A Global Perspective

by Sarah Theodore
I recently had the privilege of attending the judging of the Brewing Industry International Awards in London. In addition to learning more about beer, I heard a lot about the way the beer industry is changing worldwide.
The Brewing Industry International Awards, which date back 110 years, reward brewers for beer quality, with a unique distinction in that they judge beers on their commercial appeal as well as technical quality. The judges of the awards are practicing commercial brewers, which means it’s their job to not only know how to brew beer, but to follow industry trends and determine if a beer is going to appeal to consumers.
It was interesting to note that many of the concerns faced by brewers in other countries are similar to those here. For instance, the consumption slowdown in the United States is being echoed in the United Kingdom, and beer companies there are looking for ways to keep their products from getting lost in the incredible variety of beverages available to consumers. An example is the Beer Naturally campaign launched late last year by Coors Brewers, the U.K. division of Coors. The effort is designed to promote the diverse styles and flavors of beer, suggesting consumers approach beer the same way they approach wine.
During the competition in London, many of the judges took time out to talk to members of the press, tell us about the beers they were tasting, and the qualities that make the various styles of beer successful. Many of the judges not only talked about the varieties of beer, but the types of food that might pair well with those beers.
Their comments and the goals of the Beer Naturally campaign sound similar to the efforts of craft brewers in the United States who tried to elevate the image of beer for American consumers. In many ways, they were successful. In this month’s Category Focus, Jamie Popp reports that while U.S. consumption of beer has remained flat, many consumers are trading up to more premium products. And the Association of Brewers reports that the craft beer industry grew another 3.4 percent last year, its 34th consecutive year of growth.
In other parts of the world, the industry is just coming into its own. Central and Eastern Europe, for example, stood out during the awards, with a noticeable number of nominated beers. Polish beers received four nominations, and beers from Russia, Lithuania, Hungary and the Ukraine also were nominated.
Whether brewers are fighting for attention in mature markets or striking out in emerging ones, organizers of the awards hope that quality is a message that appeals to consumers everywhere. One of their goals, they say, is to “open up beer as a beverage for people”, and one of the benefits of winning is that the message of quality can be passed along to consumers.
I look forward to hearing more about the brewers’ efforts in England and elsewhere. In the meantime, we’ll find out which of the 69 beers nominated for awards during last month’s judging (eight of which are American) will take home gold, silver or bronze medals in an awards ceremony later this month. Look for coverage of the winners in our next issue.