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Numbers Game

If anything can kick start me writing about beer, it’s nerdy maths shit.

The 2017 BGONZAs (Brewer’s Guild of NZ Awards) have been announced and for the first time the individual award data has been released with them. Phil Cook has done an excellent review of the data and derived some statistics. To be honest it’s pretty great, go read it.

He comes up with two statistics that give a good baseline for determining who did well at the awards. Here they are in Phil’s own words:

Medal Percentage (MPC) is the proportion of all beers entered that earned any kind of medal at all. The overall medalling rate for the competition was 52% (up slightly on the previous year) and it turned out fairly well distributed; breweries in the middle of the rankings scored around this level. It’s worth noting that a beer that earns nothing is either significantly faulted or disqualifyingly “out of style” or both — though we don’t know which without access to the judges’ notes.

Points Per Entry (PPE), on the other hand, assigns gold medals 3 points, 2 for silver, and 1 for bronze and divides the result by how many beers the brewery entered all up. This scoring reflects the fact that the medals aren’t unique, like at the Olympics; a category might have a half-dozen golds, for example ― and it’s the scoring the Guild itself uses to calculate the overall Champion Breweries. This year, a PPE over 1.0 put a brewery in the top third of the field as a whole.

They’re simple and do what they say on the tin. But PPE requires a weighting and weightings can be disputed, which is what Ralph Bungard of Three Boys’ Brewing did on Beertown.

I thought this: the simple one, two and three points of bronze, silver and gold does not really reflect how I, and probably every brewer, feel about the value of those awards. I think I would rather have one silver than two bronze medals, but think I might take four bronzes over one silver – you see where I’m going here? I reckon that if a bronze had a value of one point, then a silver should maybe be three points and a gold say six points and of course zero for no award. This probably reflects how most brewers would largely value those awards. I’m pretty sure statisticians would call these ‘weighted’ values for those awards and if we average those weighted values for every brewery it would be a weighted average.

He’s right, that’s what we call them. What’s interesting is, it sort-of doesn’t matter. As long as we all agree that gold is worth the most, silver the second most and bronze the least, then your rankings are going to shuffle out roughly the same.

However, Ralph touched on an interesting point: what is a gold medal worth? As he says above, “I think I would rather have one silver than two bronze medals, but think I might take four bronzes over one silver.”

But is a bronze in one category worth more than silver in another? Or even more than gold? I decided to try a new form of derived statistic that I have called “worth”.


Firstly, if I was doing this seriously I would be trying to pull in sales data. The literal value of having a medal on your label or having the publicity of an award could be measured in dollars. But that would take a lot of work and would also require every brewery happily handing over their sales data.

Lacking both time and influence, I simply ran the award numbers and came up with two measures.

Medal Worth (WMED) For each award category, I took the total number of winners (w), the total number of entries (n) and then 1-(w/n). This gives me an idea of how difficult it was to get a medal in each category (with 1 as the maximum value). For example, European Ale had 31 medals from 48 entries, giving a value of 0.35; whereas International Lager had 59 entries but only 22 medallists, for a value of 0.63.

So for each brewery you take the number of beers that won in a category, multiplied by the value for that category, then sum across all the categories. To get their MWED you divide by the number of beers they entered.

Relative Medal Worth (WGSB) This calculation is similar to MWED except more complicated. WGSB is based on the value of gold, silver and bronze in a category. The gold value of each category is based on the number of golds awarded per number of entries. The silver is the same but based on the number of silvers AND golds. The bronze values are calculated the same way as MWED.

In this way you can see that was harder (and hence more valuable) to get a silver in the Cider & Perry category (0.90), than a gold in the Wheat (0.89).

To get the final WGSB for a brewery, you sum all the values multiplied by medals and then average across all beers entered.

The idea behind this is to capture the value of a medal in a fashion that isn’t an arbitrary number. The single gold from a field of 59 International Lagers is worth a lot more than either of the two golds from 18 entrants in the Wheat category. Relatively speaking that is, they’re all good beers.

The downside of this method, as well as PPE, MPC and Medal-x (Ralph’s weighting), is that it favours breweries who have only entered a few beers. In Phil’s analysis he only included breweries that entered 10 or more beers, which seems fair. The average number of beers entered is 9, so I’ll choose that as my cut-off. (As an interesting side note the most common number of beers to enter was two).

Before I do cast those breweries adrift I should mention that Epic and Altitude both did very well under all the systems.


First up here are the values for each category:

Class General medal Gold Silver Bronze
British Ale 0.47 0.96 0.73 0.47
Cider & Perry 0.52 1.00 0.90 0.52
European Ale 0.35 0.90 0.73 0.35
Flavoured 0.40 0.93 0.72 0.40
Flavoured Cider & Perry 0.59 0.91 0.77 0.59
International Lager 0.63 0.98 0.80 0.63
New Zealand Lager 0.41 0.94 0.73 0.41
Pale Ale 0.54 0.95 0.77 0.54
Specialty 0.36 0.91 0.70 0.36
Stout & Porter 0.57 0.93 0.81 0.57
Strong Pale Ale 0.56 0.93 0.80 0.56
US Ale 0.41 0.93 0.64 0.41
Wheat 0.67 0.89 0.83 0.67

The rare outlier is gold for Cider & Perry, because there weren’t any. Making this the most valuable medal. Oddly while the Wheat category was the hardest one to win a medal in, the value of each individual medal is lower. While US Ale sees the biggest drop in value from gold to silver, with only 5 golds, but 21 silvers awarded.

How do these values work out to the overall breweries?

1 North End 0.64 Liberty 0.38
2 Liberty 0.62 Sawmill 0.38
3 Sawmill 0.62 McLeod’s 0.36
4 McLeod’s 0.61 North End 0.35
5 Brave 0.59 Brave 0.34


Now I don’t think for a second that my crazy numbers should replace what the BGONZAs currently do. Nor do I think that any of those breweries should challenge Garage Project for overall champion. These calculations are simply to show these breweries that, “You probably thought you did well, and you really did!”

Style Guide

A while back I posted that Panhead Whitewall was a Belgian Wheat. I was later told that it’s actually an American Wheat. When I put that on Facebook, Mike (the brewer) said “it’s just a pale ale that uses a shed ton of wheat”.

So I guess the question is: is that a style?

Is a pale ale made with wheat an American Wheat? What if it’s an NZ Pale Ale, does that make it an NZ Wheat? Does it matter?

Let’s not leave those as rhetorical questions. My answers are: I guess so; probably not; and, no. That “no” needs some unpacking.

Trying to define a beer style is like trying to define the term “New Zealander”, really bloody difficult and bound to piss off more people than will agree with you. Try giving someone a Gunnamatta and telling them it’s just an IPA.

But styles give people a steer in the right direction. The words stout, lager, pale ale, etc have meaning. You can use those to refine the search for the beer you want, especially when shopping in a supermarket or bottle store. And at the bar it means the poor staff aren’t having to repeat themselves over and over when asked “What sort of beer is [clever beer name]?”

But in general, for drinkers, strict style categories are easy to ignore. Where you can’t ignore them is in awards.

Check out the style categories for the New Zealand Brewer’s Guild Awards. Each one of those has strict rules about what is and isn’t in that style. Moreover some categories aren’t really styles at all, so various beers are mixed in together. For example, 2016’s Specialty, Experimental, Aged, Barrel, Wood-Aged trophy winner was Croucher Low Rider, a 2.5% pale ale, beating out sours and whisky porters.

If a brewer puts a beer in the wrong category it could mean the difference between getting a medal and getting nothing. And entering isn’t cheap, so for some breweries making that choice is a cost they can’t afford to make.

A little while before the 2016 Brewer’s Guild awards, Kerry Gray of Choice Bros put a post on Facebook saying (among other things):

“Styles are increasingly becoming blurred and ignored. As a small business, there is plenty I can spend that entry money on with real return and benefit. So, what’s my motivation?

I am looking forward to attending and high five’n my peers who win, but at this stage, I may not enter…”

It was a good post that started some conversations about how beer awards are structured and how relevant they are for smaller breweries. Over a month later Kerry’s “red IPA with a touch of ginger”, Reet Petite, picked up the trophy for Flavoured and Aged beers.

Choice Bros brewer Kerry Gray gives his "sermon" at the opening of Husk

Choice Bros brewer Kerry Gray gives his “sermon” at the opening of Husk

In between the post and the award I sat down with Kerry in the space that would become his brew pub, Husk. I wanted to know how he made beers. It involves reverse engineering, to a certain extent.

“I think about the final product, how I want the beer to taste and I figure out how I’m going to make that beer.” It a process that’s worked for all of his creations including On the Brain, listed as a peanut butter & raspberry ale.

“I knew I wanted that to be bready, so I was thinking wheat and English malts. But balance is important, so I use the style to balance the beer. Balance is always first.”

This means that On the Brain is actually an English Ale as Kerry found a complimentary recipe to base the beer on and melded that into his idea of a peanut butter raspberry beer.

“Part of the fun of fooling around with stuff is going ‘there’s something in that’. You get a better understanding of ingredients and then it becomes easier to get that balance.”

So what about Reet Petite, that Red IPA with a touch of Ginger.

“It says ‘red IPA’ on the label but it’s not. The IPA category is too broad. There’s session IPAs, fruit IPAs…IPA has become a ‘brand’. I can buy a good, perfectly to style, IPA… but why?”

Beer makers have traditionally not liked style guides. The infamous Reinheitsgebot, for example, can be seen as a very extreme version of a style rule. So it makes sense that brewers will eventually rebel against their beers being forced into silos.

And something tells me Kerry would be happy being a rebel.

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