Despite the best efforts of all involved the judging of beer (and wine) competitions is not a perfect science.
There's no doubt a beer that's assessed late in the afternoon, after judges have already evaluated dozens of others, is at a disadvantage compared with one that comes to the table in the morning. After all, judges are human and humans are not machines.
That said, most competitions have systems in place to minimise any disparity in the judging process. At the New Zealand beer awards, for example - as is the case at big American competitions such as the World Beer Cup (WBC) and Great American Beer Festival (GABF) - potential medal-winning beers are assessed twice, and by different judging panels, before any awards are decided.
Also, when it comes to the potential number of medals that can be awarded there are two distinct types of competition. In New Zealand and at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) judges are free to award as many (or few) medals as they see appropriate. In these competitions any beer that meets the appropriate criteria for a bronze, silver or gold medal can win one.
At other competitions, such as the WBC and GABF, only the three highest-rated entries win a medal. It's comparable to the Olympic Games, where there's only one bronze, one silver and one gold medal awarded. Most importantly, in both types of competition, if the judges feel there are no entries of suitable quality, medals need not be awarded. This often happens.
Both systems have their merits, but the "Olympics-style" system seems to be the least flexible. In some larger style categories at the WBC and GABF, where there can be hundreds of entries, it seems harsh to give the third-rated beer a bronze medal when it may well be of gold medal standard.
Having defined judging criteria for bronze, silver and gold medal standards is especially helpful in the case of smaller competitions where it prevents beers being awarded medals simply because they were the best of a bad bunch. A case in point would be the 2012 Japanese International Beer Competition whose results were announced just last week.
Although the competition has been run each year since 1996, with just 248 entries, albeit from 34 countries, it is small by international standards. As one of the "Olympics-style" competitions, it was interesting and reassuring to note that and the judges, who represented 13 countries, chose not to award gold and silver medals in several style categories. Indeed, of the 94 categories judged just 31 beers received gold medals.
Held in Tokyo's scenic Yebisu Garden Place, a redeveloped cultural centre which, for almost a century, was home to Japan's famous Yebisu Beer, the competition saw two New Zealand breweries among the award winners.
Marlborough's Moa Brewing Company received a gold medal for Moa Pale Ale in the Australasian/International Pale Ale category, while Moa Noir (German style schwarzbier) and Moa Breakfast Beer (fruit/wheat beer) both received bronze medals. The North Island was represented by Kapiti Coast brewer Tuatara, which received a gold medal for Tuatara IPA in the Classic English-style pale ale category and a bronze for Tuatara Aotearoa Pale Ale (APA) in the United States-style strong pale ale category. Congratulations to both Kiwi breweries.
These latest awards come at a time when New Zealand's major liquor chains are starting to take an interest in craft beer. Last month Super Liquor sponsored Beervana, Wellington's annual showcase of craft beer, and the company has now backed this up with Craftology, a new website and YouTube channel focusing on the appreciation of craft beer. Meanwhile, this week the Auckland-based chain Glengarry's is marking its inaugural Beer Week with a series of tastings and beer and food matching evenings featuring beers from 21 Kiwi craft brewers.
With that kind of continuing support and increased availability craft beer may quickly emerge from its niche status to something with far broader market appeal. And I'll certainly drink to that.
DODSON STREET BEER GARDEN
This weekend sees the reopening of one of Blenheim’s most loved craft beer outlets.
Having closed its doors in May, Marlborough’s oldest commercial building, which is next to Lansdowne Park and
Renaissance Brewing Company, will reopen as Dodson Street Beer Garden on Saturday, September 29 under the management of respected Marlborough restaurateur and hospitality professional Dietmar Schnarre.
Open seven days a week from 11am to 11pm, Dodson Street will feature an ever-changing selection of tap beers from Renaissance, 8 Wired, Dale’s and other respected New Zealand craft brewers.
Bottled beers and regional wines will also be available.
In a move reflecting Dietmar Schnarre’s homeland, Dodson Street will also offer two German tap beers from Munich’s famous Hofbrau brewery.
The fine range of drinks will be complemented with a selection of tasty meals and snacks
- The Marlborough Express