Winning a medal at the Great American Beer Festival is a big deal…And there are factors at play…
Let’s start with what’s obvious…the beer evaluated has to be good. But to be honest that’s just the personal take of judges who, no matter their pedigree, are human beings with differing sensibilities.
This year’s judging featured 115 judges from 21 states who evaluated 8,806 entries from 1,720 US breweries. And thanks to COVID-19 2020’s judging process was a much more complex operation which took place under strict social distancing protocols in 35 sessions over 18 days.
All the judging this year took place across three weeks at the Brewers Association warehouse in Louisville, Colorado, a suburb between Boulder and Denver. So to suggest that a brewery’s proximity to Colorado might be a factor in what beers are judged as the best…isn’t entirely off the wall.
Of the eight states that won 10 or more medals, the top four are in the West…
- California, 63 medals
- Colorado, 26 medals total
- Oregon, 22 medals
- Washington, 16 medals
- Virginia, 16 medals
- North Carolina, 11 medals
- Texas, 10 medals
- Indiana, 10 medals
But the argument that the GABF competition favors American breweries in the West, is challenged by states like Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and Indiana which also performed “relatively” well.
And ‘relative’ is the operative word here… California did win 63 medals but the state does have more than 900 breweries… so there’s that.
As the always excellent Washington Beer Blog suggests…there are knowns, unknowns and “known unknowns,” all of which might factor into a GABF win.
“We know which breweries won medals, but we do not know which breweries submitted beer for judging. We know which states brought home the most hardware, but we do not know how many breweries in each state submitted beer.”
Kendall Jones also suggests…that in addition to its rich brewing culture, Colorado may have advantages other states can’t replicate.
“Colorado, where the competition is held, enjoys a home-field advantage. In addition to the entrance fee, breweries must legally, safely, and effectively transport the beer to Denver. That’s a lot easier and cheaper to do if you are already in Colorado. No denying it, Colorado has a lot of great breweries, but the GABF is held on their home turf and it would be silly to ignore that advantage.”
And the success that Western breweries enjoy with their historically rich brewing cultures, doesn’t explain the emergence of states like Virginia which tied, with Washington State, winning 16 medals at this year’s GABF, the fourth most wins of any state at this year’s competition.
No matter the tangibles and intangibles that go in to a Great American Beer Festival win, the beers that medal at the Great American Beer Festival, at the very least, deserve our attention…
And that’s a fine place to start.