Beer Diary Podcast episode 6: Beer Awards and Festivals

Back again for Episode VI — and please do excuse the Rugby World Cup and other related delays in the posting — George and I had a bit of a Beervana 2011 debrief and ponder. He wasn’t able to make the festival itself, but I had a great afternoon and offer some thoughts (almost entirely positive, which is rare for me) on the changes in direction that the festival took this year.

We also have a bit of ramble about the related Beer Awards, where the critical circuits of my brain get a bit more a workout. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, here; I’d love to see greater clarity, more-interesting categories / awards — and, crucially, a bit of gate-keeping to prevent breweries gaming the system by entering beers in categories that go against their own marketing just for the sake of increased odds of winning. It’s a controversial subject, and we do return to it a bit in the next episode, so consider this Part One of a longer discussion — and jump in below, in the comments.

As always, a direct download is available, there’s a podcast-specific RSS feed, and you should be able to get us on iTunesGeorge and myself can both be reached on the Twitterthing.

8 Wired 'The Sultan'
8 Wired 'The Sultan', after it was Beer of the Week
8 Wired 'The Sultan'
Sultan's, typically-informative label-blab
Tui Blond
Tui Blond's daft brandwank and award-brag
Stu McKinlay
Stu from Yeastie Boys, volunteering / advertising
Mini venison burger
A mini venision burger? Er... Hell yes.
Emerson's 'Black Ops'
Emerson's 'Black Ops', my first beer of the day

Show notes:

  • (1.05) Beer of the Week: 8 Wired ‘The Sultan’.
  • (2.30) I totally got the math reference right. But I don’t have email addresses for any of my high school math teachers. Who were, in hindsight, universally great.
  • (2.50) I discussed the “Enkel, Dubbel, Tripel” ladder of naming back when The Thirsty Boys and I did our Trappist Dance Card tasting.
  • (3.20) Gawd, the Garage Project episode was “last week”? I’m way late posting this. George has dutifully been hassling me. He’s an excellent producer. I’m just inordinately slack / distracted.
  • (4.10) I couldn’t easily find whether The Sultan was entered; results sheets don’t list the “also-ran” beers. I shall have to ask Søren himself and will amend this note with any later news — rather than procrastinating further.
  • (6.10) That’s us abnormally-shut-up by our Beer of the Week. Also, I really do apologise for not getting a photo of the beer in the glass.
  • (6.30) My thoughts on Taieri George, Hot Cross Buns, and Easter in general have been chronicled here before, unsurprisingly.
  • (8.00) A run-down of recent award-winners is handily available on the Brewers Guild website.
  • (9.10) Sutton Group make neither socks nor munitions, it seems. But rather are an impressively-varied maker-of-stuff for the food industry.
  • (15.40) I wasn’t quite sure how the Trophy-and-Medal Category system worked — which also is itself, I suppose, a mild meta-criticism of the process — but in hindsight, I assume that PKB was entered into an “American-style Porter” sub-sub-category and then went on to take the gong among those other sub-styles lumped into its Trophy Category. It’s a confusing system, and we’ll talk more about that aspect of it with Kieran, next time…
  • (18.00) DB’s double-dealing on Tui is even bolder than I mention here, now that I think of it: Tui ‘Blond’ has a big-ass stamp on the box (as you can see above, and damn it felt strange putting it up on the same row, even, as photos of The Sultan) saying “NZ’s Best Lager”, when it was awarded nothing of the sort — it took out one of many sub-categories of lager, not some overall best-best. So DB will crow about an award, alright, but they remain eerily silent about the winningness of their winningest beer, Tui itself. One hopes that’s just because the shame of a medal that logically entails that you’re a bunch of liars in your brandwank is too much to bear.
  • (23.00) Part of what’s behind the “inexcusable clumping” will be explained by Kieran next time. But it’s just an account of why and how it happened, not a defence… It’s the Trophies people talk about, and the clumping is a mess.
  • (27.10) #callback: Our ongoing “strawberry-flavoured beer” nemesis dates back to Episode One.
  • (28.30) There, that’s the other analogy we needed. Beer awards are a lot like Crufts Dog Show, and a lot like the DSM (the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders“).
  • (32.20) I probably shouldn’t name names. Usefully, my memory is crap.
  • (34.00) The origin story for Jed’s Beer Project is an unsurprisingly-good read, and — you know, while you’re there — he’s also got a great Beervana 2011 gallery. The seventh photo is me, putting on an appallingly-staged Serious Taster Face — but mostly I like the dude in the Viking helmet, behind me.
  • (37.30) Thanks, George, for not editing that out.
  • (40.00) Some brewers — like Stu, as you can see above — short-circuited the new plan somewhat, by volunteering. Though he was very much multi-tasking, as you can see by his plural t-shirts.
  • (43.50) If you haven’t heard it before, George’s first-and-probably-last-ever ‘Rex Attitude’ which we recorded “live to tape” (as they say), is worth a listen.
  • (44.30) My “conflict of interest”, such as it is, is declared in the ‘About’ whatsit
  • (44.50) The Pacific Beer Expo, trademark or no, was brilliant fun. It deserves a proper write-up, and it’ll get one, eventually. But it deserves one sooner. George wasn’t able to attend that one, either — hence no Live Recording.
  • (47.00) Midstrength News: Yeastie Boys ‘PKB: Weemix’. Given the ultra-lag we’re dealing with here, my recommendation is tragically late. But hopefully it’ll return. Hint, hint, Stu — hint, hint. Weirdly, I’m just writing up a ‘Taranaki Session Beer’ entry concurrently to finally putting this thing together.
  • (49.30) Recommendations: ParrotDog ‘BitterBitch’. Which really was a stupid-fast seller. ‘BloodHound’, their second beer, was launched at the aforementioned Pacific Beer Expo, and is now taking its turn selling like hot pants. (Also, they totally had a parrot.)
  • (53.00) Aucklanders are actually increasingly lucky in the beer sense. I’ll have to do a round-up post about the Big City Beer Scene. Alice Galletly, on her marvellous ‘Beer for a Year’ blog, did do a great report on ‘Vasta’s Velvet’. Looks like I should’ve made the trip up; it was apparently delicious.
  • (55.40) Cue the music: ‘Shopping for Explosives’, by The Coconut Monkeyrocket.

At-long-last posted: 22 November 2011

18 thoughts on “Beer Diary Podcast episode 6: Beer Awards and Festivals”

  1. You should totally ‘brave’ Auckland (and from this ex-Wellingtonian, it’s not too bad, honest) for the next Galbraith’s cask release – 8Wired’s Big Smoke – you know it’s going to be good….

    And hurrah for more podcasts!

  2. as we sort of discussed in a podcast to come (Hows that for laws of physics and tense), there are actaully spots for beers that are out of style. There are a host of specialty classes for things that are out of style. Three Boys Wheat has actually medalled as a fruit/herb/spice beer before.

    Also as you hint at judging is very much about technical quality to.

  3. As for winning year after year , i think its far more to do with the consistancy of the brewery rather than the judges although the panel certainly comes into it.

    I think its important to remember judging is all about how the beer presents on the table on the day.

  4. Regarding judging,

    There are a bunch of out-of-style categories that brewers can enter. As you guys discussed regarding Emerson’s Pilsener, the more of a certain style of beer that gets entered, the more the judges think about and discuss new styles, as has happened for next year’s 2012 World Beer Cup with (the somewhat clunky) American Style Black Ale which encompasses Black IPAs etc.

    If a brewer does something unusual, it is important for them to list this and the judges are given this information and judge the beer based on this.

    Unfortunately, judging has to be undertaken using the 90 or so beer styles that have been classified and this puts restrictions on the process. Especially if a brewer creates a great beer but it falls out of category. Here, the brewer has to get smart in terms of what category the beer is entered into and by including the appropriate brewers notes. It’s not perfect, but it usually works.


  5. I agree that the judging process is good at what it does — and would always stress that it’s a damn hard undertaking, as is — I suppose I’d just really like to see something else done for out-of-style moments of genius. Some extra recognition, something tailor-made to shoot for / aspire to, rather than having beers crowbarred into categories. Like Three Boys Wheat, for example; I wish it all the luck in the world in a Fruit / Herb / Spice category, but I can’t shake the feeling that it should be able to compete — in a different kind of competition, maybe — as a wheat beer.

    I was just involved in a blind tasting, today. It’s a slog, it’s utterly fascinating, it’s incredibly fun, and it’s excruciatingly frustrating all at once. I just have that inbuilt desire to judge something against what it says about itself. Maybe that’s partly a peculiar psychological quirk of mine, and maybe it also comes from my heritage as a particularly evangelical bartender. So my two \dream reforms\ are a) gatekeeping, to stop breweries from ‘gaming’ the awards too much, and b) a more flexible way to praise those moments of style-disregarding genius, whether that’s done through a totally-separate track of awards, or something built onto the existing structure.

  6. Great podcast Phil, it’s always interesting to hear the publics peception of a Beer Awards.

    Before I comment though, I want to declare my association with beer awards should my comments come across biased. I was heavily involved with the AIBA for over 4 years so my perspective sometimes differs from that of the publics. I also now work for Lion, though I suspect some of my opinions might not be in line with my employer.

    The first point I want to address is the one about beers not being the style they are marketed as. To me this is one of the biggest issues that needs addressing, but I don’t think the responsibility rests on the brewers (it’s not in their interests) nor the beer awards.

    The NZ Food Act (and a similar one in Oz) states that

    “No person shall sell any food or appliance—

    (a) that bears or has attached to it, or is contained in a package that bears or has attached to it, any false or misleading statement, word, brand, picture, label, or mark purporting to indicate the nature, suitability, quantity, quality, strength, purity, composition, weight, origin, age, effects, or proportion of the food or appliance……”

    and perhaps more interesting, the Fair Trading Act states…

    “No person shall, in trade, in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services or with the promotion by any means of the supply or use of goods or services,—

    (a) make a false or misleading representation that goods are of a particular kind, standard, quality, grade, quantity, composition, style, or model, or have had a particular history or particular previous use…..”

    The problem though arises from the fact that neither legislative body seems to recognise any beer styles, to the point where you could stick the words “Taranaki Stout” on a Belgian Style Wit and not be challenged. A Stout is not legally defined so it can’t be challenged. FSANZ doesn’t even differentiate Ale from Lager. This is why we see Tui described as an East Indian Pale Ale, Monteiths Radler described as a Radler, Speight’s Distinction described as an Ale and Victoria Bitter described as a bitter.

    Is this the same issue with something like cheese? Could you make a Cheddar and sell it as a Brie? I suspect not. But the issue is not that different.

    So yes the beer awards could come down hard on the issue, but the reality is they are judging what is in the bottle, not what is on the label. Without the support of legislation, it’s hard to see how they would have a leg to stand on.

    In AIBA we moved entries if we thought they were in the wrong class, for us it was about giving the brewery the best chance because sometimes their products might be entered by a distributor who had no idea. So sometimes they might be selling their beer as an Imperial Porter but we ended up judging it as a Stout.

    This issue goes beyond beer awards though. How can we expect the public to get a better understanding of beer styles if there are no controls in place to give them a fighting chance of understanding

    There are actually a number of things in your podcast that I would like to comment on (How can someone without a brewery win champion brewery?, Lumping together of styles, Judges Consistency (I’ve heaps of statistical data on the AIBA judging), but I don’t want to dilute the importance of this first issue.

    It needs a focused campaign from both NZ and Australian brewers to get this fixed, though I suspect the bigger brewers may just keep quiet when it comes to signing a petition……

    1. Cheers, Bradford. Warms my heart to hear someone talking about labelling laws — I really think there’s a case to be made against a whole bunch of dodgily-marketed beers (things like Becks going out of their way to mislead about their origins, things like Tui misleading about their ‘ingredients’ / style). I’ve always meant to throw in (since anyone can) a Fair Trading Act claim on one (the former might be my first target, given the ‘easier’ nature of talking about point-of-origin claims), and maybe it’s high time I just did. Would be interesting to see what happens.

      I do think that beer awards could gatekeep without legislation backing them, though. It should be easy enough to just make a house policy / condition of entry. The awards are separate enough that they could apply their own, higher standards for truth-in-labelling, while helping campaign to get the regulators to do their part, too.

      You’d just never see anyone get away with this with wine, or (like you say) cheese. It’s just sad that the beer industry’s this far behind. I’m a great big beer geek; it pains me to see it, yet again, looking like the neglected stepchild of the food and beverage business.

  7. I think it would be absolulty terrible if we ended up with a legal definition of beer styles. It would be a good way to turn NZ beer culture stagnant like Germany. And i say that as something of a style Nazi.

    And no as far as I am aware there is no legal definition of cheese styles either and yes many cheeses are marketed rather liberally just like beer.

    I think putting up with think Tui IPA is a small price to pay for having an open and creative beer culture.

    There are some much loved craft beers in this country that you could say transgress the rules strictly speaking. I think we would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    1. I think there’s ample room for a middle ground. I’m no fan at all of the gdmfing Reinheitsgebot — as I’ll have to enuncirant in an upcoming Diary entry — but I’m equally no fan of breweries lying to customers and gaming awards shows.

      Some things are unarguable. Tui says its an ale, and to the extent that that word means anything anymore, it’s not one. It’s something else. So it should have to say so, or stay quiet.

      There’s a sense in which you can regulate negatively (Tui is not IPA) without having to precisely ‘postively’ define things in a creativity-destroying way. Wine varieties might be similar; if you use a grape name, you had better be made of that grape — but there’s no need to try and spell out exactly what a Sauvignon Blanc ‘is like’ in legislation. Lager v ale, at least, is vaguely like that.

      And origin terms are even easier. Becks, my fall-back example of a great FTA claim, goes out of its way to imply it’s German, when it’s not. That’s just not okay, hopefully by anyone’s measure. There’s a big awful grey area inbetween for things like ‘pilsner’, to be sure, and over-regulation would be a bad thing indeed. But I think there’s a few steps that could be taken, and should be taken, to tidy things up for everyone’s benefit.

      I agree entirely that Tui as IPA and various Monteiths beers as ales is a small price to pay. I just don’t think we necessarily need to pay even that. Maybe origin-claims for the brewed-under-license crowd are the first fight to fight, and then proceed slowly from there.

  8. My comments were partly tounge-in-cheek (I promise to use the appropriate smiley next time) as the legislation issue is an arguement I have heard from the craft beer industry in Australia, and it’s a case of “careful what you wish for”.

    We’ve seen how the ridiculous level of legislation in the EU has led to a banana being refused the classification of “banana” becuase it was the wrong angle. I’m not proposing that at all, but I think the public is entitled to a bit of truth in labelling.

    I don’t think you should be able to call a lager an ale and i think if you call something a wheat beer it should at least have wheat it. So there is a level where legislation should play a part. You can’t call a beer low carb if it isn’t!

    One of my most humerous moments at AIBA was when the marketing person at Fosters ticked the “This beer is eligible for the Premiers Trophy” on their Stella entry, and it consequently won “Best Victorian Made Beer”. That’s not the publicity they were looking for.

    However, the administration involved in checking every single entry against what it’s label claims and what’s in the bottle is a nightmare. I only every did it when I was truly concerned about a beer being in the wrong class. I guess you could put it in the rules and then only check if it wins a medal, though I still say it’s thin ice when it comes to proving it.

    Three Boys should definately be able to call their beer a Belgian Wit if they want, even if they use the wrong citrus, according to the style guide.

    What we all want is for people to just be honest and reasonable; you don’t want to stifle creativity and you want to give people a bit of grey area when it comes to styles.

  9. I think its very dangerous ground and a slippery slope once legislation comes in. Phil you would know better than me but I cant see how you could legislate against beers claiming to be what they arn’t if you dont legally define what they are.

    I think its a great big huge flaming case of carfull what you wish for!

    Bradford: I also think its dubious for a beer competition to change a beers entry from where the brewer wanted it but that’s for the Australians to worry about.

    I think it would be great if our big brewers became more interested in labelling thier beers correctly and informing thier customers but I don’t see how that can be forced upon them. It’s up to us as beer educators and retailers to improve the publics knowledge to the point where its untenable to continue marketing things as something they are not.

    1. “Bradford: I also think its dubious for a beer competition to change a beers entry from where the brewer wanted it but that’s for the Australians to worry about. ”

      It’s usually under consultation of course, and mainly aimed that making sure “Dodgy Sams Imports” isn’t disadvantaging an overseas brewery by entering their product in the wrong category.

      To be honest though Kieran, “Which class should I enter in?” was one of the most common questions I got. You and I may well be familiar with the GABFor WBC guides, but it would seem that not everyone is……one of the jobs we have as stewards is to make sure each beer is presented in the best possible light with the highest level of respect. Even if that means moving an American Style Wheat out of “Hefeweizen” to give it the best chance it can….

      But that’s a digression…..

    2. I think you can keep regulation pretty minimal. Origin claims are a sure thing, for one. But that’s already regulated, just unenforced / slackly enforced. I really should just run Becks as a test case and see how it goes. Then ingredient and style rules can be kept basic, to avoid ‘locking down’ styles. Lager and ale have pretty straightforward yeast-connotating meaning (these days; I know there’s a whole crapload of historical glossing-over in the modern meaning of “ale”), and I can’t see any real reason not to strictly enforce that.

      What I mean by saying you can rule things out negatively without fully describing them positively is something like: you could say “oatmeal stout” must be (at least) an ale, with oatmeal. Beyond that, booze and bitterness, and other factors are up for artistry and creativity. Back in the Sauvignon Blanc example, the minimal (regulatable) definition just ties to the grape — what you do with it after that is up to the maker, so they’ll vary widely, but there can be a backstop of regulation that at least rules out things that definitely aren’t Sauvignon Blanc.

      I wouldn’t want to get into the business of regulating marketing with the fine-grained distinctions of beer award classes, but I’m not convinced there’s no way to do a worth-while amount of minimal definitions.

      1. Country of origin is simple and straight forward and I have no issue there. Becks list Auckland as its place of brewing and bottling so I’m guessing thats in line with legislation.

        I don’t think that the ale / lager difference (taking our contemporary understanding of the terms) is so straight forward it could be easily legislated though.

        We have alot of ‘ales’ brewed in this country that exhibit very little ale like fermentation character, they are brewed with very clean neutral yeast strains and are then cold conditioned (or lagered) to produce very clean neutral (in terms of fermentation character) beers . We also have many lagers which are fermented quickly and stored or lagered for very little time at all.

        Unlike wines where the labelling is tied to the very quantifiable ingredient difference ,Ales and Lagers as we understand them today are a combination of both ingredient and process.

        Hornets nest I reckon.

        1. I know it’ll always be a bit more complicated than I want it to be, grumpy absolutist in a messy world as I am. But I still believe there are some cases clear-cut enough for a bit of Fair Trading Act action.

          Nevermind the trademark question, to the extent that “radler” means anything DB’s labelling is misleading. Ditto Tui as IPA. I’d like to see those low-hanging fruit plucked, and then we can figure out how much further up that regulatory tree it’s possible / desirable to climb.

          I think Becks is doomed, on an origin-claim FTA complaint. I’d hope it was doomed, at least. There’s an old and perfectly-sensible maxim that you can’t take away with the small print what you promised with the big print. Becks does exactly that; it’s positively festooned in implied German origin — Braueri Beck & Co., Bremen Germany, the “bier” spelling used before “beer”. It’s just not good enough to stick some tiny-pitch writing on the back to try and walk that back.

      2. Doesn’t the US have some interesting rules about not being able to use any ingredient word in the name of a product? I can’t remember any of the interesting examples of international products that required renaming for the US… I might be making this up… They doo sell Hotdogs. 🙂

        Though on a related but irrelevant note, I seem to remember that ‘Digestives’ isn’t an allowable name for a biscuit that doesn’t aid digestion. More of a medical claim situation.

        While I’m sure there are examples that make it sound stupid, just preventing people from using ingredient names that aren’t in the product seems like a win. No Oat, Wheat, Rye, Milk, Oyster, etc allowed in the product name unless it is in the product. Simple rule, doesn’t impact on what is possible to make or market so long as everyone knows what is going on.

        As the bearer of a dairy allergy I’d really like it if ingredients were listed on everything. I’d like to know that if something is called a milk stout, it definitely has milk in it. I’ve met people who assumed the Oyster Stout didn’t have any oysters in it, because that just seemed to weird (“Who would do that?!”) and was pleased to see the Emerson’s Clam Stout included a warning. I know people who might well end up in an ambulance after a blind tasting.

        What am I doing here? Its beer oclock!

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