Do Competitions Matter?

Behind the bar at my local brewpub, there are some medals on display, suspended on red, white, and blue ribbons. The medals were bestowed on the brewpub —and, of course, its brewer—because, in blind tasting sessions, a group of judges determined that one or more of this brewery's beers were worthy of note and stood out among the range of beers of the same style. I'm talking about the medals bestowed at Denver's annual Great American Beer Festival. My local brewpub isn't the only place in the Seattle area—or, for that matter, Washington—to have earned such medals. Local winners recently have included Elliott Bay Brewing (4720 California Ave. S.W., 206-932-8695, WEST SEATTLE), Elysian Brewery (1221 E. Pike St., 206-860-1920, CAPITOL HILL), Big Time (4133 University Way N.E., 206-545-4509, UNIVERSITY DISTRICT), and Rogue's Issaquah Brewery (35 Sunset Way, 425-557-1911, ISSAQUAH). Washington brewers also earned acclaim in last year's World Beer Cup, a biennial competition with 81 categories from which five Washington breweries brought home medals—Elysian, Bert Grant's, Snipes Mountain, Pyramid, and Boundary Bay. The next World Beer Cup will be held in Seattle in April of 2006. Do competitions matter? Those nice shiny round bits of metal tell beer drinkers that, at a particular point in time, a bunch of judges, most of whom were respected for their beer-tasting palates, tasted a round of beers of a given style, and a lucky brewer's beer came out on top. But the winning beer might not be available now because it was a seasonal offering, or the brewery might no longer include it in its lineup, and plenty of medal-winning breweries are no longer in business. Truth be told, medals don't pay the bills. Beer drinkers do. But if the thought of drinking a beer from a medal-winning brewery or brewpub is appealing, by all means, go ahead and check 'em out.

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