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Surprises at the Canadian Brewing Awards

AK scona goldThe 2015 Canadian Brewing Awards were announced this weekend and made public this morning. You can find the full list of winners here. From my lens of Prairie-related craft beer, I can honestly say there were a few surprises in the list of results.

The biggest news is that Alley Kat’s Scona Gold Kolsch not only won gold in the German-Style Kolsch category, but scooped up Beer of the Year honours. I find myself mildly surprised. Not because the beer isn’t excellent (it is) and not that we shouldn’t expect such success from the folks at Alley Kat (we should), but we need to keep in mind Scona Gold is their gluten-reduced beer. Besides Kolschs are light, delicate beer and it is interesting the beer held up against the bigger category winners. Although I am reminded that a few years back I sat on a best-of-show round that awarded best in show to a kolsch.

It may be an acknowledgement of the judges’ skills that they selected such a light-bodied beer as the winner. Plus clearly the beer itself is deserving. In all six prairie breweries scooped up 12 medals in the competition. In addition to Alley Kat’s double winner, here is a quick rundown [Edited to correct a missed beer from Wild Rose – which I blame on CBA, who incorrectly identified the beer as coming from BC]:

  • Great Western Brewing won FIVE medals, including golds for Great Western Pilsner (North American Premium Lager) and Original 16 Krystall (North American Wheat Ale), a silver for Great Western Light (Calorie-Reduced Lager), and bronzes for Brewhouse Light (Calorie-Reduced) and Original 16 (Cream Ale).
  • Ribstone Creek won a silver for their Old Man Winter in the Porter category.
  • Wildrose Brewing picked up two bronzes, one for their Electric Avenue in the North American Premium Lager category and another for Natural Born Keller in the Kellerbier category.
  • Newcomer Black Bridge scooped an inaugural medal, a bronze in Stouts for their Milk Stout.
  • Minhas Brewing also picked up a bronze in North American Wheat for its Lazy Mutt Alberta Wheat.

greatwesternlogoGreat Western success is noteworthy. They actually won more medals than any other brewery. Which does raise the question of why they didn’t win Brewery of the Year? That award was taken by Four Winds Brewing out of B.C., who won 4 medals, including 2 gold. Four Winds clearly deserves the recognition, as they are making fabulous boundary-pushing beer, winning for sour ales, brett ales and saisons for example. But straight up in a points-based system, GWB should have won. I wonder if they were discounted to a degree because their victories were in “less craft-y” styles. I am neither criticizing nor justifying here – just observing. [Another edit: I missed the Four Winds bronze in American IPA, meaning they might have won on points alone. However Alley Kat Neil’s comments clarify the rules – thanks for that!]

I am also pleasantly surprised to see both Ribstone Creek and Black Bridge get some love from the CBA judges. Both are younger, somewhat un-heralded breweries who won in what are very competitive categories.

I will also admit I raised an eyebrow when I saw Minhas on the list for their Lazy Mutt. Regular readers will know that Minhas is something of a controversial brewery in Alberta, both politically and within the industry. I imagine their bronze medal will only spur further debate and disagreement.

Blind judging can certainly create surprises.

cba2015One change this year that I appreciated is that the CBA released the entire list of entries (just under 1300 beer from 200 breweries), which was a nice nod to transparency. It is interesting to see who entered and who did not. In all 15 breweries from the prairies (and Yukon) entered beer this year. The CBA had 41 beer categories this year, which is a defensible number in my opinion.

I haven’t done any calculations yet to determine how the 12 medals stacks up compared to other regions. But from perusing the list of winners B.C. seems to come out in front, with Ontario second. That is not all that surprising, really.

I think the CBAs have come a long way in the last few years and even though I am yet to attend one, from a distance it seems like they do a pretty good job at managing a big competition. I still would like to see them spread the competition around the country a bit more, but I can appreciate the financial and logistical issues that can raise.

So, now go out and buy an award-winning prairie craft beer. Or an award-winning Canadian craft beer. There are lots to choose from.

5 comments to Surprises at the Canadian Brewing Awards

  • Neil

    A couple of notes on the CBAs. This year breweries that entered more than four beers in the CBAs had to identify which four they wanted to have considered for Brewery of the Year. I assume this was done to give breweries with a limited number of entries the same chance of winning as a brewery that entered lots of beers. Of course the down side of this is that a brewery entering a large number of beers has to guess which of its beers will do well in competition. I talked to someone from Great Western about that and they were very gracious. Secondly, you missed a winning beer from our friends at Wild Rose who also won a bronze for their Natural Born Keller in the Kellerbier category. On a side note, this was the first time I had attended the CBA conference. It was great to hang out with other Canadian breweries all,of whom have to deal with similar technical, market, and regulatory issues.

    • beerguy

      Thanks, Neil. You are right. I missed Natural Born Keller – because CBA accidentally attributed it to BC, so in my scanning of the list I missed it. I have corrected the post. And congratulations for your success!

      And thanks for the clarification on the rules around Brewery of the Year. There are reasons to second guess the system, but the rules were clear, so that is fair.

  • Brent

    A couple comments: Four Winds DID win five medals, 2 gold, 2 silver, and 1 bronze. So strictly on points, they should have won. Neil also points out another reason they may have triumphed. And (I’m not a beer judge but…) I hope they give some weight to the fact Four Winds medalled in more-challenging categories.

    Finally, organizers announced at the ceremony that next year’s CBAs will be in Vancouver.

    • beerguy

      Thanks, Brent. In my scanning I missed Four Winds’ bronze. Still, Neil’s comment gives us a clearer sense of how the winner is picked. I do disagree, however, that certain categories should be rated more than others. It is bloody hard to make a pale lager well – nowhere to hide. As long as the beer is made with craft approaches, marketed with honesty and merits commendation, it shouldn’t matter which style it is. Thanks for commenting!

  • Kevin

    Hello All,

    Does anyone know how many people came out to this year’s CBA at Niagra Falls? Thanks!!!

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