Last year, brothers Joe and Will Quinlin were penciling out the math for their Great American Beer Festival entries.
Their brewery in Oklahoma City, The Big Friendly, had won two medals and the 251–500 Barrels Brewery of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in 2022. As a three-year-old brewery, they liked the prospect of medaling again soon. However, the brothers didn’t want to risk shipping beer to Denver in the early fall heat, while packing entries into a cooler and overnight shipping it was expensive. Joe calculated that a round-trip plane ticket would be cheaper. So, it was decided: He would carry the beer to Denver himself and hand deliver it, then return to Oklahoma the same day.
This expense—a round-trip flight, plus a rental car and checked cooler full of beer—might sound excessive. But when The Big Friendly picked up two more gold medals in 2023 and their second consecutive Brewery of the Year award, Joe Quinlin says it erased their concerns about the cost.
“It was a pretty big expense,” he says. “As a matter of fact, the week before we won, I said to my brother, ‘We entered last year and this year; if we don’t get to the final round of judging, I don't think we should do it next year.’ We were having that conversation just a week before we won those medals.”
Many breweries go through significant expense—in time and treasure—to enter beers in competitions. Yet as these competitions proliferate and as brewery budgets squeeze, brewers are becoming more thoughtful than ever about which competitions are worth the effort and cost.
That return on investment is a different calculation for each brewery. Some value judges’ feedback; others value the industry respect that wins bring; and still others are looking for competitions that matter to local drinkers. When deciding which to enter, it’s only sensible to consider their relevance, their cost—financial and logistical—and the internal and external payoff of a potential win.
“You have to recognize your brand, what you’re going for with your brand, and pick the competition that fits your brand,” Quinlin says. “For us, GABF is the festival we have picked to be the most beneficial for where we’re at.”