The World Beer Championships are an ongoing annual competition between commercial beer brewers (including microbreweries) that was started in 1994 by the Beverage Testing Institute (BTI) in Chicago. The Beverage Testing Institute is an independent company that specializes in judging alcoholic beverages. (See also the World Wine Championships.)
Breweries of all sizes are allowed to compete in the World Beer Championships, with the caveat that the brewery must produce at least 100 barrels annually.
At the Championships, five to six judges score each beer on a 14-point basis, which is then converted to a 100 point scale for publication. Explains the Institute's Jon Winsell: "A human's ability to taste simply isn't fine enough for a 100-point scale. We shrink the scale in order to shrink the margin of error."
To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Championship candidates are judged by brewing professionals who are specially trained by BTI to understand the 14-point scale and the Institute's taste/score methodology.
Further, each test is both blind and mute: testers have no idea what beer they are tasting at any given time and they are not allowed to talk to one another during a test (for fear that one person's opinion of the brew might affect another's vote). To further avoid any collaboration amongst the judges (e.g. the use of facial expressions, hand gestures, etc.), each taste tester is given a different beer to taste, so no two judges are sampling the same candidate at the same time.
Judges are allowed 20-25 minutes to taste each "flight" of seven beers, followed by a mandatory 10 minute break. One day's testing rarely exceeds four hours, or approximately 35 products tasted. Most tests will begin at 9:30AM, because studies have shown that taste is more acute in the morning than in the evening.
Due to the number of entrants, the WBC competition lasts almost all year, with judges tasting approximately 1,000 beers over twelve months. Each sample is served in a clean glass, identified only by a randomly generated three-digit code. According to RealBeer.com's Marty Nachel, "Judges are sometimes served two glasses of the same sample to test their alertness."
As mentioned before, the judges score each beer on a 14-point basis. The point system is as follows:
0-1 Extreme displeasure
2-3 Strong displeasure
4-5 Slight displeasure
6-7 Not pleasant nor unpleasant
8-9 Slight pleasure
10-11 Strong pleasure
12-13 Extreme pleasure
After the scores are converted to a 100-point scale, "medals" are awarded depending upon a beer's score. The breakdown of this scoring method (and its translation) follows:
Platinum 96 - 100 pts. "Superlative"
Gold 90 - 95 pts. "Outstanding"
Silver 85 - 89 pts. "Excellent"
Silver 80 - 84 pts. "Highly Recommended"
Bronze 70 - 79 pts. "Recommended"
No Award 60 - 69 pts. "Not Recommended"
The World Beer Championships differ from Denver's Great American Beer Festival in several ways, the most important being that the WBC is open to all entrants, while the GABF is limited to American made beers only. The World Beer Championships awards medals to numerous beers based on their scores, while the GABF only recognizes the top few (2-3) beers in each category.
Judges at the World Beer Championships also distinguish themselves by providing taste descriptions along with their scores, which are usually advertised by the brewer--this helps consumers better understand what they might expect from a specific beer (other than a simple, numerical rating).