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
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
North Carolina: 4
New York: 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.