The 8th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition announced their medal winners recently. Since then, I have been getting press releases almost daily from spirits companies bragging about how many medals they won.
I respect the competition’s organizers. Ditto the 25 judges. In fact, some are my friends. Some write (or have previously written) for Malt Advocate magazine.
I’m looking at the category winners. All are deserving of their awards. They are great products.
So, what’s bugging me then?
A total of 847 spirits were entered into the competition. 749 of them were awarded a medal (Double Gold, Gold, Silver, or Bronze). If my math is correct, 88.4% of all entries got a medal. That’s nearly 9 out of every 10. And 31% of all entries were awarded a Gold or Double Gold.
So, if you represent a spirit brand (Scotch whisky, bourbon, Irish whiskey, etc.), and you pay your $400 to enter it in this competition, you have a nearly 9 in 10 change of winning a medal (and a 3 in 10 chance to win Gold or Double Gold), which explains why 847 spirits were entered.
I can’t blame the brand owners for participation. $400 is a small investment to be almost assured a medal in what is being dubbed “America’s Number One Spirits Competition.” And I have no problem with the organisers making a buck or two off the concept (847 x $400 = $338,800). A spirits competition is a good idea, we need something like this, and these are the right people to do it.
My problem with the whole thing is the number of medals awarded. Most consumers think of medals as being something rare and special. They think of the Olympics, where one person gets a Gold, one person gets a Silver, and one person gets a Bronze.
Imagine what the Olympics would be like if 88.4% of all participants won a medal! Everyone would be walking around the Olympics grounds with medals on their chest. For a little while, anyway. Then they would finally figure out that if just about everyone has a medal, it’s not very special after all, and they would just stop wearing them. They would just get in the way.
The whole purpose of a spirits competition like this is to guide the consumer in making intelligent decisions when buying spirits. They naturally assume that a medal winner is something special and worthy of consideration when making a purchase.
I think every every brand owner who advertises that their spirit won a medal should also be obligated to state what the odds were in their winning the medal. (Just like the sweepstakes are obliged to do.) That way consumers could intelligently weigh the merits of the medal.
In this current scenario, I feel like everyone wins–except for the consumer.