Meet the Judges of the Most Important Beer Competition in the USA

25/09/2018 From distribution to retail, the UBR Judges represent every important sector of the beer industry.

A world-class beer competition requires a world-class panel of judges, and that’s exactly what the USA Beer Ratings event has assembled in San Francisco. These judges represent every important sector of the beer industry, from distribution to retail. They all have commercial buying experience, and as such, they are particularly attuned to the changing preferences and behaviours of beer drinkers. They understand quite well what they are likely to purchase, either at a retail store or at an on-premise establishment.

With that in mind, here’s a full listing of the judges of the 2018 USA Beer Ratings event in San Francisco:

  • Mark Colburn, Consultant and Author of “Craft Beer Marketing and Distribution”
  • Greg Forshay, Beer Manager, HEB Central Market (Texas)
  • Richard Gilbert, Beer Buyer, Winn-Dixie Stores
  • Michael McKee, South Bay Marketing Manager, Seismic Brewing Company
  • Tyler Morton, Beer Buyer, Emporium Arcade Bar (California)

As can be seen, what all five judges have in common is great familiarity with the tastes and preferences of the average beer drinker. As part of the judging criteria of the USA Beer Ratings event, they were asked to consider beer from the perspective of the consumer. “Is this a beer a consumer is likely to order more than once?” “How would a consumer view the overall taste and quality of this beer?”

Beer retail

For a perspective on the state of beer retail in the United States, look no further than Richard Gilbert, Beer Buyer at Winn-Dixie Stores. With direct responsibility for buying beer at one of the nation’s largest supermarket chains, Gilbert knows exactly what customers are looking for when they peruse the aisles of a supermarket.

And, similarly, Greg Forshay, Beer Manager for HEB Central Market in Texas, also brings beer retail experience to the judging panel. On a daily basis, he is able to see which products are successful, what types of packaging work best, and what types of floor and shelf displays can help to attract new customers. He is also able to provide a unique understanding of how pricing works across all different pricing tiers of the beer industry.

Craft brewers

For insights on the current state of the craft brewing industry, and how the overall trend toward premiumization is changing the business model for craft brewers, there is perhaps nobody better to weigh in on the subject than Michael McKee of Seismic Brewing Company. The company itself is located in Sonoma, in the heart of California wine country, and that creates an interesting marketing challenge for anyone trying to win over wine drinkers.

On-premise establishments

Of course, an overall view of the beer industry would not be possible without taking into account the role of on-premise establishments. That’s why the judging panel for the USA Beer Ratings event also includes Tyler Morton, a beer buyer for Emporium Arcade Bar in California. What are beer drinkers ordering when they stop by the bar? And what types of beers are resonating with younger millennial beer drinkers? When judging and evaluating beers, it’s important to keep questions like these in mind, especially given that the USA Beer Ratings is such a consumer-centric beer competition.

Beer marketing

While craft brewers are central to the success of any beer, there is also a strong role to be played by marketing. Customers won’t buy your beers unless they know about your beers. And, even then, they will expect a brand story, a brand narrative, or some other story to attract their attention. They want to feel that a beer brand is actually talking to them, not past them. That’s why the judging panel of the 2018 USA Beer Ratings event includes Mark Colburn, a craft beer marketer, author and consultant.

The judging panel and the judging criteria of USA Beer Ratings

This diversity in backgrounds is especially important for the USA Beer Ratings event. Judges are asked to consider three different criteria – Quality, Value and Packaging – and assign them an overall score. These scores are then weighted and combined into an overall score on a 100-point scale. Each of these criteria is extremely important because, unlike traditional beer competitions, the USA Beer Ratings event takes into account more than just how a beer tastes, or its overall flavour and aroma profile. Instead, judges are asked to take a much more holistic view of a beer, taking into account how it looks in the bottle, what the packaging and design look like, and how much value the beer provides relative to its peers in the marketplace.

When it comes to the criteria of Value and Packaging, it takes more than just a “beer expert” to provide a suitable score. It requires an individual with deep access to the average beer drinker, and someone who knows how changes in pricing and packaging can fundamentally transform how a consumer views a product. That’s why the USA Beer Ratings panel includes such strong representation from the beer retail sector, for example. Beer buyers for these retail stores are very attuned to all the different factors that can impact purchasing behaviour at the point of sale.

And, in terms of packaging and design, it’s important that judges are very attuned to the current unserved (or underserved) market niches, and how new and emerging craft beer brands can reach these consumers. It takes more than just a pretty label – it also requires serious thinking about the overall brand presentation, and how every aspect of the packaging and labelling can help to reinforce this brand perception.

The judging panel and the “Beer of the Year”

The highlight of every USA Beer Ratings event, of course, is the selection of the “Beer of the Year.” This is the one beer that scored highest across all three judging criteria and picked up the highest number of points in the competition. In 2018, the “Beer of the Year” came from Oregon craft brewer Monkless Belgian Ales. The beer picked up 96 points out of a possible 100 points, and is a great example of the types of world-class beers that the judging panel is trying to find, award and recognize during the USA Beer Ratings competition. As these judges recognize, in today’s competitive beer environment, it’s more important than ever to offer a beer that scores highly on Quality, Value and Packaging.