Sean and Joyce Turner, Charlie Papazian, Karl Anderson and Jason Senior (Photo courtesy MBC)
If you’ve had the occasion recently to drink some of Mammoth Brewing Company’s Double Nut Brown Porter, congratulations … you sipped some liquid gold.
The locally brewed craft concoction was one of two MBC entries that brought home medals in the 9th Biannual World Brewing Cup competition, which handed out top brewing honors on May 5 in San Diego, Calif. MBC’s Double Nut won the Gold medal in the Brown Porter category, and the company’s Real McCoy Amber Ale was awarded a Bronze medal in the German Style Brown/Dusseldorf-Style Altbier category. This was MBC’s first year entering in this contest.
“It’s called ‘The Olympics of Beer Competition’ for good reason,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, the U.S.-based trade association that has put on the competition every two years since 1996. “The awards are highly regarded. A brewer who wins a World Beer Cup gold award knows that their winning beer represents the best of that beer style in the world.”
On hand from MBC to accept their accolades were Jason Senior, head brewer, Karl Anderson, brewer, and MBC owners Sean and Joyce Turner. As Sean put it, winning one World Cup medal gets you accolades, but winning two earns you a certain respect. “It really speaks to the consistency and quality of our beers,” Turner said.
This year’s World Beer Cup competition featured the strongest field of entrants on record: 799 breweries from 54 countries and 45 U.S. states, and more than 2,400 attendees. Brewers from around the world received 284 awards in 95 categories from an elite international panel of judges. Each category had an average of 41 entries, and overall the contest noted an 18 percent increase in entrants from two years ago.
Both the Double Nut Brown and Real McCoy Amber beers have earned many gold medals over several years from the California State Fair, but the Turners say that the World Cup medal put MBC’s work firmly “on par with other world-recognized breweries,” such as Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker. “It’s not just that we’re okay to run with the big dogs,” Sean pointed out, “but that we’re recognized as ONE of the big dogs!”
As Sean described, the WB Cup is held in conjunction with the Craft Brewers Conference, which Turner has been attending since 1994. He credits Papazian with getting him hooked on brewing. “Charlie wrote a classic book, ‘The Joy of Home Brewing,’ which got me into home brew,” Sean recalled. “In the 1990s, I decided to turn a hobby into a career.”
Many MBC devotees might not realize that this is Sean’s fourth brewing project as an owner or operator. “Sam Walker recruited me from within the industry,” he explained. “I interviewed him as well. [MBC] had good beer and strong brand recognition, but one attractive thing was that it had no distribution baggage attached to it.”
He and wife Joyce are in this situation for the long run. “We’ve put down roots with this one,” he said. “I’m happy with what Joyce and I have here.”
The World Brewing Cup honor, however, is ultimately a recognition of the brewers, he added. “Joyce and I are happy to take credit for our part in the awards as the owners, but Jason and all our brewers are the ones who really deserve credit.”
There is a beer industry saying: “Brewers don’t make beer. Yeast makes beer.” It’s the brewers who are responsible for creating the right environment for the yeast. “They have to keep it clean and consistent,” Sean noted. “Happy yeast makes happy beer.”
The 2012 judging panel was the most international in the history of the World Beer Cup. Judges from 27 countries, with roughly 67 percent from outside the U.S., conducted blind tasting evaluations of the beers to determine the winners. Sean said he thinks that Europe is taking some of its brew cues from the U.S. craft industry, which in his opinion has spurred a “craft resurgence” there.
He doesn’t have anything against the big corporate companies, which he calls one component of the beer industry at large. For many years, many foreign countries disparaged American beer as being inferior. Turner pointed out that the U.S. beer industry has been based largely on rice and corn since WWII.
Prior to Prohibition in 1919, there were some 2,000 breweries in the U.S. With the passage of the Volstead Act, that number plummeted to virtually zero, and during WWII, rationing left rice and corn as the most plentiful sources of grain for beer companies, such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors. Home brew wasn’t legalized until 1976. The delay was a result of a clerical error that kept it out of the legalizing process put in place with the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. Since 1976, the U.S. quickly established itself as the world leader in craft brewing for much of the last 30 plus years.
Since winning the award, Sean said MBC has been getting calls from distributors as far away as China wanting to carry their beer. “My standard response, for now at least, is give me about a year,” he quipped.
“We want our beers in California and Nevada soon, and in the seven western-most states within about five years,” Sean said. “My goal is solid regional brewing. From there, some of the seasonal and more unique, specialty beers can be marketed anywhere around the world. IPA 395 could be sold in China.”
Sean said recognition from his peers means more to him personally than the medals. “At the awards dinner, even with 2,400 people there, I was surrounded by friends, some of whom I’ve known for almost 20 years.”
That camaraderie, he added, means a lot when it comes to having so many of his compatriots in town for each summer’s Mammoth Festival of Beers, which he promotes as heavily as the Bluesapalooza music festival it’s paired with. “Like Mammoth, the craft industry has a ‘small town’ feel to it.
“The town could take a lesson from the craft industry in how we cooperatively compete with each other,” he suggested. “We promote the industry as a whole, and it helps all of us. It’s the same with tourism. If one succeeds, everyone succeeds.”