If you’ve been on the competition circuit, you’ve probably heard about Brewer of the Year. It’s a website that tracks the medals winners at homebrew competitions, and ranks everyone, to find out who’s really the best homebrewer of the year. It also tracks entries from clubs as well, and ranks best homebrew club of the year. We chat with Jeremy Cowan (JC) from Calgary, AB, the man behind the project, and find out more about why he does it.
JC: Brewer of the Year is something that sort of evolved out of what was the growing competitive homebrew community. Initially, there was actually another website had sort of been doing that. It was run by a gentleman in Edmonton. He was…running it because people in his homebrew club suggested that someone do it. One year, i think it was 2013, he just sort of gave up. Since there was a need for something like that because a lot of people were competing nation-wide in several differnt competitions that were recognized. A buddy and I, who were also capable of doing some online stuff, decided that we would take up the mantle, start a new website, do kinda some of the same things, but then also manage more of a circuit. Almost qualify competitions to join, ensuring that they were not only BJCP sanctioned, but also decent sized comeptitions, good reputations and no shadyness. Just trying to make sure it was a well run circuit. That was 2013.
CHA: So you guys have been running for five years now?
JC: Yeah. It’s sweet. In 2013, we sort of resumed exactly what the status quo was, using competitions people were expecting to be on that circuit. But for 2014, I spoke with people like Mark Heise in Regina, people in Vancouver, Winnipeg, even out east in Toronto. People [who] were competition directors. Even the infamous competitiors at the time, like entrants. People running homebrew club. Just wanted to get a good amount of feedback from people just in what the direction would be. The website Brewer of The Year is what grew out of that.
So what we do every year, at this point, we will qualify up to 12 comps. I think this year we only got 10 or 11. It’s just based on who applies, who registers with us. We’re trying to get decent regional representation. We used to run right from as far west as Victoria. Last year, we were hoping to get one in New Brunswick…but they ended up not running the competition. We’ve only gone as east as Montreal.
CHA: Do you have a particular role at Brewer of the Year?
JC: A friend set up the website, but I handle everything else. Honestly, once I’ve got the competitions sorted out for the circuit, it’s not a lot of work. I try to pretend it takes a lot more work than it does, but it’s maybe an hour’s work once a competition’s done. I just look at their website. I have everything set up in spreadsheets, so it all goes into a Google Sheet, which automatically updates the website. So it’s pretty slick. It doesn’t really require much more at this point, other than, if I do try to finally firm up plans for an invitational tournament, which I would love to do. But at this point, it’s just trying to determine the vision for that. I’ve had several different ideas speaking with different people over the last couples of years. I’m still trying to figure out what it should be.
CHA: Why do you think something like Brewer of the Year is important?
JR: It’s really just a wrap up celebration for people. Part of it was that I was competing as well, and I remember as a competitor, after every competition, not only was I super eager to check out results, but I was just chomping on the bit, waiting for Brewer of the Year to update because I didn’t want to do the math myself, just to see how I was against other people. There was definitely a sense of excitement about it. At that time, it was kind of of picking up speed. even when I first started competing half-ass wise in 2011, competitions were quite a bit easier. There were far fewer people entering competitions. Even as a judge at that time, the quality of homebrew was significantly less. I remember in certain categories, a third of the entries were affected. Judging in the last few years, I haven’t judged a single infected entry. And the quality, even stylistically and integrally, has gone up. The number of people who are willing to ship from Vancouver to Toronto have gone up. So competitions have gotten harder.
CHA: With only accepting 12 competitions a year, do you make sure that they are up to standard?
JR: I don’t necessarily seek out the information, but I definitely get it…from people. There are a couple of competitions that are no longer part of the circuit and probably wont be part of the circuit again until a there are a couple of years where I hear good things about them. There was one competition…where it took months for people to get scoresheets. Some people never got scoresheets. Some people who knew that they medaled because of results online, never received medals, never got scoresheets. People who were promised prizes, not that that’s the most important thing, but that stuff never arrived. Lots of people were upset. I wish those competitions well, but I dont necessarily want to be a part of it, if for no other reason, that I have to hear about it. At the same time, I’ve been really trying to be hands off in so far as dictating terms to competitions. People that are registered, I dont want to be like, “You have to have a minimum of this, or you have to do this.” I really want to give them autonomy.
CHA: How has the site changed from when you first started it?
JR: The site has evolved in the past two to three years, where initially we weren’t looking to mead or cider entries. Part of that arose out this other website—they never looked at mead or cider entries. But also as a comp organizer and judge, there were very few people producing those products. But now…there are way more entrants. So we’ve added that into our tallies. One other thing we did, based on the fact, that there are some people who will never be in the top ranking, because they don’t have enough time to brew enough beer to win in all the categories in all the competitions. So we’ve started tracking Best of Show rankings, and what’s that done is that it’s gotten some names in that categories. Someone can have only entered two beers, but one of them scored a gold and went to best of show and placed in best of show. All of a sudden, a person like that, he or she has the opportunity to be a ranking system. We’re always trying to find ways to reward different areas, recognize different abilities and time commitments. Just to get as many people excited about it as possible, and make it as nation wide, get that competition edge running across the country.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Cowan