For Tony Savoy, beer is a serious matter.
The co-owner of Flyers Restaurant and Brewery in Oak Harbor was one of 300 people selected to be a judge at the most prestigious beer competition in the world.
Savoy described the World Beer Cup as the “Olympics for beer.” The event is hosted by the Brewers Association. The group also hosts the Great American Beer Festival every year in Denver which is open to all U.S. breweries. The World Beer Cup, however, is open to every commercial brewery in the world.
“There’s about 10,000 beers being judged, total,” Savoy said.
Savoy first applied to be a judge at the Great American Beer Festival in 2011. He had to prove he would treat the event seriously and had a good palette for tasting. After he was accepted, it took two years for him to get a judging spot. He judged at four Great American Beer Festivals before being asked to judge at the the World Beer Cup.
“Being there with some of the best palettes in the world was pretty exciting,” he said.
Savoy began brewing professionally when he was 21 at Skagit River Brewery in Mount Vernon. It was 1995 and craft brewing was just starting to blow up in the Pacific Northwest, he said. He worked several jobs in the industry until Jason Tritt bought the building that now holds Flyers in 2006. Tritt asked Savoy to be his brewery master and business partner. Savoy then went on to rake in dozens of awards for Flyers beers. He began judging at small beer competitions in order to learn how people decide what beers are worthy of awards.
At this year’s World Beer Cup, Savoy tried 36 beers in the morning, ate lunch, then tried another 36 beers in the afternoon for three days straight.
He said that while judging a beer competition may not sound like hard work, it takes a lot of focus to drink so much and keep your wits about you and your palette on track.
Beers are entered in about 100 different categories and are judged based on things such as color, aroma, head retention and alcohol percentage. All beers are judged blind. Winning beers receive a gold, silver or bronze award in each category. The categories Savoy judged were robust porters, international pilsners, American stout, American black ale and American IPAs – the most popular and largest category.
Savoy said winning breweries get bragging rights for making one of the top beers in the world. The awards are good for marketing as well. He said the two awards that Flyers received at the World Beer Cup in years past put the business on the map in the brewery world.
That being said, Savoy said a lot of Whidbey Island residents think of Flyers just as a restaurant and don’t even know that they make beer.
“Not only are we making beer but we are the most award-winning brewery on the island,” he said. “The size of our brewery is really small but the quality of the beer we’re putting out — we’re competing with some of the largest breweries in the world. They’re probably spilling more beer than we make in a year.”