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Prairies Thin at Canadian Brewing Awards

TAPS Magazine just released the winners of the 2010 Canadian Brewing Awards (Find the full list here). The only Prairie beer on the list are Yukon Brewing’s Red Ale (gold), Bushwakker Brewpub’s Summer Wheat (bronze) and two light beer from Saskatoon’s Great Western Brewing (gold and silver).Congratulations to all three breweries. Yukon’s Red won beer of the year last year (this year won by Thor’s Hammer Barley Wine from Central City Brewery) .

The reason we see no other prairie brewers on the list is because they didn’t enter. I have chatted with a few western brewers over the last couple years about the CBAs and most feel uncertain about the event and so don’t throw in their beer. This is a shame, but I can appreciate their perspective. A few years ago the CBAs had a reputation problem. Their judges were not certified and many sub-standard beer won medals, plus it was a bit Ontario-centric. They have worked to clean up their act around judging in the past couple years, but impressions can be slow to change.

Even this year there are some odd winners on the list, including the truly unimpressive Molson M and Molson Dry as well as the decent but not stellar Sleeman’s Cream Ale. However, on the whole, the medal-winners are a deserving lot. I have sampled many of them and they are top notch brews. The main complaint is the missing breweries, including Dieu Du Ciel, Phillips, Propeller, Half Pints, Paddock Wood, Wild Rose and Alley Kat. Maybe some of these breweries entered and didn’t win, but I am doubtful.

[UPDATE: Troy Burtch, editor of TAPS, commented on this post to say that 4 of the 7 breweries listed above DID enter, and so I have to amend my observation. Clearly many did enter and didn’t win. Okay, that is fair. I remain quizzical at the medal winners list and the exclusions. I realize any competition is a snapshot and lots of factors can shape when a beer scores well and not well. For example an additional consideration that I hadn’t mentioned earlier is the issue of travel shock may affect the results. I wouldn’t mind learning more about the details of the competition organization.]

I strongly support the concept of a national brewing awards, where the best of our craft brewers can test their mettle on a single platform. The CBAs have the potential to be that platform, but I think some work needs to be done. I think the organizers need to do some outreach to convince skeptical breweries of the value of entering. And maybe it might be a good thing to move the event around the country and create some buzz. For example if they held it in Edmonton, I can guarantee both a full roster of skilled, qualified judges and an excited, packed room for the awards ceremonies. Plus it would give regional brewers some incentive to enter. So, think about it TAPS, for the good of great Canadian beer.

Until then congratulations to all the winning breweries. You are proof that Canada offers beer as excellent as you can find anywhere in the world.

9 comments to Prairies Thin at Canadian Brewing Awards

  • troy

    Of the breweries you mentioned above, I can tell you that four out of the 7 listed entered their product for judging.

    • Hi Troy,

      Thank you for this information. I have updated the post to reflect it. Clearly some of the breweries I had been speaking to changed their minds this year and entered. That is a good sign.


  • Well stated article.

    I ultimately see one main issue preventing the CBAs from becoming a well respected, and representative awards.

    The CBAs are run by TAPS. Nothing against TAPS, but they are the media, so there is always going to be skepticism as to the validity. Now compare this to the GABF in the States. It is run by the Brewers Association, an association that the breweries are members of, and serves as an advocacy group. This is something we are sorely missing in Canada that would not only improve the CBAs, but the nation’s craft beer culture as a whole.

    Now, as far as moving the awards around, I also think this would be a great idea. As someone who has entered BJCP competitions across Canada for the last few years, and been involved in the BJCP organization, the most experienced judges are right here on the prairies. You can call me a homer all you want, but this is a simple fact. BJCP demographics show 64 active certified judges in the 3 prairie provinces (and this number will swell to well over 70 in the next month or so), compared to 41 in Ontario. Additionally, Edmonton and Regina have years of experience running large competitions, which Ontario does not have.

    The other issue with keeping the awards based in Toronto, is that the far-fetched breweries have much higher shipping costs. Couple this with the sizable entry fee, and it simply becomes cost prohibitive for some breweries, especially if they feel somewhat skeptical about the validity of the competition.

    I am not trying to make this into an East-West argument, but I do think that moving the awards around would go a long way towards improving credibility and national exposure.

  • I meant “far-flung” not “far-fetched”… don’t know where that came from.

  • Thanks for your comments about the CBAs. You’re absolutely right about the under representation of Prairie brewers in the competition. They all received entry packs just like every other brewer in the country. Much like the lottery, you need a ticket to win. Unlike the lottery, however, the CBAs have nothing to do with luck, but rather excellence in brewing.

    You refer to a “reputation problem” that the CBAs had a few years ago. For your edification, let me assure you that since I purchased TAPS Magazine and the CBAs 4 years ago, we have worked tirelessly to radically improve all aspects of our operations. Anyone who was familiar with the “old” TAPS magazine will agree that is has been transformed into a truly relevant and topical beer publication that is without rival in this country. Similarly, we have made the same continued and significant changes in the CBAs. From the outset, we have used only BJCP certified judges in our competitions. 2010 marks the second year that we have been BJCP sanctioned. Our team goes to great lengths to insure that CBA judging and category protocols are in step with all credible international brewing competitions.

    Your comments about the wins on behalf of Molson and Sleeman seem to echo many I have heard from people who are passionate about Craft Beer and anti big brewer. My personal biases aside, I truly believe that all beers should be judged equally, regardless of the size or stature of the brewery. This is a blind tasting competition and is judged within the specific confines of the BJCP style categories. It is not inconceivable that some big brewers have medal worthy brews in certain categories. Many of the breweries you note as being absent from the winner’s podium did indeed enter the competition. This year, we had 390 entries from 76 brewers.

    We spent the past year actively courting greater participation for Quebec brewers. This effort yielded a significant increase in submissions from Quebec and we anticipate even greater presence next year as the newcomers fared quite well in the competition.

    If you had watched the live webcast of this year’s CBAs, you would have heard Troy Burtch announce that next year’s Awards presentation will be held outside of Ontario. Although I can tell you that it wont be in Alberta next year, that is not out of the question in the years to come.

    We had 20 skilled, qualified and certified BJCP judges working over two days to judge this year’s entries. It’s good to know that we could enjoy the same judging support in Edmonton.

    We did have “an excited and packed room” as we have had for the past 4 years. Brewers traveled fro BC, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to attend this year’s event. When I was in Whitehorse two years ago, I visited with Bob Baxter from Yukon Brewing and after sampling his great product, persuaded him that he should enter his beers in the only National Brewing Competition. He reluctantly entered last year for the first time and took one of the two top awards. Again, it’s impossible to win if you don’t enter. Nothing would please me more than to see brewers from every province and territory in this great country stepping up to the winners podium.

    We have received many compliments and much positive feedback on the way we continue to improve the CBAs year on year. The broad use of the CBA logo in beer packaging and marketing from coast to coast is a true testament to the value that brewers attach to this form of National recognition.

    If you or any of your prairie brewing colleagues have suggestions on how we can improve the CBAs or TAPS magazine, I invite you to share them with me directly.

    Rob Engman
    TAPS Media
    416-536-6838 Direct Line

    • Rob,

      Thank you so much for that thorough and informative response. I do appreciate that organizing any brewing competition is no easy feat. I am particularly encouraged that you are thinking of moving the event around the country. That would be great for all beer lovers in Canada.

      I encourage readers of my blog to read your comments and offer their suggestions to you of how to improve the CBAs.

      Thank you for being open and forthright.


  • Although I will not refute any statements about Prairie based breweries, as I am simply not in touch with many of them, I can say that there is no anti-western bias considering that a western based brewery won brewery of the year and beer of the year.

    • I don’t think it is an issue of anti-western bias. The more I consider this issue, the more I think it might be an issue of judges’ palates differing across the country. I know I have found when entering homebrew competitions, the score and comment range can be quite large between Edmonton, Regina, Toronto and Montreal. So, I don’t think there is any intentional conspiracy or anything – besides the judging is blind I am told. I think it might be an issue of regionalism.

      Maybe a solution is to have judges from across the country judge together. I realize there are MAJOR cost issues there, but it could be a goal.

      Thanks for commenting.


  • Of all the brewing competitions available, I only enter 3 and CBA is one of them. This is not out of loyalty. The reason is that with each of these three all the tasters are qualified for beer tasting. All the other competitions I have entered do not, and have been deleted from my dance card. I do mot like lotteries for winning awards, and the best beers should always win the prizes.
    All three competitions let me see the judges’s score and comments which I use as a valuable Quality Control tool.
    At GWB we only produce Lagers so the categories I can enter are extremely limited. So our contributions are normally 4-6, but in categories representing over 85% of the beer sold in Canada. I am honoured to say that we have won, in the three years, we have participated, 2 Gold, 3 Silver and 1 Bonze Taps.
    Recent changes to format are balancing the playing field and this even gives GWB, and other breweries with limited entries, a chance for the big prize.

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