The World Beer Cup is a bi-annual competition started by the Brewers Association in 1996 “to celebrate the art and science of brewing by recognizing outstanding achievement.” It has come to be known as the Olympics of beer.
Once every two years, a large and carefully selected panel of judges comprised of brewers, consultants, industry suppliers and writers conducts blind judging of a huge number of entries. This year there were 3,330 beers entered. Judges must have formal beverage tasting training and regularly participate in tastings or competitions. They have no knowledge of the brands as they do their judging.
As the awards ceremony is one of the premier events for craft brewers, the gala is a large, impressive affair. Sean Paxton, the highly regarded “Homebrew Chef,” was enlisted to plan the meal for over 2,000 attendees.
What I found most remarkable about the menu was not the pairing of various beers with different courses, but the use of beer and the base ingredients of beer in every dish on the menu. Among the many examples were Amarillo hop-encrusted nuts, Cascade hop-infused honey, barley soup, double IPA vinaigrette dressing and wort (unfermented beer).
After the serving of the meal was complete, the presentation of awards began.
Sadly, while the Southeast may have the best college football teams in the world (by a wide margin) we are in sorry shape when it comes to brewing. I must take care to note that just as plenty of great movies go unrecognized at the Academy Awards, plenty of great beers do not win medals in large competitions. Still, it says something about our region’s beer culture that only 4 of 268 awards went to Southeastern breweries—a mere one and a half percent.
The only production brewery in the Southeast that received an award was Sweetwater. Its Creeper won gold in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer category. The other three awards for our region went to brewpubs: Blackstone Brewing Co. of Nashville won bronze for their Chaser Pale in the German-style Kölsch category, the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Chattanooga won bronze for their Golden Export in the Münchner-Style Helles category, and even brewery-rich North Carolina only pulled in one medal—Outer Banks Brewing took silver for their Lemon Grass Wheat Ale in the Herb and Spice Beer category.
Not surprisingly, California was the big winner of the night, with its breweries entering almost double the number of beers (395) of any other state and winning more than three times the number of medals (45) won by any other state. California won more than 16 percent of the medals awarded in the entire competition and, clearly, sets the standard for beer culture in the United States.
I find it very interesting that there is almost no overlap between the “top beers” lists at Beer Advocate and RateBeer and the list of winners of the World Beer Cup. The former are determined by consumer reviews while the latter is determined by trained judges. There are a number of factors involved, and one shouldn’t draw too many firm conclusions based on this disparity, but I think it’s safe to say there is some degree of disconnect between what beer enthusiasts love to drink and what wins medals in organized competitions.
I suspect Jason Malone of Birmingham’s own Good People Brewing understands that last point, as he chose not to enter any beer in the World Beer Cup. I spoke to him about the competition and he said that once he starts packaging his beer he’ll consider sending some in, but he doesn’t care enough about the competition to go out of his way to bottle beer especially for judging.
While all of these lists are interesting and can definitely help point you in the right direction for new beers worth trying, no one is a better judge of the beer you drink than you are. Drink what you love, whether that’s PBR or the latest one-off bourbon barrel-aged double imperial stout with maple syrup and ancho chiles.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org