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How we choose New Zealand’s Champion Brewer

How we choose New Zealand’s Champion Brewer

Each year the Brewers Guild runs New Zealand’s biggest beer competition, awarding medals and trophies in 13 classes. The combined results of this competition determine the Champion Brewer.

Leading beer judge and writer Geoff Griggs describes the judging process:

“Every entry is judged blind. We know what style of beer we are tasting, and have guidelines describing that style, but we never know which beer it is or who brewed it.

“Working in teams of four, a panel of 28 judges will work for three days. Each morning and afternoon the judging teams are shuffled, so each judge ends up working with different judges, and every judge will assess about 60 beers per day.

“Beers are assessed on individual merit and those deemed to be of suitable quality within their specific style categories will be awarded gold, silver or bronze medals. Here in New Zealand we use the internationally respected style guidelines published by the US Brewers Association. Updated each year, the guidelines identify a hundred or so different beer styles. These are supplemented with guidelines for several more Kiwi-specific styles.

“Each beer is brought to the table in small tasting glasses, identified only with a number and indication of the style.

“Working individually, judges first scrutinise each beer’s appearance. Is it the correct colour for the style? Is it clear or cloudy, and if so, is it meant to be that way? Some beers – for example, unfiltered wheat beers – should be cloudy. And does the beer have a loose frothy head, a tight creamy head, or no head at all? All of these can be acceptable depending on the style of beer.

“Next to be considered is the beer’s aroma. Again, this will vary greatly according to the style of beer being judged. A Pilsener, for example, should have a bright, floral or fruity, hop-driven aroma, while a Scottish ale or German bock will be dominated by sweet, caramelised malt notes.

“At this stage it’s also important to identify any undesirable aromas. Undesirable vegetal characters (such as baked bean or sweetcorn), sulphur (egg or struck match), acetaldehyde (harsh green apple), or diacetyl (butterscotch) are considered faults.

“A small sip is taken to assess the beer’s palate. As well as determining if the balance of malty sweetness against the bitterness of the hop or darker grains is pleasant and appropriate for the particular style, it’s important to check for faults such as sourness or astringency. Faults in a beer’s aroma are likely to be reinforced when it reaches the mouth.

“At the same time attention is paid to the beer’s body or ‘mouth feel’. In an easy-drinking lager or wheat beer a judge might look for a slender body with a spritzy carbonation, while in a stout the texture should be fuller bodied, perhaps oilier and less gassy.

“After swallowing the beer, we assess the beer’s finish; the taste left behind in the mouth and throat. Is it bitter or sweet, subtle or harsh, short, or lingering? And, most importantly, is it pleasant?

“We make notes on all of the above then finally record our general impressions of the beer. Does it have the qualities that a beer of its style should? Is it fresh, or exhibiting undesirable oxidised characteristics?

“Judges discuss the beer and then try to come to a consensus. If a beer is deemed worthy of consideration for a medal it will be submitted for further round of judging, often at a later time and by a different panel of judges.

“In this medal round, the beers are reassessed. Bronze, silver and gold medals may be awarded at the judges’ discretion and, if necessary, the highest rated beers may be re-judged to determine a best-in-class trophy winner.

“With each judge assessing up to 60 beers each day, the process is time consuming and tiring. Concentration is required over a long period and it’s important to refresh the palate and take regular short breaks away from the table. I’ve always found a sense of humour is also helpful.

“We will be judging almost 1000 beers and ciders this year, and once the judging is over, choosing the Champion Brewer is just simple maths. Three points are awarded to gold medal-winning beers, two to silvers and one for bronzes. In the event of a tie, each brewery’s fourth-ranked beer is then taken into consideration to determine the Champion New Zealand Brewer and Champion International Brewer.

“The medals, trophies and Champion status are keenly contested, and they will all be announced on Saturday 7 October at the Brewers Guild Awards, Air Force Museum, Wigram, Christchurch.”


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