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Hopping big days ahead in search of New Zealand’s Top 30 beers and ciders

The competition is set to hit full froth in Wellington this week as judges begin tasting their way through a record number of entries in the New World Beer & Cider Awards.

Over 100 breweries and cidermakers from around New Zealand and the world have put more than 640 of their best brews in the ring. All are vying for a spot in the awards’ Top 30, which will see the winning beers and ciders take pride of place on New World shelves nationwide.

“Our challenge is bigger than ever this year,” says Chair of Judges, beer writer and author Michael Donaldson, who will oversee the independent panel of 24 beer and cider experts.

“With the aim of finding the best 30 beers and ciders on behalf of New World shoppers, we have the difficult, but delicious, task of narrowing the entries down to less than 5% of the field.

“Luckily, we have some of New Zealand’s best brewing and cidermaking talents as well as hospitality experts and writers who are ready and willing to put their palates to the test.”

He says the integrity of the competition, which is run to international standards, means the awards regularly attract top names in the business as well as up-and-coming judges who have shown an aptitude for tasting during their career.

Judges work in teams and blind-taste around 40 to 50 beers or ciders a day over two days, debating and rating each one on technical excellence, balance, mouthfeel and most importantly, drinkability. With many brew brands represented on the judging panel, exacting processes ensure no judge tastes their own product.

Donaldson says that while the technical merits of each beer and cider will be considered carefully by the judges, ‘great taste’ is the main brief and ultimate deciding factor for a place in the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30.

“Every judge looks forward to those ‘ah ha’ moments during judging: when that perfectly crafted beer or cider stops everyone in their tracks and gets the judging table humming with excitement.”

He says the final selection of beers and ciders is sure to please. “With the help and hard work of the judges, the Top 30 list is destined to be a ‘go to’ for New World shoppers, whether they are after a great example of their favourite style or just eager to explore with confidence.”

The Top 30 beers and ciders, supported by a handy booklet of tasting notes, will hit shelves mid-year, providing time for the winning brewers and cidermakers to prepare enough fresh product to meet demand in New World stores nationwide.

Ales go ‘extra’ in 2019

While the results aren’t due out for a few months yet, beer-drinkers can go ahead and get excited about the winners that are sure to come from the hotly contested IPA and Pale Ale categories.

The largest style classes in the awards, they make up around 40% of the entries with a combined 240 hopefuls going head-to-head for Top 30 positions.

Donaldson says the number of entries echoes increasing consumer demand for the styles and possibly a growth in brewers taking their product to the retail market thanks to more affordable packaging options.

“IPA has been the traditional craft beer darling. It’s what got people talking about craft beer and the full-flavoured hoppy IPA quickly became symbolic of what the movement stood for. But there is big range in IPAs, with the style extending through to more approachable Hazy IPAs and the newer Brut IPAs both of which don’t have that big accent on bitterness.”

More recently, the newer kid on the block, XPA has offered beer-explorers an easier drinking option over full-bodied pale ales, but with the same vibrant hoppiness.

“For XPA, brewers are paring back the maltiness of a traditional Pale Ale, going for a much lighter look, body and mouth feel and often a lower alcohol content. These are proving a crowd pleaser, and not dissimilar to wine’s Rosé trend, there are some great easy drinkers on offer in this style.”

New World Beer & Cider Awards 2019 Judging Panel

  • Michael Donaldson, beer writer and author (Chair of Independent Judges)
  • Brian Watson, Good George Brewing
  • Geoff Griggs, beer writer and author
  • Kelly Ryan, Fork & Brewer
  • Sam Williamson, Sawmill Brewery
  • Shane Morley, Steam Brewing Company
  • Stephen Plowman, Hallertau Brewery
  • Tracy Banner, Sprig & Fern Brewery
  • Alex Biedermann, Master Brewer and Maltster
  • Anita Mitchell, McLeod’s Brewery
  • Caleb DeFrees, Gladfield Malt
  • Colin Mallon, The Malthouse and Fork & Brewer
  • Emma Bell, Kereru Brewing Company
  • Jody Scott, Zeffer Cider
  • Joseph Wood, Liberty Brewing Company
  • Keith Riley, Lion’s Pride Brewery
  • Kieran Haslett-Moore, North End Brewery
  • Mason Pratt, Emerson’s Brewery
  • Matt Warner, Parrotdog
  • Ralph Bungard, Three Boys Brewery
  • Søren Eriksen, 8 Wired Brewing
  • Wendy Roigard, Valkyrie Brewing Company
  • Justin Oliver, wine and cidermaker
  • Dylan Jauslin, Golding’s Free Dive
  • Merophy Hyslop, cidermaker

Fun facts

  • 645 entries from 102 breweries from around New Zealand and the world
  • 13 pallets of beer, cider, glasses and other equipment will be trucked into the Westpac Stadium in Wellington
  • The 16-strong stewarding team will set up over 5,100 bottles in their correct positions in a single day and pour well over 3,000 glasses of beer and cider over the two judging days
  • Our dedicated glass-washers will keep the 1,600 Spiegelau glasses clean
  • Wearing perfume, enjoying a garlic-filled meal the night before, and even bringing a coffee into the room is off limits to ensure strong scents don’t interfere with the judges’ senses.

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