2014 WBC Medals: How does Colorado stack up to the rest of the nation?


On Friday, April 11th, the final evening of the Craft Brewers Conference, the bi-annual World Beer Cup (WBC) awards were announced.  Although the WBC is usually inundated with submissions from American craft brewers, it is truly a global contest bringing together Old World masters and new school innovators.  Amid foreign and domestic competitors, how did Colorado stack up?  Let’s look at the results and find out.

(NOTE: Because the WBC is so focused on America, it only makes sense to compare Colorado to the other 49 states; other countries made a showing but breweries from the good ol’ U. S. of A. comprised the majority of medalists).

Most Overall Medals

California: 35

Colorado: 24

Oregon: 17

Texas: 11

Washington: 11

Illinois: 8

Michigan: 8

North Carolina: 8

The top three states mirror the results of the 2013 Great American Beer Festival (GABF).  The specific numbers differ but the ordering is the same with California on top followed by Colorado and Oregon.  It makes perfect sense; traditional craft beer wisdom typically places those three states above all others in terms of beer-centricity.  I ask the same question I asked when I examined the 2013 GABF results: Does this prove California is the ultimate beer state?  The overall medal count points to “yes.”  However, there is another way to look at the data.

Most Gold Medals

Colorado: 10

California: 9

Oregon: 9

Illinois: 4

North Carolina: 4

Washington: 4

Michigan: 3

Pennsylvania: 3

Wyoming: 3

Minnesota: 2

Missouri: 2

New York: 2

Ohio: 2

Virginia: 2

Wisconsin: 2

Once again, the results are déjà vu of the 2013 GABF.  Colorado is on top with California and Oregon close behind.  There is a gray area, though, that ought to be addressed.  When reading the PDF of 2014 WBC winners, the Indigenous Beer category shows the gold (and bronze) medalist as “BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery – Boulder, Huntington Beach, CA.”  The officials at WBC worded this entry in a most confusing manner.  It’s true, the chain brewery known as BJ’s is headquartered in California but this particular BJ’s—the one that earned gold—is in Boulder, Colorado.

It’s also true some of BJ’s breweries don’t actually brew onsite but rather import their beer from centralized facilities spaced throughout the country.  That is not the case for the Boulder BJ’s; they have their own in-house brewing facility.  Even the BJ’s that brew, including the one in Boulder, normally don’t brew the flagship beers, the mainstays are shipped in from elsewhere.  However, specialty and competition beers are brewed onsite and are unique to their location.  That includes the two medalists in the WBC Indigenous Beer category.  BJ’s may be a California-based company but it was Aaron Stueck, a Colorado brewer, that imagined and created these award-winning beers.  Those medals belong to Colorado.

Only a few decades ago, the U.S. was the laughing-stock of the brewing world.  We had nothing but cheap, watery, urine-colored adjunct lagers but, flash-forward a few years, and the craft beer movement has put our country at the forefront of the industry. Nowadays, we’re leading the pack and traditional brewing countries like Belgium, Germany, and the U.K. are looking to America for inspiration.  We didn’t invent beer, we reinvented it for the modern generation.  Still, with 50 states, one of them has got to be the best.  And the best is unquestionably Colorado.

I don’t use the term “unquestionably” lightly and I don’t mean to imply that other states make bad beer.  In fact, worthwhile beer can be found in almost every corner of this nation; even the worst beer state makes amazing ales and lagers.  No, as a whole, America runs the show.  But Colorado runs America.

One could gauge beer greatness by number of breweries and, in that case, California blows everybody away.  That’s how the Golden State demolishes everybody in the overall medal count—more breweries equals more competition entries, which equals a better chance of snagging prizes.  However, quantity never has and never will be the same as quality.  Silvers and bronzes are nice but, in the words of Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”  Gold medals are where it’s at and the 2014 WBC and 2013 GABF suggest Colorado is at the top of the heap even with much fewer breweries than its closest competition.  California can have all the second and third-place prizes they want but, so long as Colorado outdoes them in golds, they’ll always be playing second fiddle.

One might also claim a more democratic method would be a better test of supremacy, that reviews on websites like Beer Advocate, Rate Beer, and Untappd prove beer dominance.  On one hand, the great thing about democracy is any schmo off the street can voice their opinion.  On the other hand, the bad thing about democracy is any schmo off the street can voice their opinion.  The reviewers on the aforementioned sites don’t necessarily have a trained palate and they’re definitely subject to bias.  The judging at WBC and GABF, however, is conducted through a blind taste test with trained and certified beer judges.  Beer quality is shrouded in opinion but it doesn’t get any more objective and scientific than the competition at major events like WBC and GABF.  Plus, who wants to rifle through all those websites trying to make sense of that mess of data?

Not every brewery enters a beer to be judged.  There is a hefty fee associated with each submission and that deters some brewers.  That’s no excuse for one state winning fewer medals than another, though; if a brewer thinks they have something really special on their hands, they’ll pony up the dough.  The submission fee is mere pennies when compared to the reputation gained through a WBC or GABF win.  Many brewers wisely hold on to their money because, while their beer may be quite tasty, they know it’s not going to break top three.  Lack of entrants does not mar the results because the best of the best always comes ready to play.

All due respect to Oregon, California, and the other renowned beer states but the jury has spoken: Colorado is tops.  However, everything is in flux and the standings might change come the next GABF but, in the meantime, 49 states can hail their beer overlord, Colorado.  Fear not, we are a kind and fair master.

About Chris Bruns

Chris Bruns is a self-professed beer geek living in Denver. Chris spends much of his time brewing beer at home with friends and family, attempting to visit every brewery in Colorado, attending special beer events and festivals, purchasing and assessing the latest releases from local breweries, and blogging about his adventures in the world of craft beer. He is also the Denver Craft Beer Examiner on Examiner.com. Contact Chris by e-mail at chrisdbruns@gmail.com or through his blog at www.beerincolorado.blogspot.com.

  • Andy (Hi PJ!)

    Given that both GABF and this year’s WBC were both held in Denver, doesn’t that give the brewers a distinct advantage in this competition that you seem to completely leave out of your post? As a Colorado beer fan, aren’t you concerned that your very boasting of CO winning the most medal(without giving credence to the fact that they won the most medals BUT probably had more than average number of entries AND their beers traveled the least to be judged) might ultimately be the straw that breaks the camels back and force organizers to move the GABF out of Denver? How did CO fare as far as WBC medal in other states? Did they hold their own when the competition was not in their backyard and likely entered less beers?

    • Beer in Colorado

      Location is irrelevant; it takes hardly any effort to ship a beer for competition and the brewer/brewery owner doesn’t have to physically be present to compete. If the brewer has confidence in their beer, shipping and handling is a minor nuisance. If anybody doesn’t compete because of distance to the host city, that’s a lame excuse and shows they didn’t think they really had a chance anyway.

      No, this won’t change the location of GABF. The sponsoring organization, the BA, is based in Boulder and they’re not going to make it harder on themselves by moving it out of state. Colorado is actually the fairest location to hold GABF, it’s relatively centrally located. Move it to the West Coast and you’ll never hear the end of it from brewers on the East Coast. I suppose it would be more central in Nebraska or Kansas but you have to hold GABF in a known beer city, too. They hold the academy awards in LA because that’s where movies are made, they hold the Tony’s in NYC because that’s the home of Broadway, and they hold GABF in Denver because it’s where great craft beer is made.

      As far as WBCs held in other states, we’ll cross that bridge in two years. Don’t forget the line in the last paragraph “everything is in flux and the standings might change come the next GABF [or WBC]” We’ll celebrate when we can, Oregon, California, whoever will celebrate when they can. It’s like the Super Bowl–the Seahawks can celebrate their win right up until the next champion is crowned.

      • Beer in Colorado

        Also, I think it was the 2011 GABF where Indiana (of all places) won the most medals and the most gold medals. So, Colorado doesn’t always win and big craft beer states don’t always win–great beer always wins.

        • A (Hi PJ!)

          You don’t think that shipping beer (and the exposure to agitation and temperature swings) affect the showing of a beer? If I brew a beer in Denver and send it to GABF, that is a whole lot less jostling and bumps and consistent temperature than a beer coming on a (potentially) unrefrigerated truck from Alabama. Also, the BA is a national organization run by a board that does not exclusively represent CO. If there was a push to move it, they would have to consider it. Have you ever hear of ‘GABF on the Road’? The year GABF was held in Baltimore? Great beer is made all over the country Denver/Colorado is just one place.

          • A (Hi PJ!)

            Additionally, this: ” it takes hardly any effort to ship a beer for competition” seems like you’re generalizing and have never had to ship beer accross state or country lines. You focused on brewer from the US because, “other countries made a showing but breweries from the good ol’ U. S. of A. comprised the majority of medalists).”

            Seems to me that dealing with customs and the cost restrictive nature of shipping alcohol(1) and internationally (2) in Definitely unrefrigerated shipping container, on Literally a slow boat from europe seems to be at the very least, a good amount of effort. I would have to believe that if shipping was not such effort we would seen more international medals cutting in to CO’s. My only point is that there are major factors that you missed in touting CO as a beer juggernaut.

          • Beer in Colorado

            BA is national but from a logistic stance its easier to host a party in your backyard than across the country. It’s also cool to make GABF in Denver a mecca like Sturgis for bikers or Mardi Gras for partiers.

            Shipping has some issues, no doubt about that. That’ll be an issue no matter what. But, Colorado usually ekes out a win (or doesn’t win at all sometimes) so its hardly a runaway for us.

            Colorado beer is my home team so I’m going to always root them on. I don’t even think the concept of beer rating is all that accurate even with expert tasters but, so long as it exists, I’m going to rile up the home crowd whenever we win. Does Colorado have an unfair advantage? Perhaps, although I question how significant it is. Still, the Yankees have an unfair advantage with their salary cap and their fans still cheer them on.

            Take this article for what it is–a victory lap. A moment of glory for the local beer geeks. we reveled for a bit and now we’re moving on. If we lose the next one the article will be more humble. don’t take it too seriously, its all just regional pride and teasing.