The best beers do win. My example is category 8, where a 1.040 bitter won. I would put good money up that the winner was up against some 1.060 or higher ESBs in that category.
Of course the Homebrewer of the Year award went to a guy with a Munich Helles at 1.051, which is right at the top of the guidlines, but it beat out some really big beers.
I do love seeing the "small beers" win, case in point Ordinary Bitters & Munich Helles. I've also seen cases outside of the NHC where a 60/- will be in the top three at a comp.
But back to the original topic, how can we as judges know for sure what the parameters are of the beer in hand? Testing of each beer is obviously out of the question, and relying on a home brewer to provide you with the OG/FG info may just invite some
people to fudge the numbers a bit to be "in style". ABV is one of the hardest things to pick out - some brewers are very skilled and can hide 8% in a 6% style. Should they be dinged for being good at what they do? Maybe... if you can even detect it. This is why I believe the guidelines are just that, guidelines
. They are not hard and fast rules, they are aids to help the judges determine if a beer is great at what it claims to be. Should there be a discussion between the 2 or 3 judges drinking these beers? Absolutely. But some things (especially beer drinking) are just subjective.