GABF Analysis: Five States Won Half the Medals

Last update, next day.  Two very interesting analyses came out today that are FAR more interesting than what you'll find here.  Both incorporate the numbers of beers entered per state, which make for a much richer and more accurate picture.  Stats geeks (and Oregon homers) will love them--they're sort of like the sabermetrics of beer.

Update, 11:55 am: Geoff Kaiser posted an incredibly interesting--and potentially revealing--comment about the number of breweries pouring at the GABF.  His figures are probably a lot closer to representing the number of entries per state.  It could explain a lot.


As you are probably aware, the Great American Beer Festival concluded this weekend, keyed by the announcement of the annual awards and a storm of joyful tweets.  As usual, I tuned in to see how the locals did, delighted to see some impressive and unexpected results.  Tiny Arch Rock Brewery in Gold Beach took home a gold in the kellerbier category.  (You first read about that brewery and that beer--" the lager, predictably my favorite, is a rustic, slightly hazy beer more in the Czech tradition than German"--right here on Beervana.)  Barley Brown's once again demonstrated dominance in the hoppy categories (CDA, international pale ale, and gold in fresh-hop), and Portland's own Breakside took honors with a gold in the most coveted of awards, American-Style IPA (a fest-record 279 entries).

My own homerism got me thinking: how are medals distributed?  This was the first year in which a new registration system that vastly expanded access to the Fest.  In 2013, many breweries applied and were denied entry--and about 700 managed to get beer into the fest.  This year, the Brewers Association made room for up to 1400, and over 1300 submitted beers.  That's actually a huge number--right about half of all breweries in existence at the beginning of the year.  In all, an astounding 5,500 beers were reviewed.

I often whinge about the ever-growing number of categories, which ensure an ever-growing number of medals.  There were something like 273 medals possible, but judges didn't award medals in some categories, and in at least one category--Koyt beer--there were no entries.  (Is this proof that you can have too many categories?  I mean, koyt beer?)  Overall, 268 were awarded, which seems like a lot until you consider that only one medal was awarded for every 20 entries.  (Harvard's acceptance rate was higher.)  Of the 1309 breweries in the competition, just 234 managed to medal (17.9%).

And yet for all that, when you look at the medals awarded by state, you see anything but an even distribution.  We don't have numbers on how many breweries entered per state, so the figures only tell part of the story--but it's quite a story.  Just five states won half the medals, and just two states--Colorado and California--account for almost a third.  This is especially impressive for Colorado, which has less than half as many breweries (180ish) as California (381).  Here are the top ten, which constitute nearly two-thirds of all the medals won; the other 40 states managed to collect just 35%.

To add a bit more detail, here's a list, with the approximate number of total state breweries included (and keep in mind, I have no numbers for how many of the state's breweries actually entered the competition).

Medals Won
CA - 46 (approximately 318 breweries)
CO - 39 (180)
85 cumulative medals (32% of total)

OR - 22 (181)
TX - 16 (96)
PA - 12 (108)
135 cumulative medals (50% of total)

IL - 9 (83)
WA - 9 (200)
NM - 8 (31)
VA - 7 (61)
WI - 7 (90)
175 cumulative medals (65% of total)

Other states receiving at least five medals: MI (6), MN (6), MT (6), NC (6), MD (5), OH (5), UT (5).

I would be leery about over-interpreting these results.  Nevertheless, it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that a very few states seem to be way out in front in terms of making making medal-earning beers.