My post this week for the Today Show Online is about how I went a little nuts when I saw that out of 39 entries, Coors Light won gold at the World Beer Cup for “American-Style Lager or Light Lager.” I know the big boys have been winning this category for years, but it still struck me as odd that the Brewers Association, an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting small brewers, would honor the mega-brewers with gold medals.
I reached out to Charlie Papazian, President of the Brewers Association and hero to homebrewers everywhere, to ask a few fired up questions about the implications awarding medals to Big Beer has for craft brewers. I was a little disappointed that not once did he say “relax and have a homebrew.” Charlie’s unedited responses are below:
Do you consider the WBC to be the most prestigious award in all of beerdom? If so, why?
The World Beer Cup is supported by 38 international beer organizations and publications from 15 countries and the European Beer Consumer’s Union. It is the largest international commercial beer competition in the world; this year with 799 breweries from 54 countries and 45 U.S. states entering 3,921 beers in 95 beer style categories. Judges from 27 countries conducted blind tasting evaluations of the beers to determine the winners. Drawn from the ranks of professional brewers and brewing industry experts, these 211 judges came mostly from international breweries, with some 67 percent from outside the U.S. In addition to the judging panel, over 250 volunteers helped sort beer entries and steward the competition.
The World Beer Cup is The Olympics of Beer
Countless sporting competitions all over the world lead up to the Olympics. These are stepping stones that promote a feeling of accomplishment, but no other sporting event embodies the same pinnacle of achievement as the Olympics. In turn each style of sport is featured and celebrated. Likewise, football’s World Cup creates a similar spotlight for those athletes in that particular sport. All football (soccer) is celebrated.
At the Brewers Association we believe that similar recognition, culture building and feeling of accomplishment can come from beer competition, recognizing beer as the most popular international beverage in the world. This is our goal for beer drinkers, brewers, beer and the World Beer Cup. Brewing has a history more extensive than the Olympics or World Cup. Brewing and the enjoyment of beer have been celebrated in world culture for thousands of years.
Why does the Brewer’s Association make room for the Big Boys in your competition when smaller brewers (craft brewers) are making better beers that might compete in these categories?
The World Beer Cup is an international competition for all brewers and their beers worldwide. Because it embraces both big and small the competition provides a level playing field or should I say a “level table of beer” for all to participate.
The World Beer Cup is about celebrating beer as a beverage and providing more value to the beer drinker.
Winning in a competition is more than a statement of achievement. It enhances the image of beer everywhere. Winning may also add value to a brand, but more importantly, competitions increase beer drinkers’ interest in responsibly celebrating their enjoyment of beer. It is the world’s most popular and celebrated beverage.
Each year’s award winners become representative of the quality of all brewers who brew the diversity of styles that make our beer world so interesting and so fulfilling. In a very meaningful way every brewer who enters “wins” by their participation in helping fulfill the mission of educating the beer drinker and helping preserve their beer culture. The act of simply entering a beer is a clear statement, “I brewed this beer. I am proud of my company and co workers who have helped achieve the quality upon which we stake our claim.”
The World Beer Cup not only highlights individual beers, it more importantly brings attention to beer’s diversity. This helps every brewer, regardless of whether they win an award. Competing breweries may focus on the value of gold, silver or bronze, but the most important outcome of the World Beer Cup is Increased Value for the Beer Drinker.
I can’t really answer your question with a simple yes or no because that isn’t the point of the World Beer Cup… that is to say the fundamental reason for the World Beer Cup is not for providing promotion for individual brewing companies. Of course winning breweries may or may not choose to promote their win, but the big picture and purpose is to elevate the image of beer and provide values for the responsible enjoyment of beer worldwide. It celebrates the tastes, flavors, diversity and character of beer.
Is it wrong that some (most) beer geeks have an “us against them” mentality when it comes to macro versus micro brewers?
I suppose if you have data that supports your premise that beer geeks have an “us against them” attitude, that would be an interesting fact. What’s a beer geek? Most people I encounter LOVE beer, they enjoy beer, they celebrate their enjoyment responsibly, they love to talk about beer (what beer drinker doesn’t?). I would have guessed that most beer enthusiast these days are not of the “us against them” attitude. I don’t think that the “David against Goliath” is what is driving the popularity of craft brewers’ beers. If “us against them” were true, then craft brewing and craft beer would be more of a passing fad – The popularity of beer from small brewers is about something that is more fundamental. Could it be about independence? Flavor? Diversity? Choice? Support of local, main street businesses? Community? Friendships? Qualities of the beer? – I think so.
What was the best moment from this weekend’s awards?
I can only speak for myself. Congratulating and shaking hands about 1,000 times with the winners during the awards presentation isn’t exactly without a high incidence of hand crunchers (most brewers are pretty excited and surprised to be on the stage). Those are the best moments for me; feeling their excitement and their pride for what they have achieved and what their win represents for all brewers who make great beer. I’d like to note that I did remind everyone who was an entering brewer that even if they did not win an award in the World Beer Cup, that their beer fans at home will still LOVE their beer – and that makes winners out of everyone.