The r-ALPHA Brewers Index

By BeertownNZ Thu, 12 Oct 2017 Canterbury

Three Boys' Ralph Bungard give his assessment of the 2017 Brewers Guild Awards and results

Oh, what a night! Once again, the Brewers’ Guild of New Zealand Beer Awards 2017 was a treat! Showcased for the first time in the South Island at the spectacular Wigram Airforce Museum, the fantastic and eclectic mix of beings that is the New Zealand brewing industry got together to celebrate. And celebrate they did with local MC Keith Preene and Lindon Puffin bringing a light-hearted angle to what, for other industries, could be just like last Monday’s Pasta Bake - a stodgy, thankless affair.

Garage project walked away with the well-deserved Big Gong as 2017’s Champion New Zealand Brewery. Wellington’s favourite sons and daughters seldom make an appearance at the ever-growing periphery events that surround the awards spectacular, but it was a rare pleasure to see them present in force to collect the much-coveted golden trophy.

In the dusty, dim and hazy day that followed, after we packed away our medal haul, I got to looking at where Three Boys could rightfully rank ourselves on the big stage of NZ beer. To be honest, I felt a little disappointed in how Three Boys went this year. Sure, we were happy with three silvers and three bronze medals combined with the fine results for our contract brews.

However, I couldn’t help but think what an extra special night it would have been for Three Boys if somewhere in the mathematical universe centring around the number three, Three Boys also picked up three golds. That would have really made me smile.  Still, even if that had occurred that symmetrical haul of three gold, silver and bronze would not have even had us in the running for Brewery of the Year. The funky inventers of fermentation at Garage Project took away four golds as did the Lion team who for a night replaced their lab coats with dark suits. Then four gold apiece for the small but classy crews at Sawmill and McLeod’s brewing, who surely are perpetual joint winners of the nicest-ever-brewing-team-ever award.

That got me thinking. Three things. One, how were we as Three Boys placed, really? And how is a brewery that just enters say three beers and gets 100% perfection with three gold medals ever going to be seen as New Zealand’s best brewer? And finally, what is the real value of a medal to a brewer; if they had to choose, would they rather have five bronzes or a single gold medal?

Surely there is a better indicator of brewing quality than simply the weight of a brewer’s gong!

So, here’s my thoughts: to compensate for the number of beers entered is easy. That is why statisticians and cricket nuts like me use averages (or means). Just because you make 100 runs on your cricketing debut (not me by the way) does not make you the next Sachin Tendulker, especially if you then go on with season after season after god-forsaken season of scratching to get off the mark (more like me by the way). Sorted, I hear you say, just then divide the medal count by the number of beers entered.

The second problem of medal value is more debatable; would I rather have a single gold or three bronzes? A bronze is a fantastic result in the BGNZ awards. It tells you that that beer is a well-made, faultless beer that is pretty much on style. Liken it to a classy cover drive for some very tidy runs. Thank you very much. Nice shot brewer! A gold on the other hand is a fantastically made beer that hits every style, class and quality aspect at a world-class level. It is the beer beers! You smashed it out of the park brewer! Six runs! (Just to finish of my wee cricket theme there – thanks for your patience)!

With the relative value of these precious metals in mind, 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.

Anyway, so, six, three, one and zero points for gold, silver, bronze and no medal, respectively. Points totalled for every brewery then divided by the number of beers entered by that brewery. This is exciting – let’s give this new weighted average a name before we go any further (a bit like a contract brewer and their beers, eh? Come up with a name and then let’s make a beer to fit!). We can’t call it the NZX50 because that’s taken. Why not call this the r-ALPHA index? (see what I did there?). Maybe not. Instead let’s settle on something less egocentrically cringe-worthy and which sounds a little less like a sexual enhancement pill. Say the BGNZ Medal-X index (Medal-X for short).

Please keep in mind that we were looking at this simply to put a comparable number on our Three Boys effort. It is certainly not to question the validity of our winners and, in particular, the good, talented and hard-working people at Garage Project. We were in no way trying to push Three Boys up the scale so that we could say things like, “well, if use this maths then turns out Three Boys are Champion Brewery again…. 11th year running!

In fact, being the mean-spirited and competitive brewery owner that I am, there was a little bit of me hoping to curtail the possibility that at Three Boys we would be patting ourselves on the back saying things like “silver, well that was good wasn’t it. Didn’t we do OK”. I wanted to say look at the BGNZ Medal-X of Three Boys – do you think we did well or do we expect better than this? Turns out for this latest point, the Medal-X index was a very powerful tool.

Turns out also that the secret life of numbers means that although the maximum value of the Medal-X index is six (a gold for every beer entered), realistically a brewery must be approaching god-like brilliance to get a Medal-X value of around three. (By chance the magic number which conveniently falls into the brewers favoured rating index of zero to three stars!)

Now, I can hear the blaring crowd from here. There is a couple of not African, but smaller Asian elephants in the room when using the Medal-X as a brewery quality indicator - It relies on a couple of significant assumptions. One being that it assumes that beers did not miss out on awards simply because they did not fit correctly in a category for which they were entered. Every brewer knows how hard it is to get that entry in the right class – and perhaps there isn’t even a right class for your fantastic beer. The result is that a great, well-made beer can miss out on a medal.

The second is that the judges made the right call on your beer – perhaps there was a single influential and vocal judge on that table that thought they got a whiff of sulphur early in the nose. Unbeknown that the source of that sulphur note was not from the glass but the arse – of their counterparts!

Joking aside, we sort of need to suck it up with these two assumptions – Brewers need to get their entries in the right category as much as you can and judges please leave the room if you feel the need to pass wind!  These issues are not unique to the BGNZ awards (or any awards for that matter) and they are difficult to fix.  As an aside, although I was not in the throngs of the judges this year, I have judged for many years in NZ, Australia and Japan and I can honestly say, that although good beers may, from time-to-time, miss out on an award, you can safely wager that any beer that does get an award (bronze to gold) was a great beer in that glass on that judging day.

And finally, like with all statistics we need a good sample to make the average value accurate. (If you are still with me head on back to my cricket example above – but simple enough to say that you need to enter more than one beer in the awards for stats to work – the more the better!)

So, I weighted the medal values, divided by the number of entries and here’s the BGNZ Medal-X results.

The team of hellishly nice folk at Sawmill Brewing had the highest Medal-X value of 2.92 closely followed by the consistently brilliant Epic Brewing at 2.87, followed by the class teams that make up McCleods Brewing (2.55) and Altitude Brewing (2.25) and the consistent quality that is Bach Brewing (2.20). You have to go well down in the field before you reach us at Three Boys with a Medal-X index of 0.93 (And right there I have my stick to wield over the next few months on the brewery floor!).

Take a look at the top five Medal-X breweries in New Zealand. Use the Medal-X index as you please but, as with beer, always for good!

Brewery

Entries

Medal-X value

Sawmill

12

2.92

Epic

7

2.86

McLeod’s

11

2.55

Altitude

8

2.25

Bach

10

2.2

 

Cheers

Ralph Bungard

By BeertownNZ Thu, 12 Oct 2017 Canterbury