Some perspective on the Ontario Brewing Awards

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It is not my intention to diminish the achievements of those who won awards at last night’s Ontario Brewing Awards; however, I feel I am about to do just that.

You see, while the awards are a great time and an important event for the province’s thriving beer brewing industry, I feel that is important to remember that these awards don’t really mean all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that the industry has this means of providing recognition, however, let’s take a look at what’s really going on here. Firstly, in order to be considered, a brewer pays $75 to enter their beer in a given category. There’s nothing wrong with entering your beer in a contest and nothing wrong with organizers of said contest asking for a little scratch to help cover administration costs (i.e. bottle openers, hulking gold statuettes)–but let’s consider that an award billing itself as “The Ontario Brewing Awards” isn’t actually necessarily representing the best beer in the province, it’s actually representing the best of a handful of beers which brewers have asked to be judged, please.

(Side note: While the field is vetted to a handful of entries, the knowledge that people paid to be involved lends some hilarious context to the handful of “It’s an honour just to be considered” tweets I saw this week…But I digress.)

Secondly, while I have no doubt that those chosen to judge the Ontario Brewing Awards are fonts of knowledge when it comes to beer, who’s to say that they accurately reflect the taste of “Ontario?” I understand that, according to the awards’ website, the judges are all BJCP certified and that they are in fact the same judges who preside over the Canadian Brewing Awards, but ultimately what these awards are celebrating are those judge’s favourite beers. At the end of the day we’re talking about taste.

(And frankly, blind tasting or not, I take issue with an award meant to celebrate Ontario’s brewing industry that sees fit to award a gold to AB InBev’s Shock Top Belgian White. But I digress…again…)

I also appreciate that the OBAs have a set of guidelines which seem to fairly set out the characteristics of a given beer category by which that beer shall be judged. For example, the characteristics by which the judges chose the best North American India Pale Ale were as follows:

  • Colours should be golden to reddish
  • Intense hop aromas (North American hops)
  • Body is crisp and dry
  • Higher alcohol is generally accepted
  • Maltiness is medium
  • Finish is bold and lingering

And I would I agree that’s a pretty good assessment of the qualities that make up a standard North American India Pale Ale–however, it seems to me that judging beer based on the basic characteristics which are shared among all the beers of that category is an inherently flawed way to choose the best in show. Shouldn’t we be honouring the beer that stands out among the pack because it is different than all the others in its field as opposed to giving accolades to the one that is most clearly exactly like it is supposed to be?  Shouldn’t a beer that defies expectations have a chance to be recognized?

Maybe that’s just me.

Incidentally, Nickelbrook’s Headstock was named Ontario’s best North American IPA last night…

Anyway, it is sincerely not my intention to piss on the Ontario Brewing Awards. It truly is awesome that these awards exist and that the province’s brewing community gets together and recognizes its achievement. Furthermore Roger Mittag and the folks who organize it clearly put a lot of work into it and do an awesome job. But I just thought it’s probably worth adding a little dash of perspective related to the importance placed on awards, generally. It was a really fun event and I had a great time while I was there, but to be honest, I also had a great time afterward hanging out with the the big losers from Bellwoods Brewery, drinking beers that finished dead last, didn’t place at all, and in some cases didn’t have the honour of being considered at all.

It’s all about taste, I guess. 

5 thoughts on “Some perspective on the Ontario Brewing Awards

  1. I agree, the categories are a little questionable. As a judge, I have no problems with your questions of the judging. The categories are not according to BJCP, but are a different and therefore slightly more challenging to distinguish. Being Certified by the BJCP, it was difficult disqualifying beers that didn’t fit the written styles, but would otherwise have scored very highly.

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