When Trinity Brewing owner Jason Yester first envisioned a series of beers designed to highlight the differences between various wild yeasts and souring bacteria, the goal was to educate consumers, brewers, beer writers, and even beer judges about flavor profiles. "There is a lot of confusion," he said then, about what makes an American Wild -- funky yeast, like Brettanomyces -- and what makes an American Sour -- acidic bacteria, like Lactobacillus. The project was a way to spread some knowledge.
And apparently there is still some work to be done.
In late November, Trinity won a silver medal at Chicago's Festival of Barrel Aged Beer in the Wild Beer/Brettanomyces category.
The problem? Trinity accidentally submitted a beer called Swing Se Pliser, which is made with Lactobacillus, but not Brett, rather than its Easy Swinger Wild IPA, which was fermented with Brett only and no Lacto. Both are part of the aforementioned series of six different interpretations of Red Swingline, a hoppy sour ale that is made with both Brett and Lacto. Trinity brewed all six beers this year in honor of its sixth anniversary.
Yester is surprised that the judges didn't notice the problem, since most are trained in recognizing different flavor profiles. He's also frustrated that anyone who sampled the beer at the festival will now think that beers made with only Brett have an an acidic, sour taste -- especially since the point of the Swingline series was to educate people.
But he says he didn't want to compromise the integrity of the festival -- or his beers -- and that his conscience wouldn't let him.
As a result, Yester packed up his medal on Tuesday and mailed it back to the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild, which hosts the festival. They will likely award it to Oakshire Brewing in Oregon, which won bronze in the category. (Trinity also won a silver medal in the Wild Beer/Acidic category at the same festival for its 365 Day Golden Sour.)
"I don't think I've ever heard of someone returning a medal. But if you are living these kinds of beers, you have to do it legitimately," he says. We put so much effort into the Swingline series -- to really show the differences. So this hurts the project."
In alerting the festival to the situation, Yester wrote, "I'm at a real crossroads.... although 'Swing Pliser' is beautiful beer, I feel that winning an award for Wild/Brett with an all Lacto beer not only compromises the educational intent behind our Swingline project (and the 20 months of planning to develop the project), but I also feel like I didn't earn this medal as it was our 'screw up' on our part for shipping the wrong beer."
He also noted his disappointment in judges, saying that "a judging panel who can not distinguish the differences between brett and lacto will compromise the touted reputation of the fest."
In response, festival competition director Janna Mestan thanked Yester.
"Over the past few years, we have grown this competition by leaps and bounds, and we have worked very hard to improve our judge selection process," she wrote in an email. "Currently, our judging committee relies on the information provided by prospective judges to rate their experience and their specialties -- each of the members of this particular panel were experienced and well respected in the industry, with specialization in Brett and sour beers.
"However, this is a pretty substantial and inexcusable miss on their part. We will continue to investigate the judges in question and work to further improve the judge selection process, so we can ensure incidents like this do not occur again," she added.
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