Sunday, 13 January 2013

Beer Competitions

I keep saying that the minutely anally categorised type of beer competition so loved buy the BJCP and Brewers' Association is just one way of doing things.

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 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.


dana said...

In the second page of a google search for gillman spencer, I got this link mentioning them as cereal merchants: Seemingly quite large.

Solid conjecture.

Now about that pickle barrel imperial stout...

Jeff Alworth said...

"I suppose medals are good for massaging brewers' egos."

Not to get in the way of a good rant, but I think it has a lot more to do about business. And probably it's good for company morale, as well. If some people are too quick to grant "rock star" status to brewers others are too quick to impute fairly base motivations. Usually the truth falls somewhere in between.

Anonymous said...

Why do we do competitions? Because it's in our inherited nature. The rigid categories are used so we can at least try and compare "apples to apples." I understand why people have issues with this, but i don't see anything better. Using the "who cares" argument towards competitions is really lame for a blog that tries to highlight some great historical beers.

Jeff Renner said...

Is it Wednesday yet?

Ron Pattinson said...

Jeff, no.

Ron Pattinson said...

Anonymous, ever bought a beer because it had won a competition? I haven't. Do medals have any effect on my beer purchases? No.

Makes comeitions seem pretty pointless to me.

Barm said...

You might not buy beers because they've won competitions. Neither do I. But lots of people clearly do. Look at the upsurge of demand when a beer wins Champion Beer of Britain etc.

Some other competitions have quite hefty entry fees too. Breweries must be calculating that winning an award will have an effect on sales.

Alan said...

Also, it is important to know the terms for entering the competition. Not in brewing but in the IT sector I have seen awards being included in the various level of sponsorship benefit packages. Not to suggest this is done today in brewing but it is quite fair to suggest the need to be aware of the terms upon which awards are structured and who runs the competition. Rarely objective and innocent because they are primarily PR efforts.

Edward said...

"I suppose medals are good for massaging brewers' egos."

I'd bet it has more to do with the marketing dept than anyone who actually touches beer as part of their job. Pictures of tiny gold medals look good on beer labels and the marketing copy almost writes itself after a few wins.

Gary Gillman said...

I agree that the well-publicized multi-subset competitions are "one way". It doesn't have to be the only way.

You can have a "drinkability" competition with one category. A beer has to drink right at the end of the day. If it doesn't, e.g., if you never really liked Belgian multi-strain yeast, or the yeasty bite of wheat beer or keller, or the taste of Noble hops, or flavoured Imperial Stout, what does it matter that beers in these categories are great or middling or anything?

But I cut slack to the groups that do it their way: no one is forced to enter.

As for whether I ever bought a beer because it won a competition, that is a very good question. The answer is no with one exception: I bought a bottle of Blue Bird Coniston because it won a major CAMRA award, and thought it was average.

Maybe it wasn't in the best condition. And condition is an omnipresent issue with craft or craft-style beer in general because rarely (or IMO) does one get a beer twice in a row that really tastes the same. It may be more cloudy one time, have a vinous edge, have more or less hoppiness, or something else changed of the 1000 variables that can apply.

It is better to obtain information of all kinds but then decide for yourself what is the best thing to drink from the choice available - especially after you take the first sip. This is why flights are so useful but also many bars will offer small tastes before taking your commitment.


John said...

I think that competitions are all about marketing and promoting brands.

Take the Brewers Association, presided by Charlie Papazian. They're a trade group whose purpose includes promoting their members. And it's they who run the Great American Beer Festival and its competition.

The competition is a tool to generate a news item that will get the winners name widely distributed in the media. A good way of picking up the mildly curious, non-fussy casual buyer. i.e. Not people like you, Ron :)

And it's Charlie who has headed the American Homebrewer's Association that gave birth to the BJCP.

It seems that the AHA is a valuable customer to the BA, so to have them work together makes business sense.

I don't think this is any great conspiracy nor anything new - c.f. the 1851 Great Exhibition. It's just business marketing.