The good, the bad and the ugly of the OBA Gala

As I had helped out with the judging nights and sorting the BJCP sheets, I was offered a ticket to the Ontario Brewing Awards Gala on April 5th. I wasn’t sure if I had anything in my closet suitable for a gala (I’m a jeans and tshirt kind of girl), but a quick look at past pictures on the website reminded me that brewers are pretty much a jeans-and-tshirt kind of crowd. Phew. Off I went to my first beer award event, not sure what to expect.

The Good

Kudos to Roger of Thirst for Knowledge and Jen from Beerlicious for putting on a good event! Everything seemed to run well from my perspective, which really just means the beer was plentiful and delicious, the food was plentiful and delicious, and no one stepped on my toes.

Even though I went solo, I had some great conversations. Roger introduced me to Jon Downing, the brewmaster professor at Niagara and soon to be one of my teachers. I may have gotten a little gushy with my enthusiasm.

I saw someone in a Big Rig sweatshirt, and started the conversation with, “hey, do you work at Big Rig?”. Turns out I was speaking to Lon, the brewmaster. I told him about my experience at the Toronto Beer Festival Spring Session, and how much I really liked his Black Peppercorn Saison. Yeah, I might have gotten a little gushy there too. I was pleased but not all that surprised at how many awards Big Rig received. He was very sweet and gracious when I congratulated him later on his wins, and nicely said that the awards were great but that his best takeaway from the night was my feedback from the festival on his staff and my friends’ reactions to his beer. See – sweet guy.

I got to meet the guys from Stack Brewing in Sudbury. I have family there, and we have drunk much of their product while sitting on the dock or the deck. Congrats to them for winning gold for their Les Portes de L’Enfers.

I also introduced myself to Paul, the head brewer at Flying Monkeys, and had a great chat with him about their markets outside of Ontario. I talked with Robin of Thirsty Wench fame in the bar where we reminisced about the bad old days at the Gladstone before it became gentrified. And I finally got to meet Caroline the Hoppy Beer Witch, who I have been following on Twitter and Instagram for months.

The Bad

I don’t know if I really call something bad when I can’t think of a way to make it good.

In case you don’t know me, I am a fierce advocate of feminism and multiculturalism, and I find it hard to relax in homogeneous gatherings because my brain begins asking why, why is this <insert gathering here> like this? 

My takeaway from the OBA’s is that brewers are not a very diverse crowd. There weren’t very many women there, and it’s hard to say how many of those in attendance were in media as opposed to in brewing. And I don’t think I’m out of line by saying that it was a very white crowd.

I do wonder what are the barriers to entry for people who aren’t Caucasian and male; I don’t get the feeling that it’s top down, that it comes from within the industry itself. I don’t know. It’s definitely something I’m interested in finding out more about, and contrasting that to my experiences in IT.

The Ugly

Warning: I might get a little ranty here, and this is just my personal take. I have to write this so it’s out of my head. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing or my age, but cliquishness and bad manners irk me. Feel free to stop reading now if you are ok with these things. Me, I think courtesy and inclusion should be modeled no matter where you are.

The schmoozing had been going on for about an hour when Roger went to the mic and started his intro the awards. Now, in just about every other event I’ve been to, that’s the cue for people to dial back their conversations and pay attention. If anything, this crowd got louder. I had to bite my tongue to stop the former teacher in me from shushing everyone.

I could be totally reading too much into this, but when Magnotta Brewing won a gold for their True North Copper and the brew went to pick up the award, the applause was just this side of crickets. The applause for other craft brewers was significantly louder. I know I’m fairly new to this industry and will freely admit there could either be more (or less) to this than I am seeing, but can’t shake the feeling that there are some biased opinions in terms of who makes “craft” beer, what brands are the “cool kids”. I hope I’m wrong, because that’s bullshit. Good beer is good beer, regardless of who makes it. I will admit to having certain perceptions about Magnotta, but that didn’t stop me from trying and enjoying their beer, or from congratulating someone who made a beer that won gold in its category.

This is the one that has really bugged me, and made me think less of someone. I was standing in a group near the end of the night, when one person made a comment about how the competition was “totally fixed before hand”  because awards were won by the craft beer divisions of big corporate names like Molson-Coors and Labatts, and then proceeded to imply that money had changed hands.

Listen. If you hold a position in an industry where your opinion is listened to, you really shouldn’t say shit like this when you are at an industry event. It’s highly unprofessional, and unless you have even the slightest shred of proof to back you up, it’s unethical. As someone who helped the nights of the judging and later sorted forms, I don’t believe there is any possible truth behind that individual’s claim. Yes, that person is still entitled to their opinion, but as Douglas Adams said, “All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”

Rant over.

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