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Beer Competitions – Is a Gold Medal, Really a Gold Medal?

This week I thought I would take a different tangent from my normal blog posts, and rather than discuss where we are up to with the progress of Hiker, I thought I would discuss the world of how things are awarded in Beer Competitions. I have a real passion for beer awards having been involved with bringing back the Royal Queensland Beer Awards run by the RNA, which was reintroduced in 2019  after it was promptly stopped a few years before, when Victoria Bitter won the trophy for Best Queensland Beer, due to it being brewed at Yatala (no joke). It was a hard PR assignment with the media.  

This post has been brought about after listening to Episode 27 of the Boss and the Brewer Podcast where Brewer (only dry hops though) Dan Norris briefly discussed his thoughts around “winning” medals at Beer Awards. Dan expressed his view that you don’t win something unless you come first. I agree with Dan 110% as 99.9% of people do not fully understand how the medal process for beer competitions (and other food and beverage competitions) actually work.

How are Medals and Trophies Awarded

Most people think that winning a gold medal means you came first, just like at the Olympics. In the vast majority of competitions run for Food and Beverage categories, this is not the case. The awarding of medals is associated with the quality of the product and its alignment to the style guide of the particular product (i.e American-Style Pale Ale).

Below is an example of how the allocation of Gold, Silver, and Bronze works for the majority of beer awards. 

  • Gold – An outstanding beer displaying the correct appearance, aroma, flavour and balance according to style with a high level of technical merit; a world class example. 
  • Silver – An excellent beer maintaining a close adherence of appearance, aroma, flavour, balance appropriate to style; an excellent example. 
  • Bronze – A very good beer that has minor deviations from style parameters and/or appearance, aroma, flavour, balance appropriate to style; a fine example.

The awarding of trophies is then based on beers that have been awarded a gold medal, being judged again, not on whether they are of a gold standard, but they are ranked by the judging panel from most preferred to least preferred. The highest accumulated score from the panel is then awarded the trophy.

Different Types of Awarding at Beer Competitions

I am sure there are a few different models for judging and allocating awards for beer competitions, but the biggest beer competition, the World Beer Cup (note the AIBA’s is the world’s biggest annual beer competition, as the World Beer Cup is held bi-annually – fun fact), awards beers like the Olympics, 1st, 2nd and 3rd.  I really like this process as it is more aligned with the general public’s understanding of how “normal” competitions run, as the beer must be of a world class standard and then the best of the best get awarded.  All the runners in the final of the 100m race at the Olympics are obviously world class, and the top three receive awards. 

If the most common type of beer awards was a 100m race all finalists would receive a gold medal, and the winner would receive a trophy. The gold medals in this case don’t really have the pizzazz of the olympics.

 The Solution – A Blended Approach

I have given this topic a lot of thought over the past number of years, and I believe I have come up with a model that works for all parties.  Breweries want to spruk that they have done well at a competition, and the organisers of competitions want entrants to feel that they have gotten marketing value for their entry fees (they do get other value in feedback from the judging panel).

In my ideal beer competition, there would be two levels of awards, firstly is the beer of a quality standard (seal), and secondly if it was in the top three of that category.  Given the majority of beer award competitions in Australia (with the exception of the Indies) are run by the States Agricultural Societies, the quality standard would be awarded under their traditional Blue, Red and White system.  Blue for First, Red for Second, and White for Third.  All the Blue quality standard beers would then be eligible to be awarded a trophy – Gold Trophy (1st), Silver Trophy (2nd), and Bronze Trophy (3rd).

This process would allow for high standard beers to be recognised, but would also award the top three beers with the recognition that they deserve, as the second and third beers in a category may have missed out on the trophy by a very small margin. 


Hendo can you raise this idea (if you agree) with the the Advisory Group of the Royal Queensland Beer Awards, given you are the Boss, and Dan can you make sure the Dry Hops are done at the right time for the upcoming AIBA’s.

Until next week  

Cheers to the Journey