TV commercial campaign pointed out that a world beating beer had half the carbs of its rival Bud Light. Few medal winners have the resources for such expensive promotion of their success and rubbishing the opposition at the same time. The Royal Queensland Beer Awards in Australia took a few years out after it voted Fosters as the best beer in the State as it was brewed at the Yatala mega plant near Brisbane. Local craft breweries refused to enter as they did not approve of the judges’ earlier decision!

Even the number of entries in each class is often kept from prospective entrants who may choose to enter less well supported classes thinking it is more likely to win a medal there than amongst 357 American style IPAs at the World Beer Cup!

With the Paris Olympic Games on the horizon, most of us might think that a gold medal means first past the post but as we have seen, there are a number of competitions and indeed accreditation bodies like the German DLG where gold medals are awarded for reaching a preset standard. The DLG in particularly has a high level of recognition at home as loads of other products than beer are assessed and awarded so its logo is a popular addition to many a German beer label.

So a gold award may be in true Olympic style, perhaps the best in the world or a good beer which has reached a high standard of acceptability. As I have suggested before, the drinking public probably do not care. With the possible exception of CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain, there is not a lot of anticipation of beer competition results outside the brewing community. Winners will contact the local papers and will celebrate success on their own social media. You may see the odd wobbler stuck to a pump clip and maybe the medal will appear in the graphics of future labels. A brief study of beer labels in my local supermarket does not show a lot of recent medals so perhaps brewers are missing a trick here. Do breweries get sufficient marketing value to cover the entry fees? One brewery owner in the States told me that he enters and wins prizes for the sake of his brewers who like that pat on the back from their peers. Who doesn’t but perhaps the brewers would prefer an enhanced Christmas bonus.

I suspect this guy is a winner at the SIBA awards

Maybe I have been a bit negative because brewers do enter beer competitions and there are more and more of them; competitions not brewers! Winning provides recognition and validation for the quality of the beer, which can lead to increased sales and brand visibility. Winning awards can also attract media attention, helping to further promote the brewery and its products. Additionally, success in competitions can enhance the reputation of the brewer or brewery within the industry, potentially opening up new opportunities in the marketplace. Overall, winning a beer competition can have both tangible and intangible benefits that contribute to the success and growth of a brewery. Entering may get you some feedback from industry experts which can help improve brewing skills and the quality of the beer. Participating at the beer competition is certainly a fun and rewarding experience for brewers and a great networking opportunity for the stewards if they are younger members of the profession.

Medals used in brand advertising down the ages