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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

Walking in a Winter Wonderland (December Beer of the Month)

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I’m going to take things in a slightly new direction here, and declare the December BotM to be all the various seasonals that crop up at this time of the year. It seems like you can’t turn around without bumping into a Christmas this, a Barley Wine that, or a Winter Ale there.

So, without further adieu, here’s the winter funtime seasonals that I will be keeping my eye out for, along with a bit of authentic Chuck commentary on each.

  • Driftwood Old Cellar Dwellar — I’ve been proactively cleaning out space in my cellar for this bad boy. I’ll even do a ’09, ’10 and ’11 vertical when it comes out. No, you aren’t invited.
  • R&B Auld Nick — Last year this guy had a bit of a buzz because of the, er, enthusiasm with which it tackled the ABV. This year, while it certainly has a bit more umph than the 6.5ABV label suggests, it’s not the same dark brown beery insanity from last year that made it so very popular with alcoholics. Still good, though.
  • Driftwood Bird of Prey — This came out, and was bought up in record time. I managed to find a few to put down despite missing the initial release. My thoughts? Keep it in your cellar for a year or so. If you want a Flanders Red right now, seek out the Storm version, which is better… now.
  • Howe Sound Father John — Just found a 2010 of this hiding in the closet, so I’ll definitely do a side by side. However, this is one of the best Xmas ales out of the gate, so focus on drinking it now versus later.
  • Vancouver Island Hermannator — I did a side by side of my last 2010 and my first 2011. A year made this beer fantastic, to the point that the new one seems pale and limp in comparison. Buy it to cellar, as it is cheap and there are better Ice Bocks on the market.
  • Fort Garry Munich Eisbock — And this is one of them. Fort Garry has only just now starting showing up out here in BC, and this is a great Eisbock to keep the cold at bay right now.
  • Saltspring Fireside — You know, we don’t get enough of this guy over here. A pleasant mug sipper for those with masonry fireplaces, giant dogs to use as foot-warmers, and awesome lounging jackets.
  • Howe Sound Woolly Bugger — Also a good sipper, if not the best Barley Wine out there. Buy it for the tiny wee bottle if nothing else. (The bottle is actually the recommended serving size for barley wine. I’ll let you ponder that while looking at that empty Old Cellar Dweller in front of you this holiday season).
  • Central City Thor’s Hammer — Expected out mid-December. This is one tasty barley wine; I still think it should be a crime to not bottle this.

Also rans:

  • Dead Frog Christmas Beeracle — Just not very good at all, sorry guys.
  • Central City Winter Ale — Did someone have an accident with the hop bucket while brewing this year’s batch? Much too hoppy for my liking. UPDATE: CC informs me this is on purpose. I’m on the fence, but perhaps they’re about to make a new style? Check it out.

Lastly, I haven’t including anything by the non-bottling brew pubs, as the list was already getting a bit longish. In short, this is prime malty beer brewing and drinking season, so everyone should get out to their local and consume, consume, consume.

Written by chuck

November 29th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

IPA Fight!

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As I alluded to in my previous post, I felt it was time to revisit my “Central City IPA is slightly better than Driftwood Fat Tug” theory. This was prompted by the rapid rise in the availability of Fat Tug through the LDB, and a recent perceived drop in the quality of CC’s canned products. Perceived, at least, by me. Ben Coli from Sloppy Gourmand. suggested we do dual re-reviews of which beer comes out ahead, and I agreed, always keeping an eye out for any paper-thin excuse to drinking dangerously large quantities of high test craft beer.

So this weekend, with the assistance of the lovely Sharon, I performed a single-blind taste test of the two buggers. Unlike some of my previous taste tests, this one had a beer lineup that ranged from Very Good to Excellent; the only question was really what the the order was.


Oh yeah, this is a horrible inconvenience.

The result can hardly be characterized as fair. About 1/2 a sip into “Sample A” I immediately identified it as Driftwood Fat Tug, so well do I know these beers. Of course, Sharon did not confirm nor deny my suspicions until after I was done, but it was pretty obvious.

The differences I had previously ID’d held true. Fat Tug has a bigger, fuller body, and CC has the fragrant citra hops pounding away at your nose. However, when put side by side, monster hops against monster hops, the CC’s advantage ebbs away while the Fat Tug’s smoother tones hold true. In the end, the CC ends up tasting like slightly bitter water in comparison.

However, that’s in a head-to-head comparison. I don’t know about you, but I very rarely find myself double-fisting 6.5% and 7.0%ABV IPAs. OK, maybe not that infrequently, but when I do I’m not in it for the subtle flavours of each, but rather looking to numb my tongue with the excessive hops before launching into the much more economical mouthwash-drinking portion of the evening’s entertainment.

Round two saw me enjoy a nice 5oz of each beer solo. Again, the Fat Tug won out due to the bigger body. Long after the intensity of the hops on each had faded, the Fat Tug continued to offer up flavour while the CC IPA seemed to out-hop itself.

I don’t know if the canned formula has changed, but overall the massive hop blast I’d come to expect from the CC simply wasn’t there whenever Fat Tug was around, and that proved to be it’s downfall. I will have to try this test again with the draught versions the next time I’m out, as I have always found the draught CC IPA to be even more massively awesome than the canned.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the CC IPA is still a fantastic IPA; it’s just that the Fat Tug is slightly more fantastic. I guess I need to update that list on the right now.

Written by chuck

October 10th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Beers

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