Wednesday, 16 February 2011

"You need style guidelines for competitions"

No you effing don't.

People keep coming up with that one. When I can be bothered, I point out that it's bollocks. That the longest-running international beer competitions don't have rigid style guidelines, but loose categories. But no-one ever listens. Five minutes later someone is defending anally-retentive definitions with "But you need them for competitions."

Brewing Industry International Awards winners have just been announced. These are the award categories. Note there isn't an IBU or an EBC in sight:

International Smallpack Lager Competition
Class 1 for Lager 2.9% -3.7% ABV
Class 2 for Lager 3.8% -4.7% ABV
Class 3 for Lager 4.8% -5.7% ABV
Class 4 for Lager 5.8% -6.9% ABV

International Smallpack Ale Competition
(Presented in Bottle, Can, PET or Plastic)
Class 1 for Ale 2.9% -3.7% ABV
Class 2 for Ale 3.8% -4.7% ABV
Class 3 for Ale 4.8% -5.7% ABV
Class 4 for Ale 5.8% -6.9% ABV

International Keg Ale Competition
Class 1 for Ale 2.9% -3.7% ABV
Class 2 for Ale 3.8% -4.7% ABV
Class 3 for Ale 4.8% - 6.9% ABV

International Keg Lager Competition
Class 1 for Lager 2.9% -4.7% ABV
Class 2 for Lager 4.8% -6.9% ABV

International Non & Low Alcohol Beer Competition
(Presented in Smallpack, Keg and Cask)
Class 1 for Ultra Low Alcohol Beer up to 1.1% ABV
Class 2 for Low Alcohol Beer 1.2% - 2.8 % ABV

International Dark Beer Competition
(Presented in Smallpack, Keg and Cask)
Class 1 for Dark Beer 2.9% -3.7% ABV
Class 2 for Dark Beer 3.8% -4.7% ABV
Class 3 for Dark Beer 4.8% -5.7% ABV
Class 4 for Dark Beer 5.8% -6.9% ABV

International Strong Beer Competition
(Presented in Smallpack, Keg and Cask)
Class 1 for Strong Lager
Class 2 for Strong Ale
Class 3 for Strong Dark Beer
Class 4 for Strong Speciality Beer

International Speciality Beer Competition
(Presented in Smallpack, Keg and Cask)
Class 1 for Speciality Wheat Beer
Class 2 for Fruit & Vegetable Beer
Class 3 for Organic Beer
Class 4 for Speciality Other Special Feature Beer

International Cask Ale Competition
Class 1 for Cask Ale 2.9% - 3.8% ABV
Class 2 for Cask Ale 3.9% - 4.3% ABV
Class 3 for Cask Ale 4.4% - 4.8% ABV
Class 4 for Cask Ale 4.9% - 6.9% ABV

Before the people at the BJCP started their evil project, this is how all beer competitions were judged.

Incidentally, quite a few American beers won awards. All from compulsive competition-entering breweries:  Deschutes, Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.


Flagon of Ale said...

We'll see if the number of categories increases as the competition grows. They had 750 entries vs over 3000 at last year's Great American Beer Festival (which many people complained about having 140 categories). You're right that categories aren't necessary for beer competitions, they just make it easier. If this competition had as many entries as the GABF, they would have been evaluating roughly 100 beers per category. Seems like consistent evaluation would become difficult when looking at a flight of 100 beers, no?

Granted, pretending that there are 140 beer styles is pretty stupid, but I can see the reasoning for splitting up categories the way they do.

Ed said...

It cost money to enter that competition. As CAMRA competitions are linked to beer festivals they buy the beer off you.

Ali said...

But what you have listed amounts to a set of style guidelines, albeit rather loose ones...

The point of style guidelines is that it gives a consistent set of criteria against which to judge a beer, and to give feedback. Not everything will rigidly fit a 'style', which is fine and needs to be understood, but one thinks about the number of times I have heard someone complain that their beer didn't win as it was placed in a generic grouping with beers of different styles and so there was no real basis for comparison.

Ron Pattinson said...

Ali, you really think "cask ale" is a style? Or "dark beer".

Mark said...

I am personally able to see the difference between "styles" and "styles for purposes of competition."

BJCP, GABF, et al have never claimed to be the style police, they have developed categories/style definitions that work for their competitions.

The BIAA competition categories you reference are ultimately no different - I see artificial/made up categories.

The Big Dog said...

The list of 'categories' you supplied are the equivalent of 'styles'. Granted, no IBUs, no SRM, etc., but still a set of guidelines against which the beer is judged. A mild entered in the Strong category won't stand a chance of winning because it doesn't match the 'style'. Same for a Pilsner in the Dark category.

If you don't like style distinctions, then you shouldn't spend so much time on dgging up historic recipes for IPAs and Browns, etc. In your mind, a Belgian Ale is the same as a Stout, since the 'styles' aren't necessary.

I'm pretty sure even Barclay Perkins referred to their beer as belonging to particular styles.

So yes, you effin' do need styles. Lighten up, Ron ;-)

Ron Pattinson said...

Dog, you're right. I'm a pile of contradictions. I slag off style definitions, but wrote a whole book of them. Consistency issues.

I did have something mildly amusing I meant to say about styles. But I forgot while pouring a Filliers 5 Jaar. Mmm, full of jenevery-goodness.

I don't hate styles. I quite like them. Just don't agree with casting them in concrete.

This post was my attempt to lighten the relentless historical stodge I've been dolloping into your bowls.

Qualities. That's what Barclay Perkins called their beers. Not styles.

Thomas Barnes said...

It's my experience that broad competition categories work well when the beers entered in the competition either don't differ that much from each other, when there aren't that many entries, when the beers are made and judged by professionals, or some combination of the above.

Conversely, detailed guidelines for contests work better when the contest covers widely divergent types of beer, large numbers of entries, relatively inexperienced judges, and/or amateur entrants.

While you might be irked by extremely restrictive "style guidelines" for beer competitions, I don't think that there's any harm in them, as long as they're used just for competitions.

Anyhow, competition rules are inherently arbitrary. Look at them in context - both as tools and as artifacts of their time and place.