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A Word on Beer Awards

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If you were up late last night you no doubt saw the early results coming out of San Diego for the 2012 World Beer Cup. Central City walked away with two awards while Russell picked up one. Good on you guys.

Now the rest of you are likely wondering when the swearing will start. It’s rant time, right? Well, it isn’t. While beer competitions are of dubious merit overall, and some can even equate to a paid endorsement, the World Beer Cup is not one of these. Sure, it’s not perfect, and certainly not how I’d run a beer competition, but it ain’t bad. Here’s what they do right:

  • Entry fees are low ($150 per style)
  • They proactively help you ship product over international boundaries, by arranging pick-up points for you to drop off cases of beer for a set price
  • A very low percentage of all entrants wins a prize (~7.2% this year). Some competitions have that up around 90%.
  • Their sponsor list contains not a single producer of beer, or any affiliated brand
  • While they do generally award Gold, Silver and Bronze, their judges are not required to do so. If all the beer in category X sucks, then no one takes home The Shiny

Sounds pretty good, right? Now for the downside. Beer is very hard to categorize. It’s constantly changing, and so are the styles that people throw awards at. For instance, this year the WBC recognized 95 styles of beer–that’s up from 90 two years ago. More categories means more awards, so that means people go home happier, but it also devalues winning.

What’s more, the sheer number of categories often means certain categories are reserved for awful beer. Take, for example, American-Style Lager, Light Lager, or Premium Lager. Yup, three categories featuring repeat winners like Miller and Anheuser-Busch. Take a stand guys, admit that no matter what happens, Michelob Ultra does not deserve recognition, and winning “Best American-Style Lager” doesn’t mean your beer is any good.


Much like how “most graceful car egress after 40oz of tequila” might not be the spotlight on exemplary gymnastics that you’d expect

Next, you can’t win if you don’t enter. While this seems like a no brainer, it does leave the WBC rather under-represented. Missing from BC are Driftwood, Tofino, Lighthouse, Phillips, etc. In fact, only 8 of BC’s 50-odd breweries bothered to send in beer.

The other dark beer competition secret is that the judges just aren’t that good. Sure, they’re often critics or beer geeks, but very rarely are they trained tasters. Us beer geeks are a selective crowd who really honestly do know our beer, but put 30 different beers in front of us (the # judged per person at WBC), and it all begins to blend together a bit.

These people know beer, and can especially pick out bad beer, but the subtle details that make a single great beer great will get lost by the time your palate is on round 10, let alone 30. Interesting use of hops? No luck. Smoked your malt in a BBQ instead of using liquid smoke? Sorry, didn’t notice. Good colour? Oooo… I can still see! Plus marks!

The end result of all this is that beer awards, even the WBC, are a bit of a crap shoot. Generally shitty beer doesn’t get far (unless you’re in the shitty beer category… you usually tell because it’s won by Coors Light, no really), but the good beers are more or less picked at random.

What does stand out, though, are trends. Look for a single beer consistently winning awards year after year, or a single brewery winning many awards in one year. These are signs to pay attention to. Sure, getting a Bronze in English-Style IPA means that your beer was put in front of a whack of beer geeks and they all thought it was good. That’s about all. But getting Silver for the same beer in the same category two years later? That means something.

So congrats to Russell. Well earned, guys.

Find the full list of awards here.

Written by chuck

May 6th, 2012 at 11:02 am

May Beer of the Month: Howe Sound Four Way Fruit Ale

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It’s a new month, and that means it’s time for a new Beer of the Month.

This month the honour goes to the good folk up at Howe Sound Brewing, for their recent fruit-based concoction, the rather imaginatively named “Four Way Fruit Ale.” I assume it has four fruits in it, but to be honest I’m not sure. Nor do I care, because this is a great beer.


Wow. Do NOT search for “fruit four way” on Google Image Search.

In a land increasingly dominated by giant hop bombs, it takes a bit of courage to put out a mild, subtle fruit ale. This is not a huge fruit beer, folks, this is a lightly sweet, low key fruit sipper that tastes vaguely like warm sunshine on your face after a long hike. Or those Peach Fuzz candies; it’s hard to say which.

Howe Sound didn’t nail this beer, as I’ve certainly had better fruit ales, but their willingness to explore this oft-neglected genre cannot go unnoticed. Given my recent obsession with barrel-aged beers, I guess it’s no surprise that I am curious to see how a bit of time in the oak would alter this one. I’d like to guess for the much, much better, but alas we’ll never know.

Why? Four Way was produced in vanishingly small quantities. In fact, the only places I know where to find it are St Augustine’s, The Alibi Room, and Howe Sound Brewpub itself, and the first two are running low. So get out there and try a fairly rare beer style while you can, folks. That Four Way tap will be a hoppy IPA tomorrow.

/PS Gotta say it: that has to be one of the worst logos I’ve ever seen, guys. Did someone load up Photoshop at 4:45pm on a Friday, grab the first three text effect filters they could find, and call it a day? Sure, you’re not printing bottles or anything, but… wow. Just wow.

Written by chuck

May 3rd, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Beers

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April Beer Of The Month: Lighthouse Switchback IPA

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Another 30 days have past, and that means it’s time for me to shine the deserving spotlight on yet another beer for my loyal minions to go forth and consume. Taking a bit of a break from my monthly Driftwood special release love-in, I am forgoing the obvious choice of Driftwood Son of the Morning (despite my really quite liking that beer), and winding up at Lighthouse Switchback IPA.


The label apparently recommends drinking a six pack and doing some downhill. Yeah! EXTREME!

This beer is intriguing–and deserving of notice–for multiple reasons. First and foremost, it’s good. Very good. One bottle of this in my gullet and it was pretty obvious that this new beer was gunning for the top. Yup, it’s in that elite league at the high-point of BC Beer rankings, all buddy-buddy with Driftwood Fat Tug and Central City IPA. Is it the new king? Fuck no. Heck, it’s not even displacing Central City for second; it’s a very close third, and that is no easy feat.

Second, this beer represents an intriguing development down there on Devonshire Road. Up until recently Lighthouse was almost two breweries. One produced a fantastic series of interesting Belgium X New Zealand beers in 650ml bottles, and the other produced… well… let’s just say “less interesting” beers. It seemed that brewer Dean McLeod was allowed to play around with oddball styles so long as he kept them away from the main bottling line (am I the only one picturing Dean labouring over a manual bottler, while the line sits in the background idle, and he steals short, longing glances at it? Really? Just me?)

Well, all that changes with this beer. This beer reeks of Dean’s involvement, and I’m not just talking about the baths he takes in the conditioning tanks after everyone else has gone home. Seriously good beer is bleeding into the mainstream at Lighthouse, and Chuck likey.

Third, this beer has hops, and I mean lots of hops. Citra really stands out (and is my favourite IPA hop), but then two combo blends (Falconer’s Flight and Zythos) pack in so many more it’s hard to count them (more Citra, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, and about ALL the C-Hops). You’d think it would come out as a bitter mess, but the Citra holds it together nicely.

Fourth, it comes in a six pack. The trend of awesome beers being in anti-weeknight friendly 650ml might just be coming to a close. Central City has long put out their beers in single serving cans, and now Lighthouse is following suit. Throw into the mix Parallel 49 launch their whole lineup in “work the next day” friendly sizes and we’re on to something.

Fifth, this is NOT a special release. This is a new member of Lighthouse’s regular lineup, and that’s definitely something to thank Dean for.

So there you have it. Go forth and consume, my legions.


I am less enthusiast about the beer/biking blend. Although in many ways this is more extreme.

Written by chuck

April 2nd, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Posted in Beers,Breweries

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