Charlie Papazian Q&A; Why is “Big Beer” Invited to the World Beer Cup?

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.

Do you think that awarding gold medals to macro brewers helps or hurts the promotion of craft brewing?

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.



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48 Comments on “Charlie Papazian Q&A; Why is “Big Beer” Invited to the World Beer Cup?”

  1. Jon Webster
    May 9, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    I think that it should be motivation for craft brewers to start making better lagers! I know that the “American Style Lager” is a very unsexy category, It’s also the most consumed beer style in america. Get Crackin’ Craft Brewers!

    • May 10, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      I agree, but there were 39 entries in the category – are there that many macro lagers?! There had to be a few craft submissions, no? No one brews a light lager better than Coors Light? I had one at Big River brewing in Disney that was pretty nice…

  2. May 10, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    After reading your interview, I was left puzzled, trying to form a visual of Charlie Papazian drinking a Coors Light and enjoying it.

    • May 10, 2012 at 9:26 am #

      Yeah, me too. His answers felt more than a little political, which is too bad.

      • Greg H
        May 10, 2012 at 10:53 am #

        I agree Jim, he was definitely trying to not be controversial and be PC toward the macros. It’s kind of odd that he wasn’t more a champion for the craft brewers. Maybe it’s the big money?

        • May 10, 2012 at 10:59 am #

          It’s probably more that he sees no need to poke the bear for some silly article on the Today Show’s website. Why piss them off when there’s little to be gained, right?

  3. Brett
    May 10, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Those were the most generic answers ever. Are you sure you didn’t just get his answering machine greeting?

    • May 10, 2012 at 9:29 am #

      Ha ha. Maybe. That or he cut and pasted them from a press release. I actually googled chunks of the text to see if that was the case.

  4. May 10, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Charlie is a product of the age he started exploring beer and brewing in, as are all of us. And while most of the craft beer pioneers said they started brewing to offer an alternative to big beer, I don’t think they see macro beers as a bad thing. Other than AB/InBev’s Bud products, which I personally can’t stand, I don’t think most macros are a bad thing (except for taste), I’m just not going to drink them on a regular basis.

    Another thing to keep in mind is the definitions of the categories in which big beer wins, they were almost assuredly defined with macro in mind. All of the definitions are based upon a fairly generic standard, that’s why some of the great experimental beers out there don’t win, their flavor profiles don’t fit into what that style is defined as. That’s why they modified some of the definitions just prior to this year’s competition.

    • May 10, 2012 at 9:36 am #

      If you’ve seen Beer Wars, you know that the large brewers (who have since become larger) pull all sorts of stunts to keep craft breweries from thriving. From making it hard to get facings in retail, to lobbying in Washington, the macro-brewers are doing more than making bad beer – they are actively seeking to stifle the growth of craft beer (until recently, when they’ve decided just to buy the competition).

      As the head of the Brewers Association, I guess I was hoping Charlie would have at least acknowledged that fact, especially because the mission of his organization is to “promote and protect small and independent brewers” and the beers they brew.

      Plus, are there really 39 macro-brewed light lagers out there? That’s how many entries there were in the category at the WBC. No one of them was brewed with love by a craft brewer and tasted better than Coors Light, which tastes like…nothing?

      • May 10, 2012 at 10:00 am #

        I’ve seen Beer Wars, and I agree that they all pull shenanigans, but AB/InBev is the worst, and I’ve seen it first hand.

        My main point is that until they overhaul the definitions for some of the categories, big beer is always going to win in certain styles. From what I’ve read of the judging process, it’s suppose to be blind tastings. The judges aren’t giving awards to big beer just because it’s big beer, it’s because those beers match the category as defined.

        Don’t get me wrong, I was as peeved as you were when I saw the winners in those categories, it’s just that the criteria need changing, not the system.

        • May 10, 2012 at 10:42 am #

          I never meant to insinuate that the judging was anything but fair, Will, and I think you’re right on about the definitions. My point is just that it’s silly that the Brewers Association, whose mission it is to “protect” craft brewers and handing marketing gold to one of the main threats to craft brewers.

          In my article, I throw a link to the Miller Lite commercial where they crow about winning four gold medals at the WBC over the years. It paints Miller Lite as “crafty” and having a gold-medal-taste. Stuff like that sets back the craft brewing cause IMO, so why is the Brewers Association creating the opportunity for this to happen?

    • May 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      I agree with Will–it was all about definition. Similar situation: You’re advertising a job opening and have a particular person in mind for the job. But, by law you have to open it to all interested parties. So you write the position up in a way that it fits only one person (yes this really happens.) In just the same way, the BA has created a category called “American-Style Lager or Light Lager.” (I’d be willing to bet that the emphasis was on the “Lite” style & I can’t recall any craft breweries that brew anything comparable to a Coors or Miller’s Lite.) If the category were American Lager, period, then I think that something like Joe’s or Bikini Blonde Lager would win hands-down. Its all in how you characterize the genre before hand.

  5. May 10, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Will nailed it. If it weren’t for Charlie and a few others, people like me wouldn’t be brewing.

    As for Coors et. al., it’s hard to make American-style lagers. There’s a video on YouTube with several of Craft Beer’s pioneers and Tony Magee of Lagunitas says, “Those beers are extraordinarily difficult to make and we couldn’t make one if our life depended on it.” (

    As a homebrewer, I know it’s harder to brew an American Pale Ale than an India Pale Ale. In the pale ale, the imperfections are out there for everyone to taste; in the IPA the hops mask a multitude of mistakes.

    Thank goodness, I love IPAs.

    • May 10, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      Yes, there’s nowhere to hide in a lighter lager, that’s for sure.

  6. Lisa Zimmer
    May 10, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Full disclosure, I work in “Big Beer” at Tenth and Blake. MillerCoors (my employer) took home 9 total medals including the gold in the German Style Marzen category and a silver in the American Style Brett Ale (from our Sandlot and AC Golden breweries, respectively). Why should our brewers be denied a chance to compete in any category they choose? The judging is blind, so what I think is a more interesting discussion is if you strip away the branding, or the perceived origins of the beer, and just call good beer “good beer” instead of getting hung up on craft vs. macro or us vs. them, then isn’t it better for everyone who enjoys beer?

    • May 10, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      Because I’m a total beer snob. I thought that was obvious! 🙂

      My article for is all about how I had to confront my beer snobbery when I read the WBC winners list. As Charlie said, the playing field is level, which might not be the case at the shelf or in the legislature, but is the case at the WBC.

      Plus, if you have to work for “Big Beer” I think Tenth and Blake is probably the coolest gig you can find.

      • Lisa Zimmer (@Zimmerino)
        May 10, 2012 at 10:57 am #

        Thanks, Jim. I work with some pretty awesome people and some amazing brewers, and not just in Tenth and Blake but at MillerCoors as well. I don’t “have” to work for big beer, I choose to work in big beer, and if I wasn’t proud of what we do, I wouldn’t be here. I always enjoy a good discussion around this topic…as you can imagine, it’s close to my heart.

        I tried to find your Today article for some context…can you link it? I wasn’t having any luck….


        • May 10, 2012 at 11:02 am #

          It hasn’t been posted yet. It will be later today, usually around 2pm (but I submitted it late, so who knows). I wrote and posted this one first so I could link to it from the Today article, so there’s a bit of a gap between the two right now.

          I’ll sum it up for you – Seeing that Coors Light won a gold medal at the WBC made my inner beer snob, who I try to keep locked up deep inside of myself, go nuts and burst free from his cage, which made me feel sad, because beer snobs suck.

    • May 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

      Lisa, I have no doubt that Coors, Millers, In/Bev, et al, can make good beer, I’ve said so in these pages more than once and I certainly like some of the products their subsidiaries like Leinies and Goose Island make. But I draw the line at calling Coor’s Lite (or anything like it) beer, much less good beer. It has no body, it has little flavor, it has no mouthfeel, its highly carbonated and its filtered all to bejeezus to take all the good stuff (those nasty calories don’t you know) out. The closest I could come in describing it is high-test seltzer water.

      So, did Coors win the category? Indubitably. Is it a category in which I and many (most?) other beer geeks have any interest whatsoever? No! Is the category appropriate to a craft beer award ceremony? Nah, I don’t think so, but its no skin off my nose.

  7. May 10, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    For me, personally, it is a very us against them mentality. Also, I know more than a few craft brewers who would echo that. The big boys don’t create a level playing field. They use everything from bribery to blackmail to keep craft out of the market.

    It was a political statement. I don’t disagree that craft beer is about choice, taste, community and localism.

    Bells makes some good lagers. Q Falls is an awesome one, but not a light one. Naragansett makes some good ones as well.

    How do you even judge an American light lager? This…tastes…like….nothing…Perfect!

    • May 10, 2012 at 10:34 am #

      I heard Perrier almost took the bronze this year… 🙂

  8. May 10, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    Meh. Let’s face it. Charlie is a bit out of touch here. This is how the old guard views beer. I take what he says with a grain of salt. Aside from his book on brewing, I’m not sure he has anything to say about beer that interests me.

    • May 10, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      I think I grew up a little when I saw his responses. I have this romantic notion that the craft beer world is full of cool, self-starters who want to do something “crafty” with their lives. Charlie’s sinuous answers made me realize there’s politics everywhere, which was a bit of a buzzkill.

  9. May 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    The big brewers are paying members of the Brewers Association. Why would Charlie Papazian even think of bashing them?

    • May 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      I don’t think I expected him to bash them exactly, but I hoped his answers might be a little more authentic and a little less political.

      • May 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

        Maybe he’s holding out hope that the big boys will eventually come around and start making good beer and playing nicely with others. He doesn’t want to burn any bridges. 😉

        • May 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

          The way things are going, the big boys will be buying up his members – no reason to poke the bear!

        • May 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

          Bear poking can be found in the BrewDog post from yesterday.

        • May 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

          Oh, poke that bear all you want – he’s toothless!

  10. Johnny
    May 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    I really enjoyed the questions in this article! The answers…….eh not so much. They just didn’t seem personal or…..well I don’t know honest maybe? I too have always wondered why the hell Big Beer companies are ever at Craft events in the first place.

    • May 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      Yeah, they were kind of from the Politician’s Handbook, a publication I just made up.

  11. May 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    That category is code for “Macro Lager” it exists so the BA can include the big boys and not be exclusionary. Look at the past winners at (I first searched by “American-Style” the filtered with “Lager” which does result in some smaller breweries due to ambers, wheats, and cream ales being included)

    It’s dominated by AB/Inbev, Miller/Coors, and Pabst (And their subsidiaries)

    Also of note Olde English 800 has won a gold and a bronze

    • May 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

      I should note also, that I had to do the wired way of searching like that be cause the categories have been rejiggered over the years. There used to be a Malt Liquor category!

    • May 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

      Doesn’t that make it double stupid? A craft beer advocacy group creating an award category specifically for the macro brewers, who in turn use the gold medals to market their products to people who the craft brewers can’t afford to advertise to?

      • May 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

        Well, at least that way they aren’t nabbing (many) medals in categories that craft breweries are also competing in, for what that’s worth.

        • May 10, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

          True. Yet. 😦

  12. FatCatKC
    May 10, 2012 at 1:36 pm #

    I agree with you Jim, for the organization supposedly protecting the interest of small brewers to give the big boys marketing firepower is self-defeating. It is like fighting a war and giving all of your bullets to the other side. Doesn’t make much sense. My uncle (who is barely a beer drinker) approached me asking about how awesome Miller Light was after he saw the Gold Medal commercials on TV. You could tell he thought it was something special because of the awards they were touting on the commercial. I was also let down in a big way by the generic answers from Charlie. There didn’t seem to be any passion or resolve in any of those answers. For him to do the classical generic speech of all beer is good, there are no beer geeks, what are beer geeks anyway…? Bunch of BS. Of course it’s us vs them. If it weren’t craft beer would be bullied, sued, purchased, and legislated out of existence. They can keep all of their, “We’re are in it only for good beer and the welfare of everyone.” They are in it to make a profit at any cost and are willing to monopolize the industry to do it. It’s only recently after craft beer started taking some of their market share that the big boys are at all interested in making “good beer” or innovating. Did anyone else notice all the medals Miller-Coors won and who was the World Beer Cup Champion Brewery and Brewmaster in the Large Brewing Company category? AB InBev, seems like a fair playing field to me.

    • May 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      I’m gonna need you to tell that uncle story in the comments over on the site once they post my article – I make reference to that Miller Lite commercial, and how it’s sending a very bad message to non-beer-geeks.

      I also say it makes my colon twitch every time I see it, but I’m guessing they’re gonna cut that part out!

      • FatCatKC
        May 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

        Ha Ha! My colon twitched when I read those PC answers, I just didn’t know the medical term for it then.

        • May 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

          Yes, the colon twitch is a clear sign of subliminal annoyance. Why to you think a cat’s tail twitches when it’s pissed? They have colons, too…

    • May 10, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      Here’s the link for the Today Show article I wrote about this:

  13. May 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    Jim – you do great work. And so do the people posting here. No disrespect to anyone intended. But honestly, American Premium and American Light Lagers ARE beer whether we choose to recognize that or not. Some of us don’t care for them and that’s okay.

    If the situation was reversed and the big guys were talking about craft beers in this same sense – we’d be screaming foul. Can’t we rise above the same sort of attitude that we decry in them?

    And Charlie is out of touch? He has forgotten more about beer and the beer industry than most of us will ever know. By the way, this is the same guy that is president of the organization that does more to support craft beer than anyone. Everyone knows where Charlie stands.

    There are easily 37 plus types of American Premium or Light Lagers in the world. Every brewing country makes one or more. I just prefer to focus on the 150 different entries in the American IPA category.

    Last thought – for all the “oppression” that craft beer suffers it is the only growing portion of the beer category. It also represents more shelf space in most places than is warranted by it’s percentage of sales. Beer Wars made some good points, but missed on some as well.

  14. May 11, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    OOoooohh… yeah, I don’t know about these answers… anyone who doesn’t see the ‘us against them’ mentality or knows how to spot a beer geek is definitely out of touch… I don’t question his knowledge of beer or the beer industry… but either he is being politically correct or out of touch (for beer’s sake, I hope it’s the former)…

    I have many non-beer geek friends… in fact, way more than beer geek friends… they don’t LOVE beer per se… just getting a good buzz for cheap…

    Even some of my non-beer geek friends are starting to get craft beer now that it’s not as expensive… they don’t know what style they are drinking, but they are willing to pay a bit of a premium for better tasting beer…

    Jim, I too want to change the world… ever since I was a kid in school and first heard that companies were willing to add junk to make food last longer in the shelves all to make a profit at the expense of our health, I got the urge to do something about it… this is obviously something bigger than myself, but I have a whole life to figure out how to change that…

  15. Jason Bell
    May 11, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    I don’t think Charlie is out of touch at all. I think it is ridiculous to eliminate categories because you don’t like who `is winning them. If I was a craft brewer who really, truly wanted wanted to demonstrate my technical abilities and mastery of process control, these are hands down the categories to do it. The BA isn’t just handing an opportunity to the big guys, the fact is these are opportunities being missed by the craft brewers. But as fermentation scientist, I am frankly skeptical that any could beat the big guys at brewing these enormously challenging styles. I would love somebody to prove me wrong. And everybody’s animosity for the big guys should be saved for the marketing and corporate types, not the brewers and production people. Your new favorite hop variety? Probably developed using MillerCoors or AB-Inbev dollars. Your favorite craft brewers were likely educated by AB-endowed professors at UC Davis. And some of the top brewers in the craft segment (Larry Sidor of Crux Fermentation Project/ex-Deschutes, Mitch Steele of Stone) learned their craft working for the big boys.

    • May 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

      It’s not that I don’t like who is brewing them… but compare the American lager to the original Pilsner or a Munich Helles… there really is no comparison… you can’t be proud of the American lager like the Germans are about their beer…

      I don’t doubt that these brewers are not good… in fact I know they know a lot… too much in fact… the research and development of the big boys is beyond amazing… I’ve listened to and studied material by Charles Bamforth… yes brewers at DogFish Head and others studied at the UC Davis extended campus…

      The problem is that beer sales from the big boys are meant to make shareholders happy first regardless of what the product is like… like McDonald’s, it doesn’t matter that the burger isn’t the best, it matters that the restaurant makes an average $1M in profits a year so they can sell it…

      Good for them for being good at business and marketing… but having only a couple corporations control the market pushes away competition… and it’s not because small brewers aren’t good marketers or just as great brewers – if not better… they are at a disadvantage when the big boys use economies of scale against them…

      My rant is not directed at people… rather at the principles and ethics being followed…

      It’s not just the beer industry… food industry is just as bad… most of the healthy food is no longer affordable for most people… and the companies that sell ‘unhealthy’ food have all the research to know what they are selling… they could very easily fix it, but money comes first… you’d be surprised how closely tied health care, vitamins & supplement companies are to unhealthy food companies… that’s not good for any industry…

  16. May 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    The “us against them” mentality is very much alive and well. I think we all see that. But I will say that I worry about the potential for “elitism” in the craft world alienating a large majority of the population to craft beer; to people who just haven’t found their place in the beer world yet who could be turned off by the attitude that sometimes surrounds it.

    I think Charlie is being open minded and fair. Perhaps there is some PC there, but certainly no ignorance.

    Also, being one of “them” doesn’t make them bad people or wrong – so why not have them at the “World” Beer Cup? The name itself of the competition implies an open event.

    I don’t think anyone is suggesting that there’s no difference between a Munich Lager and an American Premium Lager. But they are both still beer. And I expect there’s a smaller gap between the aforementioned styles than there is between the Munich Lager and a Russian Imperial Stout.

    How about this? Are we so worried about the quality of “our” beer that we’re concerned about having one of the big boys plop one of theirs down on the same table? Are we going to lose, head to head, on the basis of the beer itself? I think not.


  1. Artigianali e industriali premiate nello stesso concorso? Papazian ci spiega perché | Cronache di Birra - May 14, 2012

    […] per questa convivenza forzata è emerso anche tra gli appassionati stranieri, tanto che – come segnalato anche sul forum di MoBI – è stato Charlie Papazian in persona a intervenire per cercare di chiarire la posizione […]

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