Kahn's 2011 Battle of Belgium Recap!
We set it up. We hyped it up. You drank it up!
It's a bit overdue, but for all those deeply invested and those with just a casual fascination here's all that went down in the inaugural Battle of Belgium.
We wanted to come up with an original idea for a tasting event that would give people a chance to experience a significant number of beers they might not normally give a swirl. What do people like? Beer and this time of year... the excitement of big tournaments! What can we offer people? Beer... excellent high quality Belgian beer to taste FOR FREE! Ok, let's combine those and make it blind!
After we created the idea we discovered that there were a few other concepts out there that were similar (this one for example http://t.co/vsce0kx), but none that really offered you what we were planning on offering. An 8 day, 64 Belgian beer, head to head, blind tasting tournament! It sounded ambitious, but with A LOT of help from distributors and significant positive feedback we continued onward.
Using Kahn's beer sales data from 2010, BeerAdvocate and RateBeer scores and our own staff's blind tasting ratings of 70+ beers we compiled our bracket (http://tinyurl.com/65cbss2). We did have to and eliminate a few due to limited availability , but still ended up with 64 of about the best 90 or so Belgian style beers we carry. So many favorites, but still a lot of lesser known ones we were excited to see how people reacted to them.
The BOB begins!
Round 1 featured 16 'upsets'. 50% of the match-ups, but only one of the 'top 8' seeds goes down. It was Hoegaarden, a beer that primarily had its #2 seed thanks to its massive sales. Delirium Tremens wasn't scared and won handily! The first round highlighted one criticism people (customers and those in the industry) had about our set up... 'why aren't the brackets set up by style?' Well, when are tournaments set up like that? Are there really enough representatives from each style to compile 'fair' brackets? (Quads and Tripels made up a larger percentage of the higher rated beers) AND, most importantly, why would you want to eliminate the main fun factor of the entire concept? How will beers of differing styles fare against each other? A prime example of this was our #1 overall seed Rochefort 10 (quad) v. Lindeman's Cuvee Rene (gueuze). Complete opposites, but we were pretty interested in finding out what people would think in our format! Sure, it's not fair if you want to look at it as a supreme way to judge beer, but that was not at all what we were going for. These beers are all good or they wouldn't be included in the first place. Let's just have some fun with them now!
As the event went on we started seeing a few trends. People love high gravity Belgian beer whether they can see the label or not. This certainly wasn't unexpected. Tripels and Quads were getting the job done! Of the 31 total breweries with beers in the tourney, 5 breweries really set themselves apart from the crowd, and 1 in particular. St. Bernardus was by far the most dominant brewery in the entire tournament. It landed 6 beers in the field and 2 of the final 4 and the winning beer, Abt 12! Goose Island was second in that department with 5 beers in, 3 in the final 16 and had Matilda place 2nd overall. The other three breweries that all advanced their beers quite far were Rochefort (Rochefort 8 placed 3rd overall), The Bruery (Tradewinds Tripel was a major hit with voters) and Unibroue (look at Canada putting 2 beers in the final 8!).
When you narrowed our big ol' tourney down to the last 4, it was a heated 4-way, steel cage match of brown-bagged belgo-beer! St. Bernardus' tag team of Abt 12 and Pater 6 occupied 2 corners, staring down Rochefort 8 and Goose Island Matilda. 'Let's get it on!' Pater 6 was the only surprise entrant in the final and though it got in some punches, finished 4th with 22 votes. After owning the Bruges bracket, Rochefort 8 ran out of steam and finished 3rd with 23 votes. 1st and 2nd places went back and forth all night. Matilda actually won at our Keystone and Downtown stores, but did so poorly at North Willow that Abt 12 was able to rally and take the first ever Battle of Belgium championship!
Here's the final bracket: http://tinyurl.com/4ctwhkq
Overall, the event was a major success. Goals were met. People experienced new beer, beer was bought, we learned what beers people really enjoy and it created a buzz and interesting conversations about these amazing beers. We couldn't have asked for much more and can't wait for next year! Do we stay with the Belgian theme? Expand to 68 beers? (Ha!) Hone it back a touch and do more, smaller tournaments? It's still up in the air, so feel free to let us know your thoughts. What'd we do right? What'd we screw up? What should we do next? Tell us! Thanks to all of you who participated!