Every two years I pore carefully through the results of the world's largest international beer competition hoping to see a bronze, silver or gold medal awarded to a Kiwi beer.
For as long as I can remember that search has been in vain. But not this year.
On Saturday afternoon I watched the awards ceremony for this year's World Beer Cup streamed live over the internet from the Hyatt Regency hotel in Denver, Colorado.
Run by the American Brewers' Association every alternate year since 1996, the World Beer Cup is often described as the Olympics of beer because just three medals - one gold, one silver and one bronze - are awarded in each category. That fact, combined with the sheer number of entries, means that to win a medal - any medal - is a monumental achievement. It's one tough competition.
This year's World Beer Cup attracted 4754 entries from 1403 breweries, representing 58 countries from across the globe. This year's tally was the greatest in the competition's history, tripling that of the world's second largest international beer competition, the Australian International Beer Awards.
The beers were judged in 94 style categories by a panel of 219 judges from 31 countries; 166 of the judges were from outside the United States, including five from New Zealand.
Judging is completed within three days. Judges work in teams of seven per table and the teams are changed every morning and afternoon. Judging begins each morning at 9 o'clock and can finish after 5 in the afternoon, with each judge assessing around 60 to 70 beers a day.
Judges are assigned to categories according to their specific area of expertise and do not judge every style. Beers are assessed according to recognised style guidelines and are brought to the table in "flights" of up to 15 at a time. Judging is carried out "blind" - no brand or other identifying information is provided, which ensures the beers are assessed solely on the merit of the liquid itself.
Judges first go through the beers one by one, making notes and adding comments on a specially designed judging sheet which is sent to the brewer after the competition. This first pass is completed without discussion, to avoid judges from unduly influencing each other. Scoring is not based on points; each flight is assessed as if the judges are looking for a best in show.
Once all the judges have sampled the beers and formed their opinions, a discussion is started. Overtly problematic or out-of-style beers are first dismissed; then beers with smaller issues of aroma, flavour, style or balance are removed from the table.
At this stage the remaining beers are technically satisfactory and within style parameters, so the discussion focuses on less tangible attributes. It's not always an easy process and, with a contentious group, the discussion can drag on. Flights usually take between 60 and 90 minutes to assess.
At this year's World Beer Cup, just 281 of the 4754 beers judged - some 6 per cent - were awarded medals. I am delighted to report that two of those medals, both silvers, went to Kiwi brewers.
New Zealand's first triumph came in category 21, for wood and barrel-aged strong beer, where Wellington's uber cool Garage Project brewery took the silver medal for Cockswain's Courage Double Barreled Edition Porter.
Sadly, as is the case these days with many of New Zealand's limited release craft beers, I haven't had the opportunity to try this brew and, given this latest award, I rate my chances even less.
But that's certainly not the case with the second Kiwi medal-winner. I was still getting my head around our first medal when, a few minutes later, the announcement came that Speight's Triple Hop Pilsner had taken the silver medal in category 28, for international-style lager.
Despite the apparent unworthiness of this beer's moniker (Triple Hop? Pilsner?), the beer meets the style guidelines perfectly. To earn the approval of the judges in a lager category whose very essence is cleanness, balance and drinkability and where the slightest technical fault is immediately obvious, requires enormous brewing expertise and scrupulous quality control.
Lion's brewers should be warmly congratulated to have received such a major award and I take my hat off to them.
With so few beers awarded medals, New Zealand's success at this year's World Beer Cup was remarkable enough, but even more so when you take into consideration the categories in which the Kiwi medal winners were competing.
While this year's competition saw an average of 50 entries per category, Garage Project's porter was up against 111 other beers in what turned out to be the competition's third largest category, and the Speight's beer was pitted against 88 other lagers. That's a wonderful achievement in anyone's book.
"Brewers from around the globe participate in the World Beer Cup to win recognition for their creativity and brewing skills," said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association.
"For a brewer, a World Beer Cup gold award allows them to say that their winning beer represents the best of that beer style in the world."
At that level I'd say a silver award is also well worthy of considerable bragging rights. I'm just disappointed the mainstream Kiwi media didn't agree. If a couple of Kiwi wines had done as well in the world's most prestigious wine competition, I'm guessing it would have been all over the news.
- The Marlborough Express