The home-brewing Olympics

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 14:45 05/05/2014

There has been a fair amount of press in the past few weeks about two New Zealand breweries' achievements at beer's equivalent of the Olympics.

Garage Project and Speight's both picked up silver medals at the World Beer Cup in April.

Most beer competitions dish out multiple medals before picking a final winner, but the Beer World Cup only gives out a gold, silver and bronze to the best three beers in each category.

While silver may not seem like a massive victory - second is often called the best loser - both medals should be celebrated, for more reasons than being the first medals for New Zealand beers since Monteith's Black won best European-style schwarzbier in 2000. Garage Project

Garage Project's Cockswain's Courage Double Barrelled Edition Porter was in one of the largest beer categories (wood and barrel-aged strong beer), while Speight's Triple Hop Pilsner was only beaten by global juggernaut Asahi Super Dry in the technically difficult international lager section.

Commercial brewers pitting themselves against each other is nothing new, although there has not been a world home brew competition.

But that looks set to change, if the SJPORR Challenge is anything to go by.

Set up by a YouTube user who goes by the name SJPORR, the challenge started as a way for homebrewers to taste each other's brewing experiments.

SJ would come up with a basic recipe idea, but always with a little wriggle room, and brewers would see how creative they could be within the guidelines.

With the internet helping bring brewers from across the globe together, the challenge expanded last year to include brewers from outside SJ's homeland - the United States of America.

One of those included last year was Paul Wicksteed, a software developer who brews in his impressive home brewery in Wainuiomata.

Starting off as a self-described moonshiner, he has five years of home brewing under his belt and is best known in New Zealand circles for his excellent Homebrew Wednesday videos.

He says the challenge went international last year almost on accident.

''SJ announced the competition and I said, 'I'm from New Zealand, can I do it too?'''

Things soon escalated, with brewers from the United Kingdom also getting involved.

Wicksteed ended up running a New Zealand edition of the challenge due to increased interest from brewers here.

Sixteen Kiwi home brewers took part, trading their experiments with each other before coming up with a top six.

With a bit of help from Brew House in Wellington, they managed to ship the top six beers to some of the top challenge brewers in the United Kingdom and United States.

Wicksteed say that is when the seed was sown to make this year's challenge a truly international affair.

''That made me aware the competition had some legs.''

This year, the SJPORR Challenge will see home brewers all over the world create what they think is the best beer possible.

Brewers have been divided into hubs, assigned depending on where they live.

They will taste and vote for each other's beers, before the top three beers from each country are shipped around the world.

The top three brewers from each country will then try each other's beers, casting votes to crown the worldwide top three.

Wicksteed, who is running the New Zealand hub for the competition, says there is no cash prize for winning.

''The thing you get, at the end of the day, is being the best in the world or the best in New Zealand.''

Having no prize was supposed to help keep entry numbers down, but it does not seem to have worked.

More than 160 brewers from 14 countries have registered so far, with 63 from the United States alone.

''They are turning people away because it's too many beers to drink and judge,'' Wicksteed says.

There are 32 brewers registered in New Zealand so far, with registrations not closing until May 16 - and numbers have not been capped yet.

''I think in New Zealand, people can handle drinking that many beers in a month.''

Shipping the beers individually around the country would be a nightmare - both for Wicksteed and the bank balance of most home brewers - so all New Zealand entries will be traded at Beervana in August.

''Any home brewer that is that keen about beer and brewing is coming to Beervana, at least sometime during that week,'' Wicksteed says.

Beer Without Borders is donating storage space for the beers to be swapped, and the beers will make their way from New Zealand largely thanks to sponsorship money from Panhead Custom Ales, Hashigo Zake, Finney's Brew Emporium, Mangrove Jacks and Brew Zealand.

It sounds like a lot of work, all for the sake of a beer competition, but Wicksteed says taking part in competitions is invaluable for home brewers wanting to improve their skills.

''If I invite a mate around to drink a beer, he will like it because it's free beer.

''When you're doing swaps [like the SJPORR Challenge] you are getting honest opinion from peer reviews.

''You all talk to each other and are all working to make better beer.''

Sending beer overseas, something he does quite often, helps people in other countries learn how home brewers approach their craft in other parts of the world, he says.

While the challenge has started small, there are aspirations to make it much bigger.

Wicksteed says some large craft breweries have expressed interest in helping run it, but want to see how it goes this year before backing it.

''There is a lot of people keen on it and wanting to get involved.''

Here's hoping one of the New Zealand entries can bring home another brewing medal - preferably gold - for us.

For more information on the SJPOOR Challenge, see www.sjporrchallenge.com

- Manawatu Standard

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