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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.
Greg Forshay, Beer Manager at HEB Central Market, TX, USA
Michael McKee, South Bay Market Manager, Seismic Brewing Company, CA, USA
Tyler Morton, Beer Buyer, Emporium Arcade Bar, CA, USA
As can be seen, what all three 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?”
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 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.