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What makes a brewery world class?

This email arrived about the time the European Beer Star award winners were announced and various discussions about innovation broke out.

At what point does a brewery become World Class? If you win a gold medal at the GABF does that make you a World Class Brewery? World Class Brewer (the dude or dudette)? Or brewer of “a” World Class Beer?

My response was, well, flip.

Can a brewpub be world class? Can beer brewed in Eden, NC, be world class? Is Orval (with just one beer) world class? Can you be world class if you brew for the working class? Is it like Michelen stars – lose a star and fall out of world class? Are there a set number of world class breweries? So if Caldera (note: Caldera had just cleaned up in the Beer Star awards) gets promoted somebody else gets demoted?

Andy’s comment about Michael Jackson’s 1982 list of 5-star beers — “Given the evolution in beer and beer styles, as well as the explosion in American Craft Brewing creativity, I wonder how his list would be different if he were around to do it again.” — got me thinking about it again.

So far I’ve managed to think of even more questions, but not to many answers.

I welcome your suggestions.

 

14 Responses to What makes a brewery world class?

  1. Alan December 21, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    There also is the implicit question of whether being world class is even a good thing. When Toronto was marketing itself as “world class” a few years ago, the joke became in relation to all things that if you had to say you were world class then, by definition, you were not.

    With beer, as I think you would suggest, there is the further problem that is in part antithetical to “global” – with the nature of its physical state being adversely affected by transportation and time… not to mention it losing out as a value proposition when it moves too far.

    To me the answer is that it is one thing to be recognized as excellent and another to be world class. The former is a more honourable goal.

  2. Chipper Dave Butler December 21, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    A world class brewery goes beyond just the beer they make, they also have to show a commitment to their community and the environment. Take a look at the charities a brewery associates with and the company’s philosophy they live by. Combine all that along with outstanding beer and you’ve got a world class brewery.

  3. Peter H December 21, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    I’d say they have to prove themselves over time, and that their beer needs to be available to more than a few friends of the brewer. I’ve had homebrewed beer I’d call world class, or maybe that should be world quality, but I wouldn’t call them world class brewers.

  4. Josh December 21, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    There are a plethora of ways you can be considered world-class, and I feel that it all depends on the criteria that you personally value.

    From my perspective as someone who works in the marketing department of a craft brewery, I think that you are what your consumers say about you. If your advocates think you’re world-class, and then they advocate on your behalf to their circle of friends, word-of-mouth begins to build the perception that your brewery is what they’re telling their friends. But then again, I am a big stockholder in social media.

    Naturally, the beer needs to stand up on its own and is critical towards building your reputation.

    Consistency from batch to batch also plays a large role in building a good rep, and is often a very difficult thing to pull off (especially when you brew in multiple facilities). I also think that diversity in your portfolio is also a really good indicator of a brewery’s “world-classibility”. Showing that your brewers can do anything and do those new brews really well is a major step towards being a world-class outfit. Creativity in the recipe development process is also imperative.

    Awards are also nice, but I feel the real recognition should come from the people who drink your beer.

  5. Jason December 21, 2009 at 11:31 am #

    Funny you should mention Caldera. I like the idea that world class beer is brewed in my hometown.

    J (not associationed with the brewery, just a fan)

  6. Swordboarder December 21, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    Pardon my simple explanation, but couldn’t it be a brewery that people travel (perhaps from around the world) to visit?

  7. Stan Hieronymus December 21, 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    Interesting notion, Swordboarder, and one that leads rather obviously to the next question:

    Are Coors, Anheuser-Busch and other large breweries – all popular tourist destinations – world class breweries?

  8. Bill December 21, 2009 at 5:36 pm #

    That’s easy. Coors, Miller, A-B do not make World Class beer and cannot be called World Class breweries. Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams are World Class beers, and the breweries are World Class.

    I’d say Orval is World Class even if it makes only one beer.

  9. Alan December 21, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    Coors, Miller, A-B are, in fact, perfect world class beers because they are in the class of beers you can get almost anywhere in the world.

    One still has to question if there is any relationship between the phrase “world class” and good.

  10. Stan Hieronymus December 21, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    Alan – I think the original question was predicated on the idea that world class equals even better than good.

    Josh, I think you bring up some excellent points, most notably is that consumers ultimately decide and the importance of consistency. While diversity might earn bonus points I don’t think it has to be a requirement.

  11. Alan December 21, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    That is the problem with “world class” – it doesn’t mean “even better than good.” It includes popular recognition with a sniff of snob and a daub of PR. It takes a whiff of desperation and the hope of lack of actual evaluation. It laughs in the face of quiet confidence. It is, itself, world classy.

  12. Swordboarder December 22, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    I believe they are world class breweries.

    I’m cutting hairs, but I don’t believe that a world class brewery needs to be producing world class beers as it’s standard. It does need to be capable of producing world class beers. All three of those breweries are.

    Sam Adams as a world class brewery is a laugh because it is (was?) contract brewed.

    I’m deliberately ignoring the what is “world class” debate.

  13. Sean Inman December 22, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    I have only two criteria to determine if something/anything is world class.
    One – It must have stood the test of time and not just four or five years. If you are brilliant for a while but then fade, well, you don’t make the world class cut.
    Two – You must put out a product that is recognized as great by more than your mom and dad. It doesn’t have to be available everywhere but it should have seeped into the beer geeks lexicon.
    So a world class brewery, to me, would be Deschutes. They have been around and proven their staying power. They have recognized special beers like Abyss and Dissident as well as a strong regular line-up of beers.
    This means that Swordboarder is only 1/2 right. The BMC has been around in its many corporate costumes but they have no beer that is recognized as great by true beer lovers.

  14. Tim December 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    I will say that BMC are world class brewers. The brewers have the best technical proficiency and consistency. Budweiser tastes the same no matter which brewery it comes from. Some craft brewers would say that is a bad thing, but I would need to question if they could achieve that consistency. Their beer is undeniably loved by many people and the companies are major parts of the international brewing industry.

    I say this not because I believe BMC are world class brewers, but I wanted to further demonstrate the impossibility of defining “world class” (and because I’m a contrarian). I think some of the definitions offered are too simple and rote for a philosophical question.

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