Another week, another 170 beers! Yes, that's right, 170 beers. It's BrewNZ time again - New Zealand's celebration of great beer.
I've been working all week in the Scoring Room, where the judges blindly taste their way through 170 beers to work out which beers are the best we've got to offer. Tough word, but someone just has to do it.
Blind tasting is not at all about drinking so much you can't see, it's about being presented a group of beers (all in a similar style), knowing nothing more than a code that identifies each beer and it's style. The judges quietly eye, nose and taste their 60ml samples for around 10 minutes before debating which beers are great, good or have missed the mark.
It's not just a subjective process. There are very distinct style guidelines for each beer to meet. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to any beers which meet the judging criteria. Gold are awarded to truly excellent, world class beers that perfectly fit within the style. Bronze are technically well made but may miss the style in part, or just lack the perfect malt/hop balance that brewers constantly strive for. Silver, funnily enough, fit in between.
For the last two years Steve Nally, the huggable owner/brewer of New Zealand's southernmost commercial brewery at Invercargill, has spent a week of his valuable time stewarding at the BrewNZ judging. He's doing this in an effort to see what the judges are looking for and to improve the quality of his beers. He's quietly succeeding. Last year Steve won two bronze medals from his four beers. This year he's brought back improved versions of three of those beers (a roasty sweet stout, a smooth fruity pale ale and a kristalweizen) and has re-engineered the fourth (hoppy English pale ale) into a much better beer. Expect to see him pop up in the medal list again this year.
Not only is he achieving awards for his beer. Steve recently received one of the highest commendations that I could think of as a brewer - at a tasting of Emerson's beers, Richard Emerson named him as the young up and coming brewer to look out for over the next few years. High praise indeed for this passionate and committed brewer. His beers are available through mail order from the brewery or Regional Wines and Spirits, as well as Bar Edward in Newtown, but he's recently doubled the size of his plant so look out for Invercargill's beers coming your way soon. Ask your local bottle store when they will be available near you.
BrewNZ also contains a quite unique category of beer - the Festive Brews. None of these are available commercially before the event and all are modelled along a common theme. This year the theme is "All Hail - Pale Ale", and I can assure you there are a few absolutely cracking ales that should be sampled if you are out and about Wellington this weekend. Step out and look for them.
The BrewNZ awards will be announced at a fomal dinner tonight, and available on at BrewNZ's website in the next few days. All of the medal winners are truly deserving of the accolade and are well worth trying out yourself. Hunt these beers down at your local good beer retailer (and if they're not already, then go in there and demand them).
Slainte mhath Stu
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