Great Leap Brewing has been witness to a lot of growth in China craft beer; some good, some cancerous, some just growing pains. One of the things that is cringe worthy has to do with the obsessions related to awards. Three or four things validate Chinese craft beer in 2019: collaborations with foreigners, invitations to beer festivals in foreign countries, attention from foreign media and awards from foreign competitions. You guys seeing a theme here? I’ve asked Tracy Wang to tackle the validity and the importance related to the things I listed above. The one thing I’d like to say at the beginning is that there isn’t necessarily a clean right or wrong way to gain momentum. But, consumers don’t like being exaggerated at. I’ll end with this, for awards specifically, these are not a judgment of the best of all beers, it’s a judgment of the beers that were entered. Winning a medal is only really meaningful if the context is clear. Tracy will take it from here. — Carl
I was sitting at a bar in Beijing when a beer fan who knew me from my Beijinger days came in and asked me why Great Leap didn’t win any medals from the World Beer Awards. I used to think the same thing about Great Leap Brewing before I started working for the company and so I’d like to take this opportunity to explain that it isn’t that we don’t win medals, it’s that Carl and the brewing team only enter competitions that are trusted and transparent about how they judge, award and under what criteria the awards are handed out. This isn’t to say that Great Leap boycotts awards, we just keep the award focus every year on winning at the Euro Beer Star, Australia International Beer Awards and the International Beer Awards in Japan. And every two years we enter the World Beer Cup in the US. I’m going to take some time to explain all of these awards in subsequent blogs, but I’d like to use this opportunity to explain a little bit about how the World Beer Awards works, and you might understand why we don’t make it a priority to participate.
What are the World Beer Awards and why is everyone talking about them?
The annual World Beer Awards were presented in London on August 7th, and many beer brands from China and around the world walked away with acknowledgements and awards, so what exactly are the World Beer Awards?
The World Beer Awards were first started in 2007 alongside the World Whiskies Awards. This annual competition promotes the “World’s Best Beers” to consumers. The awards are sponsored by BeerHawk and Glencairn Crystal, which specifically is an online beer retailer that has been acquired by ZX Venture and is now a subsidiary property of Anheuser Busch InBev.
How do you enter?
Beers must be generally available and for sale in bottles or cans. And they claimed there were more than 500 breweries from 50 countries last year with over 2500 individual entries. Each entry requires 279 USD +VAT, 269 USD each for two entries, 264 USD each for three entries, 259 USD+ VAT for more than four entries. It has 95 judges this year (79 judges last year, and only 48 judges in 2017). But compared with other all the alcohol related awards competitions that ABI is running through their subsidiary, the beer awards division seems to be their largest one in terms of entries and judges, since their other awards – including World Rum Awards, World Sparkling Wine Awards, World Cider Awards, World Champagne Awards – only have one judge each.
What is the Judging Process?
There are 9 general categories (And under each category there are 93 total beer styles) – Dark Beer, Flavored, Lager, Pale Beer, Sour & Wild Beer, Specialty Beer, Stout & Porter, Wheat Beer, and IPA. Beers are judged by country, meaning you are competing with your peers from the same country instead of competing with all the entries in the same category. And each style will have an overall winner, several golds, several silvers, and several bronzes for each country. The final and most prestigious award comes after the judges taste all the top level “Winners” together to identify the Best in each style worldwide.
Don’t understand? Say you submit an Altbier, and if no one else or only a few from your country submit in this style, it won’t be a fierce competition as most entries are awarded medals to encourage more entries the next year. So, in categories that have a relatively low number of entries it is a higher probability to get a Gold, Silver or Bronze, or even Winner for your country by process of elimination or by default. And the judges will put all the Winners from other countries to compete and choose one from the five or so to be crowned as “World’s Best Altbier”.
Another example, if you were a German brewery and entered a Pilsner, you’d be jealous of a Myanmar brewery, because their Premium Pilsner was the only one to be rewarded in the style from Myanmar (and probably the only one from Myanmar to compete), while you have to compete with 19 other Pilsners from Germany. But to prove my above point, the judges in the German pils category for the Germany country section handed out one Winner, four Golds, six Silvers, nine Bronzes to the German breweries, 19 total awards for apparently as many entries. After all, the “Best” of the 27 Country Winners in Classic Pilsner style is Hirsch Pils from Germany. This is not the Olympics. There isn’t one gold, one silver and one bronze. We’d be a lot less impressed with Michael Phelps if he won a gold medal for the 100m freestyle in Beijing in 2008, but so did three other dudes.
Last example, Geezer sent his Spring Trip Hop Pilsner, which makes it the only entry in this category, he won the Country Winner.
Another issue with the meaningfulness of these kinds of awards is that we didn’t spot many of the famous breweries, meaning we barely saw any Top 100 craft breweries enter beer for these awards. And if you look at the sour beer category for Berliner Weisse you would see zero winners from America, easily the largest geographic producer of Berliner Weiss’s in the entire world. You also won’t see any entries from Russian River, New Belgium, Cigar City, Trillium, Bell’s, Left Hand, Nøgne Ø, Trillium, Brasserie Dupont, Evil Twin, Brouwerij 3, Tree House, Hill Farmstead, Mikkeller, The Alchemist.. But hey, if you don’t enter you can’t win, right?
In conclusion, its relatively late start (in 2007), and sponsorship by an online beer retailer which belongs to ZX Ventures might be some of the reasons that an overwhelming majority of Top 100 craft breweries didn’t submit any beers to the awards; judging the beers by country instead of letting them compete with each other doesn’t make it fair for the more beer developed countries, but may also give a chance for the not so qualified beer from less beer developed countries to win. With all that being said this isn’t a bad thing. It brings attention to China craft beer and that’s never bad. I’ve also enjoyed almost every beer I’ve had in the list below. But there’s a reality here that needs to be addressed, when the competition allows UNLIMITED entries at 259 USD an entry means that the organizer is selling medals, and the organizer made a lot of money this year selling medals (hypothetically). It’s just a fact. If you don’t have a problem with buying medals then that’s fine. China needs to get recognition, but the only kind of recognition is which is earned, not given away and certainly not something that was paid for. But, to answer the question of why we don’t win awards at these competitions, it’s because we don’t enter. And if you don’t enter you can’t win.