Has Virginia found Equilibrium at the GABF?

Two years ago, I was extremely excited to recap what was the most amazing Great American Beer Festival Awards Ceremony I’ve ever seen. To say that Virginia crushed it would be putting it mildly. The old guard dominated. The new players showed up and out. The surprises, well, surprised us. The overall medal count was tied for the most ever in Virginia history and showed that they were a power east of the Mississippi.

But as the dust settled at last years GABF, a lot of people were left scratching their heads. Four medals were the lowest total count that we had seen in nearly a decade, and was easily written of a just a fluke year.

Now as we sit here in 2018 after bouncing back with 8 medals this past weekend, it looks like we have found the level ground for Virginia’s showing in the GABF. We’ve updated our cumulative chart to show the overall medals as well as the trend line. While the ever-so-slight tail-off will certainly be taken in the wrong way, the information that can be taken away from the line is this:

The expectation for Virginia at the GABF should be between 7-9 medals each year.

I’m sure there is a wide variety of comments that can be made about that statement, but the data, competition rules, and practical outlook suggest that, given current factors, this is what to expect.

First lets look at the raw data. Virginia has hit that range 8 of the last 15 years and 6 of the last 10. Like any set of data points, there have been years when we were better (2012,2013,2016) and years when we were worse (2007,2008,2017), but as a majority of those years falls within that range, our statement it not a stretch in any way. For the people out there that say that I’m just being a negative Nancy on this, Virginia’s 10-year average is 11.38 medals a year, capturing 91 of their 139 medals (65.5%) in that stretch, which would indicate a higher outlook, but mining it down a little recently show a range similar to our statement.

Secondly the competition rules are not usually favoring Virginia. The main hurdle is the geographic relativity of Virginia to Colorado, which means that transporting beer to the competition is extremely difficult. Brewers in Virginia have worked with one another to help ease the shipping cost and get fresh beer there more efficiently, but it must be bottled or canned, not kegged, and crowlers are frowned upon, which is difficult for those that do not have in-house means to do that. This is not an excuse for quality in competitions, but it is a very, very large impetus that has to be well planned and executed, and has definitely limited who and what Virginia has entered.

Lastly, there is the practical outlook. Virginia’s ebb and flow has relied on their strength in several areas of ‘expertise’. When Virginia has traditionally done well, it has been in (1) stouts/porters, (2) German-style, and (3) Belgian-American style beer, sometimes winning 2 medals in the same category. But as the breweries and brews that usually take in medal year after year have gone or have a limited shelf life (heh), there has to be a new batch of people to take that place. Don’t get me wrong I would love for Optimal Wit and 13.Five to win every year, but what is the next brewery or beer to make a run like that?

Is the GABF the end-all-be-all  of Virginia breweries? Is this the start of a downward trend in Virginia beer? Are brew-masters canceling their vacations to Cabo? Nope, nope, and I prefer Maui but to each their own. The GABF is a competition with hardware, but not everyone needs that, and the value is only there by people that hold that to be important. Amazing beer will continue to be made and discovered in Virginia either way and none of that is changing any time soon.

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