No-one listens. "But how can you have competitions without rigid categories. It's not perfect, but it's the only way to have a fair competition." People keep saying that, Even though there are dozens of competitions that have been held that prove this to be bollocks.
There's one simple counter argument. Why bother having competitions in the first place? They prove fuck all. I know that from having judged a few myself. Ever wonder why breweries like Deschutes and Rogue win so many medals? Because they enter every contest they can. Does it mean their beers are better than everyone else's? Of course not. Only beers that enter can win. And there are loads of breweries who never bother.
I suppose medals are good for massaging brewers' egos. But, lets face, there are plenty whose egos have already spent the whole week in a Chinese massage parlour. They are in no need of further manipulation. Rock star brewers - the worst development of the last 20 years? I think so.
If you do insist on having a competition, there are plenty of ways you can define categories. Like the the way they did at the Brewers' Exhibition in 1888. See what you think. It'll have craft enthusiasts choking on their Choccomocca Pickle-barrel Imperial Stout. You see the categories were all about rice.
"THE BREWERS' EXHIBITION.
The Brewers' Exhibition at the Agricultural Hall, Islington, was yesterday a busy scene of activity, and visitors came to it from many parts of the country. All the machinery intended to be worked at the show was seen in operation, and even experts found much to engage their attention in the large number of modern inventions which are on view. Some of the exhibitors had barely sufficient space wherein to display their contrivances, but this was a penalty which they readily pay to the great popularity the Exhibition has achieved. Much interest has been evinced in the special beer competition organised by Messrs. Gillman and Spencer Limited, of Southwark and Rotherhithe. The following is a complete list of the awards made by the judges, who were leading London and provincial brewers :—
Gold medal and diploma for the best beer brewed, of any class or age, with at least 15 per cent of patent gelatinized rice malt or torrefied barley malt: Messrs. Drybrough and Co., Edinburgh, whose beer contained no less than 20 per cent of rice malt.
For the best beer of an original gravity of under 20 lbs. brewed with at least 10 per cent of rice: 1, silver medal, Messrs. Drybrough; 2, silver medal, Messrs. Wrangham, of Malton; bronze medals. Messrs. Ash and Co. (Canterbury), Messrs. Matthews (Gillingham), Messrs. E. T. and C. Healey (Watford). Diplomas were also given to Messrs. Cartwright and Co. (Lincoln) and Messrs. Roberts and Wilson (Ivinghoe).
Beer of an original gravity of from 20 lb. to 24 lb. brewed with at least 10 per cent of rice : 1, gold medal, Messrs. Ash and Co., Canterbury; 2, silver medal, Messrs. Clissold and Sons. Nailsworth ; 3, bronze medal, Messrs. Miller and Co., Hereford. Beers in the same section made by Messrs. Wrangham, Messrs. Loades, of Morpeth, and Mrs. M. B. Silver, Binningham, were highly commended.
Beer of an original gravity of 24 lbs. and upwards, brewed with at least 10 per cent of rice: 1, silver medal, Messrs. : Drybrough and Co.; 2, silver medals, Messrs. Buchan (Rhymney), and Messrs. King and Sons (Horsham); 3, bronze medals, the Scarsdale Brewery Company (Chesterfield), and the Swansea Old Brewery Company. The beer of Messrs. Reiley and Sons, Waterford, was highly commended.
Pale ale of an original gravity of over 20 lbs. brewed with at least 10 per cent of rice: 1, silver medal, Mr. H.Payne, Braintree; 2, bronze medal, Mr. E. Edwards, Botley : 3, diploma, Messrs. Ash and Co. The beers of Messrs. Buchan and the Swansea Old Brewery Company were highly commended.
Black beer of an original gravity of under 24 1bs., brewed with at least 10 per cent of rice or torrefied barley : 1, silver medal, the Scarsdale Brewery Company; 2, bronze medal, Messrs. Buchan.
Black beer, of an original gravity of over Mbs.: 1, silver medal, Messrs. Morland and Co., Abingdon ; 2, bronze medal, Mr. R. C. Armstrong, Horncastle; 3, diploma, Messrs. Clissold and Sons, Stroud.
Any description of ale or beer brewed from torrefied barley: 1, silver medal, Messrs. Colclough and Palmer, Ongar; 2, bronze medal, Messrs. Howard, White, and Co., Malling.
A silver medal for beers containing the largest proportion of rice malt was awarded to Mr. A. M. Loaves, of Morpeth.
Prizes were also offered for ginger ale and nonexcisable herb or botanic beverages, the judges being Mr. T. Bond, London; Mr. W. Bratby, Ancoats, Manchester; Mr. F. Foster, London; and Mr. P. L. Simmonds, London. The competition was divided into two sections—one for ginger ale and the othor for non-excisable herb or botanic beverages, the total number of entries being about 100. After careful examination of the samples the judges gave the prizes as follows :—
Ginger ale: 1, Messrs. Talbot and Co., Ipswich; 2, Messrs & Shelvey and Co., Brighton; 3, Mr. B. Shaw, Huddersfield; 4, Mr. Stokes, Hull; 5, Messrs. Bellamy Bros., Grimsby.
Botanic beverages: 1, Mr. H. Firth, Manningham, Bradford; 2, Mr. Taylor, Attercliife, near Sheffield; 3, Mr. Lapworth, Acton; 4, Messrs. Dabell and Hicton, Nottingham: 5, Messrs. J. Lyon and Co., Liverpool.
During the afternoon in connection with the fourth annual brewers' congress, Mr. A. J. Mott read an interesting paper on "The Licensing Tribunals of the Future," Mr. C. J. Phillips, of London, presiding."
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Wednesday 24 October 1888, page 3.
What's even weirder than having a competition for beer brewed using rice is that there are a couple of breweries who received awards whose beer I've drunk.
Why hold such a contest in 1888? I guess the sponsor must have been in the rice and torrefied barley business. This was just the time when adjunct-makers would be trying to attract the attention of brewers, what with the Free Mash Tun Act having been just a few years before.
From what I've seen in brewing records, there wasa bit of a lag before brewers really took adbvantage of the relaxation in the law. Even enthusiastic adjunct users like Barclay Perkins didn't take them up until 1886. A conservative lot, these brewers.