Medals and math III — a bonanza of BGONZAs

The crowd at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2019, before crowds of anyone anywhere started to feel really different...
These were AIBAs, not BGONZAs, admittedly; it turns out I don’t take many awards night photos

It’s beer awards night back home in New Zealand. I’ll be tuning in as best I can from over here in Melbourne1 and doubtless obsessing over various weird little details and patterns once I’ve got the full results. As I’ve tried to make the case here before,2 I think there are a few interesting stories lurking underneath the headline results that get most of the attention on the night, and you can only really find them by crunching some numbers. So let’s quickly do that for the awards that have happened since I got distracted by a) moving and b) a pandemic, so we’re all caught up and ready for more — since, as of tomorrow, I’ll have five years worth of data to play with, which feels like it’ll be a good time to go looking for trendlines…3

My method here is to work out two scores for each ‘contestant’, to give us a couple of different ways to think about how they performed, in addition to the medals and trophies and championship titles handed out on the night. MPC is a brewery’s medal percentage: the proportion of their entries that earn a medal, which is nice and simple and intuitive — but has only been possible to discern since the Brewers’ Guild started publishing a full catalogue of entries (not just winners). PPE4 takes those medals, assigns a gold 3 points, a silver 2, and a bronze 1, and then figures out an entrant’s points per entry. Higher is better for both, and they do correlate to an extent, but they also measure different kinds of success. An MPC of 100 is obviously impressive, but if all those medals were bronze for a PPE of 1.0, you might be less happy with your performance than a brewery who had a much shinier medal haul, even if a few beers missed out.5

Last year’s results, for breweries who entered ten or more beers (which weeds out the statistically-noisier end of things but still covers half the breweries and 80% of the beers), look like this:6

Performance at the 2021 Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Awards

Garage Project (Champion Large Brewery)3577.11.43
McLeods (Champion Medium Brewery)2669.21.19
Deep Creek2462.51.00
D.B.                                                         2138.10.62
Fork & Brewer20350.45
Three Sisters (Champion Micro Brewery)20300.45
Double Vision1952.60.63
Altitude (Champion Small Brewery)1866.71.17
Aotearoa (a.k.a. Mata)1656.30.88
Good George1656.30.88
Three Boys16500.75
Shining Peak1573.31.13
Sprig & Fern14500.71
Beer Baroness1369.21.15
8 Wired1346.20.77
Fortune Favours1163.60.82
North End10701.20

Behemoth entered more beers than any brewery by a considerable margin — indeed, more than I’ve ever seen and quite likely the most ever, full stop — and did really quite poorly for it. Their MPC and PPE are both well under the competition average and a precipitous drop from their performance in previous years. Given that this seems to coincide with them opening their own brewery and moving (some? most?) production in-house when previously their beers were produced under contract, they can’t be happy with that. Other breweries experienced some noteworthy swings of fortune, particularly 8 Wired, whose MPC dropped into the 40s after always reliably being in the 70s, and Parrotdog, a recent Champion Medium Brewery (in 2018) whose numbers have oscillated pretty wildly of late.7 Three Sisters, who took the title in the new Champion Micro category, also fared conspicuously poorer in MPC/PPE terms than the three larger champions.

Speaking of which, Garage Project8 took out their championship category in pretty spectacular fashion; their PPE is the best among breweries who entered 10 or more beers9 and their MPC likewise ranked very highly, outdone only by Brave and Liberty (about whom much more in a moment…) and three minor entrants. Entering that many beers and keeping your scores that solid — and here applause should also be directed at Lion (another previous title holder) and McLeod’s (Champion Medium Brewery in this run) — demonstrates some pretty outstanding product and self-awareness, since it’s always up to the breweries to submit their own stuff and try to put their best foot forward.

Now then, pushing our Spreadsheet Time Machine further back into the past, you may recall that the 2020 awards didn’t happen — because, well, you know — but the results for 2019 look like this:

Performance at the 2019 Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Awards

D.B.                                                         35200.26
Garage Project3467.71.03
Lion (Champion Large Brewery)3375.81.21
Black Dog2356.50.74
Fortune Favours2213.60.14
Fork (Champion Small Brewery)2157.10.86
Deep Creek20550.80
Sprig & Fern20350.50
8 Wired1973.71.32
Moa Brewing1952.60.84
Good George1770.61.18
Choice Bros1752.90.82
Asahi (NZ)1637.50.44
Three Boys1291.71.75
Double Vision1266.71.08
Liberty (Champion Medium Brewery)111002.18
Rhyme and Reason1136.40.45
Crafty Trout10100.10

Here, the real standout is buried on the fourth page of the table. Liberty10 took the Champion Medium Brewery title in even more spectacular fashion, which I don’t recall being heralded anywhere near strongly enough at the time. Winning medals for every single beer they entered they entered that year, they also got the highest PPE of any brewery entering ten or more beers that I’ve ever seen, by a significant margin (2.18, when the previous best was 1.7).11 Eleven beers is also easily the fewest entered by anyone snagging a champion title, which demonstrates even more of that self-awareness I was praising the 2021 champions for.

Meanwhile, Lion took the Champion Large Brewery title for 2019, with MPC and PPE scores only slightly behind what Garage Project would later get in 2021.12 Most striking to me, though, is the comparison between the members of New Zealand’s long-running duopoly;13 D.B.’s results look absolutely dire up against Lion’s. There’s some variation in which sub-units are counted in or out of the parent company for the beer awards from year to year (Tuatara was under the D.B. banner in 2021, but stood alone here — and slightly outperformed its parent) , but the pattern is strong and consistent: Lion trounces D.B. over and over, to the extent it must cause glee in one boardroom and occasionally raised voices in the other.

And that’ll do for now. I haven’t been swimming in this data as much as I did in previous years, so I’m sure there’s a lot I’m overlooking, but I’ll add tonight’s results to the mix and see what makes itself visible. Your observations are welcome, as ever. It’s always an interesting night in the beer business, and I’m sorry I can’t join it in person. I’ll just be over here, with my spreadsheets.

  1. Likely watching the livestream on the till at work, with apologies to my customers this evening for bartending in a slightly-distracted state.
  2. Twice, in fact: 2017 and 2018.
  3. Although I am extremely conscious of this xkcd comic on the topic.
  4. An acronym I coined in the beforetimes, which now very much usually means something else.
  5. This is especially the case when you remember — and I’m never sure how many people do, hence the note — that beer awards are a strange game: beers are judged against fairly tight style guidelines that include some relatively arcane technical criteria. It’s fairly easy (in fact common) for a “good” beer — from the point of view of a normal person drinking in normal circumstances — to not perform well. Beer awards weed out trash much better than they find gems, you could say. Pretty much everyone entering them knows this and works with it. It can just get a little lost in the wider coverage.
  6. Thanks, yet again, to the excellent TablePress plugin.
  7. They are a former employer of mine, it’s worth noting — though I just wrote their label text and didn’t have anything to do with awards — so they might just be a little more salient to me. If other patterns leap out to you for similarly-personal reasons, please do pass them on; I’m keen to try and map out some longer trends.
  8. Also a former employer, for the record; it’s a small industry and I’ve been in it a long time.
  9. And fourth highest overall among 73 entrants, bested only by Brood who got one silver for their one entrant (so PPE=2.0) and The Island and Alibi, both on 1.5 with four beers each — the latter winning the Champion Exhibitor title, presumably on account of them doing it with better medals.
  10. Never (well, so far never) an employer, but founder Joe Wood was an early supporter of what I do here — and recently gave me a good dose of encouragement to get back into it, which was nicely timed and much appreciated.
  11. Sawmill and North End managed 1.7 in previous years, and Three Boys got 1.75 in 2019, when they were also pretty hot on the heels of Liberty in the medal count. Liberty’s result here means they were also Champion Exhibitor for the year.
  12. Each brewery had similar results when they won their titles in 2018 and 2017, also. Seeing who grumps about a big brewery winning and celebrates a craft / indie darling doing the same in a nearly-identical way sure is a handy was of sorting the clueless snobs from the folks worth listening to.
  13. To the extent NZ has a triopoly instead, its third wheel (Asahi / Independent Liquor) sat in between the other two on these rankings, by the way.

Have at it: