The Great American Beer Festival, held in Denver each year, is by far the largest beer festival and competition in the world; it is organized by the Brewers Association, which is a trade organization focusing mostly on the craft brewing industry.
The numbers for the GABF are truly astonishing: Almost 50,000 beer enthusiasts attend this three-day event, mainly for the beer tasting in the Festival Hall, but also to enjoy the camaraderie of one giant party.
The national competition is the serious side of the festival. This year, 666 breweries entered 4,338 beers; 185 expert judges, all practicing brewers, judged these beers and awarded 254 medals in 84 beer categories. Judges rated beers on a defined 20-point scale.
The IPA (India Pale Ale) category was the most popular and hence most competitive category and, because this beer is iconic of the craft brewing movement, is the most prestigious to win; it drew 203 entries. Though many winners in the several sub-categories were from Western states, two local breweries won gold and silver medals in a new category for Fresh Hop Ales.
These beers are made with hops as they are harvested fresh from the vines (that is, without drying them, which is done for long-term storage); this makes these beers unusual and the most seasonal of all seasonal beers.
The local winners were Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico for its Estate Homegrown Ale (gold medal) and Russian River Brewing Company of Santa Rosa for its HopTime Harvest Ale (silver medal). These beers won because they best illustrated the quality attributes expected of such beers; they won in a contest with objective, measurable and impartial standards.
Sierra Nevada and Russian River beers have earned a towering reputation among drinkers of craft beers because they consistently make excellent beer. SN and RR are labels we can trust because we know what they stand for. Each beer brand behind those labels will reflect the skills and standards of the brewers who made them.
In contrast, a contest without objective, measurable and impartial standards is the national election now hard upon us. How anyone can make a judgment about the Blue or Red candidate informed only by the clamor and dissonance and blare and misinformation of a modern campaign, is beyond me. Perhaps that is why there are so few “undecided” voters. Most simply rely on the Blue or Red label that, when the campaign dust settles, will deliver the basic values of Blueness or Redness those labels have always delivered, in much the same way SN and RR labels can be relied upon to deliver the kinds of beers they make.
Last week, in Ashland, Ore., I saw a play called “All the Way” by Robert Schenkkan; it focused on the efforts of President Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It reminded me of the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960; the first such debate took place barely six weeks after we landed in this country. I remember watching with great curiosity, at the time, because it was so different from my election experience in Britain: Britons vote much less often and for many fewer things than Americans do.
I have not seen a presidential debate since. Don’t need to.
I learned, way back then, that my background in Britain, where everyone I knew voted Labour, best suits me to the Blue label. This accounts for my lack of interest in presidential debates: 1) I have a low threshold for boredom; 2) I don’t like being lied to; and 3) I made up my mind 50 years ago. Of course there are many who, over the years and even for the same reasons, have reached the alternative Red conclusion.
Though the particular brand (candidate or beer) may vary, eventually there is truth in labeling.
How much simpler it would be if candidates for president were evaluated GABF-like on some 20-point quality scale; that is, without labels showing, without lies, without money bets, just straightforward statements of philosophy and programs and plans for the country, without wooly and weasel words and no bashing the other guy.
There still would be a vigorous election contest because voters weigh ideas differently: so, for example, in some circles, a social view of one candidate might outscore an economic view of another. That’s like weighing the relative importance of maltiness and bitterness or flavor and aroma, or color and foam of one beer against another: Some drinkers prefer one aspect some another. Importantly, the perception of color or bitterness is actual and real and measurable.
Maybe that is what makes our present election system so tiresome: It is not actual and real and measurable; there is no 20-point scale. It’s quite impossible to sort out the truth amid all the bluster and manipulated facts and downright lies we see (or, in my case, don’t see!) in debates and adverts.
As a result many voters, choose the Blue or Red label. Whether the label is on a candidate or on a bottle of beer, we choose the label we know and trust because, we suppose, that label is more likely to deliver, in the long run, what we prefer and will like and even admire.
— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com