Barley Mowat 

BC Beer Awards Response by Dave

with 3 comments

This whole “Not Chuck writing articles” things seems to be catching on. On Monday I wrote an article about my reaction to the BC Beer Awards which, while better this year, definitely still left me more confused than is normal for my day to day. Dave Shea, one of the judges at this event, offered up a response. Seeing an opportunity to boost my blog’s traffic for little-to-no effort of my own, I readily agreed. Enjoy!



When I saw Chuck’s post yesterday, I joked on Twitter that I was working on a follow-up to nitpick his nitpicking. He offered to publish that, and well who could resist the temptation to call him names on his own blog?

ed: Definitely not me. Suck it Hallett!
… I’m not doing this right, am I?

I thought I’d talk a little bit about the process of judging to help make sense of some of the results. Keep in mind that I only rated the beer, you shouldn’t think for a second that I speak for the fine folks who spend months organizing and running the show. Or the other judges either, for that matter.

I’ll take a shortcut by referencing my comment on last year’s post. It’s all still true. And I’d still like to see a public list of the breweries who entered each year to make it clearer that some obvious stand outs didn’t place in their respective categories because they just didn’t show up.

This year I feel like the results aligned much better with my personal expectations of who should be up on the podium. The breweries I like did well, and I was happy to see some surprise wins and lots of new brewers getting recognition. Not to say I agree with every decision, or even every decision I was a part of making for that matter.

But I think the reason the quality of the results was higher this year was because the judges’ ability was higher as well. We now have a lot more Certified — and two National-ranked — judges within the province, but the organizers also put out an open call to the BJCP mailing list and got a handful of experienced judges to drive up from various parts of Washington and help us out that day. I believe every table of three had at least two Certified Judges sitting at it.

ed: And very few had
Certified Homeless Crazies at them

For the past couple years I’ve seen criticism of the BJCP process and style guidelines in response to head-scratching results. Hey, that’s fair; I wish the organization was better at staying on top of current brewing trends for example, and that the process didn’t put so much stock in restrictive and sometimes arbitrary historical guidelines — especially since the commercial Brewer’s Association’s style guidelines describe almost twice as many.

But flaws aside, getting to any level of certification represents a broad knowledge of 75 sub-styles plus a great ability to detect and describe flavours and faults. I’ve judged with non-BJCP folks, the difference between their tasting notes and someone who has been through the certification ringer is something like:

Very dark, good head. Malty, with some bitterness. Pretty good beer.


Medium brown with ruby highlights. Frothy white head that quickly subsides, but leaves lacing down the side of the glass. Toasty, bready malt character with faint coffee notes. Clean esters (though a bit of unpleasant sulfur) and mild earthy hop presence contributing a well-balanced bitterness. Medium, rounded mouthfeel, with prickly, fine bubbles and a slight carbonic bite.

Notice there’s no mention of the beer’s style yet. Judging a beer is an exercise in capturing your perceptions and trying to accurately describe them so that someone not tasting the beer might be able to understand what it tastes like. After you have a handle on what you’re tasting and why, then you can start talking about how good it is and how well it matches whatever style it was entered under.

This is partially why you get anomalies like, say, a bunch of beers sold as amber ales winning the Scottish / Irish category. If they have pleasing malty notes (all ambers should), low hop aroma (they’d place miserably in the American Amber category for that), and taste great, why couldn’t they win as Irish Reds? Fits the definition, and if they’re better than the competition they’ve got a fair shake.

That’s likely the exact bet the brewers made when they entered this category with ambers. Seems to have paid off. Is it wrong? Depends on how closely you want to defend the style guidelines as the final arbiter. But the guidelines are just that. They’re not hard and fast rules, they’re more about setting yardsticks and saying “something like this range, that’s what you’re looking for.”

If a beer is good but it clearly won’t win in the style it’s marketed under for some reason, re-categorizing it to help it place could be considered either A) a better reflection of how good the beer is regardless of style guidelines, or B) a cynical attempt on the part of the brewer to manipulate the process. I’m with the A people, but it does make results more confusing if you’re not aware that it’s happening.

Then there’s the issue of combining categories. I’m not a huge fan of it either, and it probably isn’t super fair, but with only a handful of beers in some styles in this province it’s necessary. I hear even the Great American Beer Festival and their 5000 entries have trouble filling up some sub-categories, so it’s probably not a problem that we’ll see go away.

Lastly, how do you compare an Ordinary Bitter against an English IPA? The only methodology that makes sense is setting a baseline for each individual beer to compare against, and see how close they come to that style baseline. If the IPA is a miserable example of the style, you can boot it and move on. But if it’s a very good beer, you might have to think a bit harder.

ed: Like, for instance, thinking about re-sampling this great beer and calling it a night

The questions I’d ask at that point are not just ‘is this closest to style?’, but also ‘is this an extremely well made beer?’ and ‘how likely would I be to pay for this beer?’ and ‘if I put this up against other similar types of the same style, would it hold its own?’. Some of those are totally subjective, and the only way you can answer them is by having tried a lot of examples of each of those styles, and knowing when a particular beer stands out as being particularly good, compared to your experience with others of its kind.

Sure, the process is imperfect and involves a lot of opinion, but we should all expect that for a topic that’s so subjective to begin with. That’s part of the fun. If everyone all thought one particular beer was the ultimate example of a style, we’d all be drinking the same thing. Oh hey, we’ve been there. It was called the 70’s. Let’s not do that again.

Written by Dave

October 22nd, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Posted in Beer and You

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3 Responses to 'BC Beer Awards Response by Dave'

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  1. Dave, your post was too reasonable to elicit comments.


    24 Oct 13 at 15:39

  2. Yep. Nothing more needs saying.


    10 Nov 13 at 11:23

  3. […] to coffee as it lingers. This beer is true to form (and that is likely why it won beer of the year, See Barley Mowat’s article for a better explanation). It is delicious and doesn’t put a step wrong but its not my beer of the year. Regardless […]

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