Very soon, on Wednesday, March 23, the second edition of the Dutch Beer Challenge will take place. This is the only dedicated beer competition for beers brewed in the Netherlands (or especially for the Dutch market). Registration is open to all Dutch brewers, there is a registration fee of € 100 per beer with which all competition expenses are covered. A 28-member, international jury will taste and rate the beers on overall quality and style authenticity. To top it off they choose ‘the best beer in the Netherlands’ (in 2015 it was ‘North Sea IPA’ by Jopen).
Founders of this competition are Marco Philipsen (Mitra Slijterijen), Fedor Vogel (Bier! Magazine), Henri Reuchlin (Bierburo) and myself (Bier&cO). The organization and execution is outsourced to Becomev who have been organizing the Brussels Beer Challenge for quite some time now. Objectives include the promotion of Dutch beer culture, offering quality labels to the consumer and providing strong marketing tools to participating brewers. We thought this was a great idea and an initiative to be cheered by Dutch beer lovers. But is that really so?
Sometimes I doubt it, because when I announced the contest on Facebook it seemed as if I had pulled the stopper out of a barrel of vinegar. The commentary was strikingly negative: what was the use of this competition, wasn’t the butcher to approve his own meat, and above all: why the best beer – why not the tastiest beer? I must admit that I did not expect this negativity- and it got me thinking.
It was mainly hardcore beer aficionados, often affectionately designated by me as “geeks”, who in clear wording expressed their doubts about the usefulness and necessity of the Dutch Beer Challenge. Who were we to assess a beer as ‘the best’ – that they could do themselves very well, thank you! Besides, did their favorite beers compete too? Were there not too many commercially involved stakeholders in the jury, brewers even? And how so, judging by Style authenticity? Were we, organizers and judges, not entrenched, bearded ‘old beer boys network’ fossils, the sort of wretches who still hold on to styles? Did we not realize that the modern brewer and drinker abhors styles? A deeply felt and sincere cry-of-the-heart with a high “old farts have to go” level – like I said, that gets you thinking, being a bearded old beer boy, and a bloated, wretched fart furthermore.
I can well argue that in almost any beer jury brewers are present (who, however, never get to taste their own beers), that an election of the ‘tastiest’ beer is substantively nonsense because you cannot argue about taste, and you never get to hear who participates in these competitons: you only hear about the winners. I could argue that qualifying for a jury is always done on the basis of experience, knowledge and skills – many things that come with age and / or study. I could easily argue that doubting usefulness of styles and trying to get rid of old farts is of all times, until the moment the revolutionary youths themselves have become the established order. I can, in short, supply all kinds of explanations, excuses and arguments – but I do not. I’m still thinking, and I am looking forward to more opinions on sense and nonsense, usefulness and necessity of beer competitions. Reader, help me learn and take the poll. Meanwhile, me and my old beer boys will continue on the same path but I do not exclude that we may change course. Thanks in advance!