Everything You Wanted to Know About the Principles and Perspectives of the Tasting Competition East European Beer Award: At First Hand

11 December 2019

Actual Topic
The 4th Tasting Competition East European Beer Award will be held in 2020. Every year the competition grows and develops, thanks to the organizers and participants, aimed both at professional improvement, and development of the brewing industry overall, improving the culture of beer consumption. The competition ЕЕВА (East European Beer Award) is the first and only in Ukrainian project, which is open, independent, involves detailed analytics and participants’ communication. The founders of this project are the media group Technologies and Innovations, together with the Kyiv Beer League, who are not engaged in beer production or selling, and they are interested in truthful competitiveness without any prejudice. And every next contest, the organizers are trying to make it even better and more efficient. You will learn more what changes await the East European Beer Award, and what remains unchanged, from a conversation between the organizers – Katerina KONEVA and Yuriy SEMENOV.

The founder of the media group Technologies and Innovations, and the author of the idea of the beer competition, Kateryna Koneva noted that every time, we, the organizers, urge the brewers and beer judges to give feedback, share impressions, observations, wishes. We listen to every comment to make the project even better. And this time, having studied the participants’ proposals, which has expressed after the announcement of the results of the last three competitions, we have decided to introduce several updates and additions. During this conversation, Yuriy Semenov, who is the author of all the methods and technologies of the competition, well- known an expert in brewing, also a restaurateur with twelve years of experience, a teacher at Kyiv Beer Academy, and a co-founder – leader of the Kyiv Beer League, will give answers concerning innovations, updates and those moments that remain unchanged. And most importantly, we want once again to remind participants why it’s worth to take part in this competition and how properly to use all the opportunities that it gives.

“Technologies and Innovations”: After having analyzed the participants’ comments, we have concluded that the most common message was not a request to increase the number of categories, but in fact, testing methodology. We want to explain why this happened, and what updates will be introduced for the next competition.

Yuriy Semenov: Let’s start with the fact that not random people visit the Tasting Competition, but professionals, representatives of the beer industry, as well as enthusiasts, having behind a rich personal tasting experience. Many tasters have experience in brewing; some of them have been trained in the courses of beer tasters in our Kyiv Beer League or other similar places. We consider that the participation of brewers and brewery representatives as beer judges is an important condition. Brewers can try a lot of beer varieties at the competitions, and by doing so, he can expand his tasting experience, which surely enriches the brewer’s knowledge. This standard practice is used in all famous international competitions, including the Czech Zlatá pivní pečeť, and the German European Beer Star.

After conducting competition 2019, there was a lot of feedback about the incomplete level of instruction for beer judges. We will improve it in 2020. Before the start of the tasting day, we will conduct general instructions for judges on the assessment methodology and the correctness in filling out the tasting forms. And before the start of the evaluation to each beer category, we will describe in detail its properties, telling on what you should pay special attention during analyzing, and what the main known styles include in the declared category for excluding beer evaluation by the principle “like or not like.”

Moreover, we will introduce a new face at the competition – the referee or the moderator.  Thus, beer should be evaluated individually, and beer judges should not consult or discuss with each other during the tasting. One of the duties of the referee, who must be presented during the competition all the time, is to monitor the correctness of the tasting process. There is another point that worried some participants. In case, if the brewer will recognize his beer during the tasting and want intentionally gave it the best rating. Can the assessment be objective in overall? I confirm that a brewer who recognizes his beer cannot influence the result ultimately! This is the trivial rule in mathematics that easy exclude the probability of this if it takes into account that, among 20-40 points, his point will be lost. Nevertheless, we will be forming tasting sets in such a way that brewer who declared his beer samples in this or other categories should be excluded from participation in this category. More than 100 people have been registered in 2019 for participation in the beer judging panel; having such a number allows us to divide their potential as rationally as possible.

Overall, the results of the competition are as objective and relevant as possible. In 2019, we made one experiment in the course of preparing for competition. Thus, we carried out more than 10 blind tastings for working out the technologies and nuances that can impact the rating results. This experiment helped us to calculate what percentage of tasters can influence with such a method of evaluating and calculating points which we applied. At the same time, we did not even instruct the participants intentionally, so some gave incorrect points. According to the results of the experiment, it turned out that only more than 30% of the points can affect the final result. What does it mean? For example, among 20 tasters who evaluate beer in one round, if at least 6 of them give the wrong estimates, after that, the final result will theoretically not be true enough. This situation is excluded as much as possible because people who come to the EEBA competition are enough graduated, such as brewers, technologists, sommeliers, tasters and beer enthusiasts. Besides, this year we are going to instruct the judges more detailed.

Speaking about the beer assessment methodology, we issue the tasting instructions every year. The only thing concerning the next competition, we will try to make it more detailed. We will issue guidelines in which we explain how to evaluate each category of beer. Besides, Kyiv Beer Academy plans to conduct seminars for beer tasters, before the start of the competition, at least one large must be in Kyiv. It will be training at which we are going to train everyone on the principles of beer assessment according to our technology. In other words, we will conduct training in mastery of tasting.

 “Technologies and Innovations”: Why is beer estimation so important?

Yuriy Semenov: We conduct competition not only for the sake of medals and awards. But, we want that brewer grows professionally and understand by himself why consumers give a high rate to beer sample because they consider this sample the most appropriated to declared style. The competition allows you to figure out what the consumer expects from beer. And, if the label on the bottle is really appropriate to the manufacturer’s declared style. If the beer won in the category, it is a unique one with perfect taste exactly what the consumer is expecting.

There is a description according to each of the categories, and if your beer matches the description, don’t hesitate to submit your beer to the Competition! We will also tell you about the list of styles according to BJCP that included in this or that category.

We should once more emphasize that the purpose of the tasting competition is to develop the industry, ensure that the brewers speak the same language with the consumer. And we are translators from the language consumer into the brewer’s language, and vice versa. Let me remind you, the media group Technologies and Innovations together with Kyiv Beer League initiated this competition because the commonly accepted criteria of beer evaluation ‘light, dark, semi-dark’ beer have long become obsolete in the modern beer world. The beer palette has now a wider variety range. We try to prove this fact at tasting competitions, what is a tasty beer is that one which lives up to expectations.

“Technologies and Innovations”: The Competition Regulation is claimed that the East European Beer Award is the first and only independent and open in Ukraine. What is the uniqueness of the competition and assessment technology?

Yuriy Semenov: We were the first who start to conduct a similar beer tasting competition, as we have a unique methodology. Nobody does that. No one in the country has such a methodology and experience, from evaluating samples to presenting awards. There is a strictly designed process that will not work without inner technologies. We didn’t repeat the competition Zlatá Pivní Pečet or European Beer Star, but took their methodology and adapted according to our realities. I cannot assure you that our inner processes are 100% optimized, but we try to optimize them with each competition. We listen to the opinions of the contestants and judges, we improve different stages, and our participants feel these results.

The EEBA scoring system, unlike other contests, is as transparent as possible, few competitions can boast of the same. This system is described in detail in the Competition Regulation. Inner procedures allow us to react very quickly to any changes that may happen. All results are open, we, unlike other competitions, are ready at any time to show how samples were evaluated.  Another very important point, tastings are conducted blind. It means that beer judges do not know which beer, which producers they rate in the announced category. At the Tasting Competition 2019, we had one technical error, which caused us to overstate the Witbier / Weizenbier category. Due to the wide range of declared beer styles, this category was divided into two separate styles these are Witbier and Weizenbier. Moreover, this change will be introduced in the category list at the nest competition 2020. We know that we are not perfect, but we always improve themselves and carefully listen to what the participants and beer judges telling us. All categories that participants asked to add to the list, we included in it.

As for organizational moments, we are changing the work schedule of beer judges to a more convenient one. We will make a coffee break and a lunch break. The organizers are also planning to organize a party in one of the local beer restaurants on the first day of competition and a big dinner for discussion of the results and communication of beer judges on the second day. We do our best that competition gets better every year.

The East European Beer Award hasn’t been held and isn’t going to be held entirely following by the BJCP rating system. This system is different from that one which used in our and most European tasting competitions. BJCP involves the assessment and description of each sample according to all parameters. We use the maximum clear and effective system, consistently evaluating the appearance, aroma, taste, and aftertaste. If we would follow the tasting system BJCP overall for evaluating our 342 samples, the competition could last a week or two. We don’t think that the BJCP system is bad, but that is not our format. It looks great but we have another rating system. And, one more thing, we can use the BJCP style description in evaluating the parameters of competitive samples for determining compliance with the declared style within the competitive category. You can learn more about this from our guidelines and at seminars.

“Technologies and Innovations”: Today, more and more participants in the beverage market state following, that it’s completely wrong to divide the industry into small, medium and large size business. The EEBA also supports this point of view, we are against separation. However, for the second time, we have a situation during which beer from a factory with a large production capacity won in some category that caused some confusion among brewers. Let’s look into the situation.

Yuriy Semenov: The fundamental principle of the competition is an objective assessment of beer, within this or that category. The consumer has nothing to do with what brewery brew and if this beer from a small, medium, large brewery. And as many people as possible should learn that there is another beer which has a unique taste and of the highest quality. That can be your beer.

There is no discrimination as to the size of the brewery, investments, and others at the East European Beer Award. You brew a beer that pleased by many people – Welcome to Competition! You have all the chance to win!

It is true, that the tasting competition is considering as an interesting platform for large-scaled manufacturers with a big production capacity. Moreover, it is a good marketing tool for them, one more additional opportunity for product promotion, that lets you be a successful competitor for others..

At the same time, the tasting competition is very important for small brewers as well because they get the opportunity to try all the beers on the market. If you, for example, brew IPA, and before that, you read books about brewing, studied in the special establishment, but your beer did not win. It is very important to understand whyIf I were in the same situation as a brewer, not sure, it would make me upset. I would just go and try the beer that won and tries carefully to figure out what leads to winning. After that, I’ll look at the rating and my points for the beer that won. It makes sense, doesn’t it? It ‘s a real work at the competition for himself and serious market analytics.

“Technologies and Innovations”:  If we touched the theme about the motivation of brewers to go or not to go to the beer competition, because that is not only for the sake of getting medals, it surely helps to develop a brand and sell a product. In fact, motivation includes a much wider aspect. Let’s find out more detailed why it is worth taking part in the competition for breweries, tasters, restaurateurs, importers.

Yuriy Semenov:  Why brewers need participation? Firstly, to tell about your beer as many people as possible, and to learn many other beers that presented at the market, in other words, to compare your product with others. It helps you to expand your outlook both as a consumer and, most importantly, as a professional.

Secondly, participation in the competition allows the brewer to test his skills as a beer taster, and at the same time, see how the brewers estimate your beer, and how you estimate your beer by yourself. You can analyze the product that helps you after that to make some adjustments in the production process or the sales system.

Thirdly, the competition allows professionally communicate with the same brewers and brewing enthusiasts.  For a beer judge, eventually, it’s not important to brew beer by himself. It is much more important to have the skills of a taster, love beer, and to be interested in this overall and openly express your opinion, which is extremely important for beer producers.

And, the most important thing, we are talking about that contest participation provides an advanced consumer rating of your beer. Now there is no other such platform in our country where you can get an estimate from a large number of people specialized in beer, who respectively register and come to the competition to taste and evaluate beer.

I ‘d like to explain with an example what means when we say: “Thanks to the competition, brewers can conduct their analysis: define their level in the market and understand how others estimated your product.” This is, in fact, an effective tool for improving yourself and your production. At the competition 2019, for example, ІІІО Brewery was able to ahead of rivals in the category Sour / Wild with double scores. It doesn’t matter whatever that someone says about the qualifications of judges, about the correctness of our wording of the categories! There is a category Sour/Wild, in which ІІІО Brewery won, and all the judges gave highest points because, in their opinion, this beer completely belongs to the declared category. You should look at the final grade to analyze them. It allows you to understand where your place in this category is. From our side, we do everything possible so that these ultimate results will be as real as possible, by doing so, your beer will be estimated by a large number of people. We make the final grade as relevant as possible. You can notice this by looking at the results which is open.

Why do tasters go to the contest and who they are? The competition visits by representatives of retail chains, bars, brewers, brewery owners, tasters, beer enthusiasts, distributors. Thus, our competition is visited by people who like beer and respect this drink. As it is a good platform not only for tastings but also for communication when you taste beer and after that, you can discuss it with colleagues. The distributor is interested in expanding the range to feel how the consumer evaluates it, and to compare the categories, assuming that potentially can be sold. The importer should try the beer that is presenting on the market, compare it with his samples to understand how to expand the range, in which direction to move. One more important thing, distributors and importers can also submit beer samples of that brewery they work with on behalf of the breweries for participation in the competition.

I want that tasters understand the value of this experience, what they will receive on the back way after participation. After the above all mentioned, they will get the opportunity to get acquainted with each other. It will be valuable for representatives of retail chains, the restaurant industry, people who want to understand beer. For example, you want to open a bar, you have the opportunity to get acquainted with those who are engaged in brewing that allows you to make the right choice. Only for the sake of live communication and discussion of the tasting results at the East European Beer Award 2020, we will organize a dinner a kind of networking for all participants of the competition.

A spectacular example, last year, 450 beer judges participated in the Zlatá Pivní Pečet competition. And a large number of them came at their own expense to the Czech Republic for 4-5 days to evaluate beer from 9 am to 10 pm without lunch, without discounts on accommodation, just for the sake of this invaluable experience. And this above-mentioned event will be held again there the next year for the 30th time. By the way, this year, at the thirtieth anniversary Zlatá Pivní Pečet competition, beer, and cider will be presented in 37 categories. We are not stopping on the way to our improvement and will be working on this together with the brewers and tasters further.

All official information including Regulations on the Competition, list of categories, rules on submitting applications,  registration forms, results of past competitions, etc, you can find at our site http://www.uabeerawards.com/