2020 GABF Medal Winners Analyzed

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2020 has been anything but normal, so in an attempt to return a tiny bit of normalcy to your calendar, it’s time for my annual post on the GABF competition winners! If you’re waxing nostalgic for a previous version, or just really, really bored at work today, here are the previous winner writeups: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

The competition looked a little bit different this year with judges wearing special aroma cone technology (aka face shields), but was still able to carry on through a lot of hard work from competition staff and volunteers, not to mention the judges who still came in from 21 states. Nearly 9,000 entries were judged in 91 categories across three weeks, resulting in 272 medals.

Before we dig in to my made up geographic awards for this year, some random beer entry name trivia to impress your friends at your next physically distanced party (note: if this actually works, you may need new friends).

  • Breweries entered beers with “Summer” in the name far more than “Winter.” Even with that, “Beach” and “Mountain” finished tied in usage.
  • “Red” was by far the most used color name, appearing in 2.2% of all entered beer names.
  • Brewers slightly prefer “Imperial” (93 entries) to “Double” (80 entries) in naming.
  • “Chocolate” (33) still has a slight edge over “Vanilla” (27) and “Raspberry” (53) wins over “Cherry” (33) and “Blueberry” (19) in the Berry Wars.
  • “Sour” (96) crushed “Sweet” (13).
  • Brewers were surprisingly restrained with hop pun entries – only 159 entries contained the word “hop” with Citra winning out as the most commonly named variety.

“Physically Distanced”

Want to know where this alternative to “socially distanced” came from? Watch the latest BA Collab Hour webinar A Chat with the Economists: 2020 Beer Industry Data and Insights with NBWA chief economist Lester Jones.

Alright, time to move along, these fake awards aren’t going to present themselves.

2020 GABF States of Year Awards

This year, I thought I’d do a variation of our brewery of the year awards, but for states. Rules were exactly the same, with points won divided by entries (points: gold = 6, silver = 5, bronze = 4). To give out a bit more digital hardware, I created four size brackets, roughly divided into quartiles (every state + D.C. had entries). So states with 30 or fewer entries, then 31-100 entries, 101-250, and 251+.

Starting at the bottom… our first winner in the Low Entry States Division was Arkansas! Arkansas only won one medal (a gold to Bottle Conditioned Day Drinker from Lost Forty Brewing), but with only 11 entries, that ratio was enough to secure it the top spot (and the best points to entry ratio of any state, regardless of size).

Let’s take a diversion for a second to remind our faithful readers how hard it is to win a GABF medal. I could start with a poetic treatise on the technical challenge of brewing a beer that adheres to style guidelines, has no off flavors, and delights the judges palate, but I’m a stats guy, not a brewer. So I’ll just say that a random beer had a 3.1% chance of winning a medal this year. That’s slightly harder than a single number bet in roulette. I.e., if it seems easy to you, I’d advise you avoid Vegas vacations.

Back to our thread, just based on categories entered, Arkansas breweries had a 67% chance of not winning any medal (or, if you prefer, a 33% chance of winning one or more), so bringing home a gold beat the odds.

Next up were the states who entered 31-100 entries. There was some strong competition in this bracket, with 9 of 13 states winning at least one medal. In the end, Maine pulled off the victory, with Lone Pine bringing home two and Allagash one. Fellow New England competitor Massachusetts put up a tough fight with four breweries winning medals, but Maine had a higher win and points rate.

Next up is our 101-250 grouping. Each of those 15 states won a medal, so the competition came down to who could bring home the most, and there quickly emerged a clear winner: Indiana. I wrote about Indianapolis and its strong performance last year as well. This year, with all of the medal winning breweries within a 35 minute drive of the Indianapolis Airport, Indiana might have to be a beer destination to add to the travel calendar.

Finally, we’re on the heavyweights, states that entered 251 entries or more. Before we unveil our winner, an honorable mention to California. California wins a lot of medals because California’s the size of a medium sized country, but this year those breweries also won at a high rate. Based on categories entered, you would have expected California breweries to win 45.6 medals. They won 63. Impressive, right? Well, it is, but points/entries wise, it was actually third in the grouping.

Second place went to Virginia, who won 16 medals on 292 entries. That was actually a slightly higher rate than our champion, but in a neck-and-neck finish, Virginia was edged out by a state with a higher mix of gold in their winners… Oregon!

This is one of those cases where both #1 and #2 shine, and you almost hate to pick a winner. Virginia won 5.5% of its entries and Oregon 5.3%, with Oregon entering slightly harder categories on average (expected win percentage of 3.0% versus 3.1% for Virginia). Oregon brought home 22 medals and had 112 total points on 416 entries, winning golds in just about every style family you can imagine and capped by a sweep of Specialty Saison. Virginia’s medals tended toward the more traditional styles, but also pulled out a medal in contemporary gose and juicy or hazy pale ale. If both states agree to send me some of the medal winning beers, I promise to do further research.

Congrats to all the winners, from all states near and far. Winning a medal is a challenge and hopefully brought some joy to the brewery in a tough year.

Until next year, when I hope we can raise a beer post awards in person. Cheers!