I've won the occasional Award. I got one for this blog, once. I also got one for kegged Queboid at the last SIBA Craft Keg competition and another for Infra Red at the Northern festival. I think awards are important. There is the view out there that everyone is an award winner, and to some extent I can see why that view is held; most new breweries win something at local beer festivals when the punters are voting. I suspect it's a combination of novelty factor and perhaps a genuine eagerness, even if subliminal, by true beer enthusiasts to see the new guys do well, and perhaps that's no bad thing.
I also have a degree, not in very much you see, it's called an open degree, mainly because it was done with the Open University and back then they didn't really name the subject you studied. That was good for me, as I've got a short attention span and so could hop around studying modules in all sorts of interesting, and useless subjects. I have yet to find a use for Artificial Intelligence in the brewery, although some days any intelligence would do.
Am I digressing? Sorry. The point is, I value all the awards and qualifications I've got. Like many graduates, especially the ones that went to real Universities, there is the suspicion that as more people gain ever higher qualifications the value of any individual qualification is degraded.
I volunteered to sit on the British Guild of Beer Writers committee to try and help defend the value of the runners up award I got for this blog. If I gain another award at some time in the future I'll be pleased, although I feel like I'm sort of treading water with my writing at this time. But if I don't, I still want to defend the value of our awards and so develop and improve the quality of beer writing across the spectrum, whether it be writing for a living, writing blogs for pleasure, or as with me, partly as an aside to my business. Even corporate writing is important, be it advertising, brewery newsletters or even, perhaps, beer menus. All these can be improved if an overseeing award recognises true achievement, and helps to maintain the value of that award.
It is with this backdrop of underlying principles which causes me to be a little concerned over the recent BrewDog bar award. Yes, we all know BrewDog won massive PR well over and above what they would have got if they had been presented it fairly on the night. And of course, anyone who has been in a BrewDog bar will know, save for one or two teething troubles, the quality is exceptional. They should really have won the award.
What concerns me is two fold.
1. Of course, we know that back-room dealings happen. But, there is a concern to me that sponsoring organisations can have an influence on awards and this detracts from any award. There is no way of eliminating bias; judges are human and have opinions and preconceptions. For instance I have many times had discussions with people about a beer I think is great, and other people don't and vicer-verser. Bias comes from all sorts of influences, but are always going to affected by organisations one belongs.
But, how to ensure that sponsors cannot influence the outcome is a concern. Inevitably judges of any competition will have close ties with the subject and will inextricably have paymaster loyalties.
2. To me, a bigger concern, that of the award winners gaining enough recognition without recourse to guerilla public relations to get sufficient recognition.
I was most shocked by the lack of real information from the BII - as yet I have not found any official confirmation that BrewDog should have won the award. BrewDog say they should have, and everyone else involved is apologising. It remains, even if the facts are that Diageo did swing the events of the night, I've yet to see, in plain type, on the BII web site anything that resembles "BrewDog won, sorry" - I know The BII is a small trade organisation, but they do need to do something. The last award listed I could find was from 2011.
So for awards to count, and to mean something, they have to be made to count. Transparency and fairness in the judging has to be paramount only with one other thing even more important; independence of the judges.
One last thought on the subject; It might be right that the winner of an award is the one who should be responsible for organising any PR gains. But what if the winner is really good at PR and uses badness to gain the upper-hand? It is unfortunate that the BII have also not come out of this well, but perhaps they need to do more about their own PR. I do think that many awards fail to be worth anything because the organisers fail to put out satisfactory publicity after the event.
I did email the BII to see if I could get a comment, and to ask who actually did win. No reply was forthcoming. I do believe I have an interest. I used to own a pub and so was a member of the BII organisation. If Hardknott ever opens a brewery tap, I'd consider joining again. My considerations will certainly be more cautious next time.