When I used to work in fringe IT, the sort propped by government grants, it was always fun to consider the correlation between the firms named as key sponsors of trade events and the awards given at the inevitable gala. It is interesting to note, then, the commentary on a couple of recent batches of beery awards being given out these days to determine whether there are analogous key correlations waiting to be considered.
Jeff makes some observations on the masses of prizes given out as part of the Great American Beer Festival and makes the key observation that only 600 or so of the 2,500 eligible brewers submitted entries. So, while it is true that every beer that got a medal was very good, it is also true that many very good beers did not get entered.
Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing also commented on the GABF medals and adds another quite interesting filter on earning a medal:
Stone Brewing Co. did not win any medals. You won’t get any sour grapes from me, we don’t always try to brew strictly to the GABF style guidelines (which are critical criteria to win medals), and I certainly wouldn’t advocate changing any of our recipes in an attempt to win.
So, in addition to the entrants representing less than 25% of potential participants, the excellence of the beer was not the only standard as excellence in compliance with category standards was also at play. This is the opposite side of the often derided coin that the GABF creates style inflation. It also devalues - systemically even if unintentionally - pure excellence and even the unexpected.
Oliver Gray posts about his pleasure at winning an award from the North American Guild of Beer Writers for his blog post entries. His award was well deserved and I should know as I was a judge in that category. But the category had some features which limited the scope of what was considered. It was limited to entrants as opposed to nominations. The selection of posts being reviewed was selected by the entrant. And there were not as many entries as might have been desired. But it was just the first year so that might change. In any event, Oliver won a better form of recognition as far as I am concerned. I added him to my Digg Reader feed. You should, too.
In addition to these things, there is that pesky fee for each entry. Entering five beer brands in the GABF competition costs $675 for BA members and $890 for non-members. Not a lot but ancillary support costs for participating in the festival including travel would be many times that. The NAGBW fee was far less at 15 or 30 bucks - which should not be an obstacle. Yet entries were low.
Notice another GABF quirk. It is first come first served or at least those accepted. Once preset number of entrants is received, the completion is closed. I recall this was an issue not that long ago as some well considered beers missed out due to an early rush. Could it be that the stout brewers are just congenitally tardy?
Are there improvements that might be made? Oh, likely. I like the idea of a system with nominations so that the small and excellent might get noticed - or even the brewer who hates awards for that matter. I also like the opportunity to have an open category unencumbered by the fetters of style guideline. Plus, a parallel taste evaluation under other rules might be interesting - including the consideration of best value, something good beer resists so uniquely. One of the best ways to evaluate something, as I know professionally, is to apply multiple forms of analysis. And why not add playoffs to broaden the field? No suggestion - or others you might add - need to replace anything. But it would be good to see them augmented for greater relevance.