Hang out in homebrew or beer geek circles long enough and eventually you will hear an argument about styles. Not whether stout is superior to IPA (which also happens) but whether styles should exist at all. One of the freedoms of homebrewing (and sometimes pro as well) is the ability to make whatever the hell you want. Want to brew a stout, use a Belgian yeast strain and then add in sour dregs of Rodenbach Grand Cru? You can. In fact I have a friend who does just that. However, what happens when you want to enter that beer into a competition? You have to call it something.
The two style guides that I am most familiar with are the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guide and the BA (Brewers Association) style guide. As I mentioned in the best of craft beer post, BJCP is about 32 styles and used mostly for homebrew competitions while the BA guide is over 160 styles and is used for commerical beer competitions, most notably the Great American Beer Festival (GABF).
A piece of advice that I heard as I became more competitive was “If you want to get feedback on your beer, enter it as the style you intended it. If you want to win medals, enter the beer as the style is most closely resembles.” Say for example you make a Cascadian Dark Ale (aka Black IPA) and it doesn’t turn out hoppy enough, you basically just made an American Stout. For me personally, these two ideals are not as mutually exclusive as they may seem though. If I’m brewing a CDA (a style that I really enjoy and have had moderate success with, two 2nd place medals) I’m not going to be happy if that beer takes a medal in “American Stout”, even if it was first place. Because to me, in my mind, it’s not an American Stout. I’ve only done the category switch one time, and in essence I didn’t even change categories. I had a batch of my CDA not pull enough color, so I called it a Red IPA instead, but it was still within the “Specialty IPA” category. It didn’t score well.
Pro brewers I’ve noticed also seem to follow the “Enter what it’s like” advice when it comes to major competitions. Looking at last years GABF results I see a few odd balls that stick out to me. Pabst won a silver medal in “American Style Cream Ale” with Old Style Lager. Well, Cream Ales aren’t lagers. To me, that’s in the wrong category. In the past I’ve seen other things like an ESB win a medal in American Amber. I’ve seen beers with label graphics proudly announcing the fact that their Red IPA won a silver medal in the German Dark Lager category. To me, that’s not something I would announce and be proud of, but again, that’s just me. I don’t want to win a medal for the wrong category.
What do you guys think out there? Is it good enough just to win a medal period or is it good to be a stickler for accuracy?