BrewNZ 2010 – “That” result. 19

DB are the champion brewer of NZ for 2010. It’s official.

You’re all waiting for my long and angry rant now, aren’t you? Go on, admit it. It’s OK, if you’d been around when I heard the news (as several good friends were – apologies to Jamie, Phil, Kieran, Graeme and others) you’d have got one. However, I’ve chilled out, relaxed, and hell, a part of me is even pleased about that result.

Why? Well, first, let’s address the result itself.

The trophy is awarded to the New Zealand brewery with the highest average score across its three highest scoring entries. DB, no matter what you might think of them, make clean, well made beers. They have previously had an unpleasant banana ester across most of their range which I personally can’t stomach, but that’s immaterial when part of the style description is “light fruity esters are acceptable”. I’ve also not drunk their beers for a long while now, so it’s a little unfair for me to criticise this, as it may not be so present anymore. In this case, the beers nearly perfectly epitomised the styles they entered. Arguably, many of these “NZ specific” styles were created for the Big Two so they have somewhere to enter their beers. The other side to that argument is they accurately reflect the beers NZ likes to drink. I’ll leave that argument to another blogger, as it’s a bit of a digression here, but it’s a debate which desperately needs to be had.

Historically, Lion Nathan balances these style categories. DB have medalled in some, while Lion Nathan have not, and vice versa. The Big Two almost cancel each other out for points leaving the craft brewers a fairly clean run at the Champion Brewer trophy. This means we’ve had two great winners in the last two years, being Tuatara and Emerson’s. It was inevitible at some point that one of the Big Two would dominate the other, and thus take out the trophy. 2010 was that year. Apparently it was only by a gnat’s nut that Three Boys were pipped, but there you go. That’s the nature of competitions.

OK, so what’s to be pleased about? One of those DB results was for Monteith’s Black. It won the European Lager Styles category, in which it won a silver medal (almost perfectly epitomises the style) and the trophy (so it scored the most points for style adherence in that category). It’s a lager. But it’s BLACK! This will be mindblowing for many “mainstream” drinkers, and thanks to the huge amount of publicity around these awards, it might wake a few up to the fact that lagers can be black, and that beer isn’t quite as simple as lager, dark, and draught. Monteith’s Black is a Schwarzbier – a German styled black lager. How many of those who habitually drink it will know that? Hopefully, a few more might think about that and it could be their entry point into the world of beer styles, and the amazing flavours they can bring.

Secondly, it’s caused a fair bit of embarrassment among many of the craft brewers who make up the bulk of the Brewers Guild, not to mention many SOBA members. From a SOBA point of view, we work hard year round to promote craft beer and the brewers who brew it. We support the Brewers Guild in nearly all things, but then that Guild’s event produces the only result the media will bother reporting (ignoring all the excellent beers and breweries who won medals and trophies) which sends the message to the public “why bother drinking all that craft crap when the best beer in NZ is made by DB”? They won’t look at the style categories, the results, or even read much of the analysis. They’ll just see that Champion Brewery result. So why is that good? Because it will hopefully force some change within the Guild. Hopefully this situation won’t happen again. I’ve heard a couple of good proposals from brewers and judges, and I have hope things will be changed for the better.

With that said, and taking my early anger into account, I feel a little conflicted here. The “good guys” failed to win at their own competition, and as a result, they change the rules to exclude or punish the “bad guys”. Is that fair? If the Radler episode has taught me anything, it’s taught me to play the ball and not the player. I bear DB no ill will at all. I just think it’s better for beer in NZ if craft breweries continue to win the awards and thus gain the publicity from BrewNZ and Beervana. Does that justify changing the award parameters? I don’t know. That’s what the comments section is for! This is a thorny and complex topic, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Have at it.

*EDIT* See Stu’s points in the comments for more clarification on how points are achieved.

19 thoughts on “BrewNZ 2010 – “That” result.

  • Martin Bulmer

    Changing the rules to me just smacks of sour grapes: its our bat and ball and we’re taking them home. I bear DB no I’ll will and hope that this award will spur them into creating new and interesting beers. I hope it will also spur other brewers to produce beers in the categories that DB have triumphed in. By doing this the craft brewers will increase the chances that the trad drinker will try something else by the brewer that’s a bit more edgy i.e. Flavoursome.

  • Barry

    Great post Greig. I understand your conumdrum regarding this:

    “The “good guys” failed to win at their own competition, and as a result, they change the rules to exclude or punish the “bad guys”. Is that fair?”

    Is it that black and white? Isn’t it that the Guild has to make a decision that they no longer condone faux-styles-that-only-exist-so-big-breweries-can-enter-their-watery-commodity-lagers and remove them from their showcase competition?
    Then the onus is on the big breweries to brew good versions of proper “globally accepted” styles. Monteiths Black in this instance would have still won the International Lager trophy, if deservedly so.
    I would also suggest that the Guild make a point of only accepting entries for beers in their labeled-sold-and-marketed-as style. Tui would have had to been judged against actual IPAs.

  • greig Post author

    That was my gut reaction too Barry. Kieran and I argued this, and while I’m still not 100% convinced, I am sure his point has merit. It’s a “chicken and egg” thing. The styles evolved long before there were awards for them. In my opinion, they largely evolved due to economic concerns and not flavour ones. Should that matter? They’re still a part (the largest part) of our NZ drinking scene, and so shouldn’t they be represented? Is it fair to rule them out?

  • Stu

    I don’t know who is embarrassed by the result. Is it really that bad?

    I agree that there are some positives here. A full page advert in a Sunday paper promoting the BrewNZ Awards (on the back of DB winning champion brewery) is one of them… I bet a few more people know about BrewNZ now.

    I have plenty of thoughts on how the beer awards could change but how they calculate the champion brewery is far from the top of that list. How you enter your beers isn’t either but that probably would have changed the result. I’m sure we used to have it that the beers had to be entered according to the site at which they were brewed, I’m guessing that has changed as all the DB beers entered would (on the face of it) appear to come from different sites. It may be too hard to audit this but sometimes you just have to rely on the honesty of people entering the awards.

    I think this blog may misrepresent the way champion brewery is calculated. Trophies and categories have nothing to do with it, only medals. A trophy winning silver medal beer (e.g. DB Tui) gets not more points than a silver medal medal beer that didn’t win a category trophy (e.g. Yeastie Boys’ Yakima Monster)… so there is no “split” in regards to Lion and DB sharing trophies. Every single one of their beers could, potentially, be awarded a gold medal. Beers are awarded 3 for a gold, 2 for a silver and 1 for a bronze… Then your best three beers are your total and the highest score wins. If this is tied, which it was, then they go to your 4th best beer (silver for DB, bronze for Three Boys).

    I’m guessing packaging does not count, otherwise Mata (2 golds, a silver and a bronze) must have been damn close too!

  • Stu

    If we are going to recognise NZ Pilsner as a style then we probably have to recognise NZ Draught… both evolved before they were recognised as “styles”. However, shouldn’t the NZ Draught style be within the wider category of NZ Lagers (alongside nz lager, nz premium lager and nz pilsner)? Going on previous years there were probably 6-12 NZ draughts entered and about 20-30 NZ lagers. Seems like a simple trophy for the big two (and they have always won it).

  • greig Post author

    Hrm, I didn’t mean to imply that trophies played a part in the champion brewer award – which bit of text gave you that impression? I’ll amend it.

    The split I was talking about is across those NZ styles, if LN and DB both performed as per previous years, LN would medal in some categories and DB wouldn’t, and vice versa. This didn’t seem to hapen this year.

  • Stu

    Paragraph beginning “Historically, Lion Nathan balances these style categories…” is the one that seems a bit that way. Readers would, I think, infer that trophies win points or that only one beer can win a certain medal (e.g. only one beer can get gold).

  • Barry

    All fair and reasonable points Stu.
    I understand that the Guild can’t really deny entry to the big two, no matter how “bad” for beer I think they are. The small guys must compete at the same level or the whole exercise is a gigantic microbrewery reach-around (though I’m not even sure that’s bad).

    I understand the need for fair and balanced reaction and debate, but I can’t stop that gut reaction of thinking it’s a colossal fail for craft beer. And it’s rather difficult to stop that impairing my argument 🙂

    Just thought of another massive positive. DB schooling us on making the most of these PR opportunities, don’t remember seeing much press from Emersons or Tuatara when they won champion brewer! Seriously, get your marketing s**t together guys.

  • Christian

    Great post Grieg – I thought about writing an angry post but knew Stu would kick my ass in the comments + it would be somewhat ironic me writing a bitching post sitting at home while everyone else was having fun at Beervana (funded my all-grain set-up instead, so I’m not bitter).

    I still think there is an issue of balance in the categories – the categories DB won in seem to attract few entries and those that are entered lack diversity or innovation so more easily conform to the style guidelines. Three cheers for mediocrity!

  • Christian

    P.S. That said, I’m still not sure how to ‘fix’ the categories issue. There’s always going to be historic categories for bland or even crappy beer under BJCP and of course some people in the World may even enjoy them.

    DB have a huge range of different beers (as opposed to styles) and the size to brew perfectly to spec (though not sure they ever have BJCP guidelines in mind) so in some ways the result is no surprise.

    NZ draught has it’s own category due to it’s historic and current predominance in NZ – it’s crap by definition but silver was the highest medal which then begs the question – which of all the same tasting NZ’s draught’s are the guidelines actually based on? Emerson’s Pilsner is ‘the’ NZ Pilsner but it only gets a bronze. Hopwired in the best NZ Pale Ale i’ve had and it also only gets bronze.

  • Christian

    Sorry, back again – thought NZ Pale Ale was a subcategory but it’s not. Still not sure of the logic behind the four NZ categories. NZ Premium Pilsner seems as new as NZ Pale Ale.

  • Dominic

    Being able to enter a beer in one style when the label on the bottle says something radically different is showing contempt for the consumer. It would be fitting to deduct points in this case.

  • David Cryer

    Christian the logic behind four NZ categories is one hybrid word “BrewNZ”.
    The Guild is tasked with being a straight category (ie everybody!) promoter of beer. We don’t have favourites big or small just great beer. Not just great beer but more importantly great NZ beer.

  • Christian

    Hi David,

    I think celebrating NZ beer in an important part of the awards and I wouldn’t expect BrewNZ to play favourites to craft brewers – my comment about the NZ categories was more about why these particular 4? NZ Pale Ale would seem to have as many suitable entries as NZ Premium Pilsner or on the flip side, NZ Pils could have provision within an International lager style. I wouldn’t want to see a NZ subcategory of every style so there needs to be some logic behind creating the categories that do exist.

  • David Cryer

    Hi Christian I am a Malt Supplier by trade so I can’t go further than what I have mentioned. I am sure this topic will be reviewed in our debrief which occurs every year by experts on judging and style categories. We make a point of reviewing the good the bad and the ugly to ensure we keep moving ahead.
    I don’t know how may entries each category had only what was on the screen and in the results catalogue. It is possible there were more entrants who went unmedaled so there may be more entrants than you see.

  • Stu

    DB made the best beers, simple as that. doesn’t mean I’m going to drink them.
    My favourite brewery in NZ won zero medals, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop drink them.

    That’s life.

    There are things we can improve and things we can’t. DB would have almost certainly won champion brewery no matter what… they made great, clean beers and entered them in the right caegories. Don’t forget that one of “our” most celebrated brewers in the world used to make Tui.

    There’s a saying: “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”.

  • Martin

    It does make me wonder why there are so many ‘NZ – ‘ beer categories when there are so few breweries and so few beers. The thing I noticed most from Beervana was how many of the beers I had tried; it’d be hard to say that at even the Alton (Hampshire town, population 16K) Beer Festival. It seems to me that there are beer categories created to fit beers which in a more critical or more congested category would do the opposite of win. A rationalisation of the categories would be in order, if slightly poorly timed coming on the heels of the DB win.
    Nevertheless, I go back to what I said; sour grapes never look good and you should play the game not the opponent. I hope that Yeastie Boys are at this very moment concocting an NZ Draft of such astounding proportions that it will soon become my favourite drink.

  • Stu

    There shouldn’t be any issues in rationalising the categories have nothing to do with Champion Brewery, only the medals.

    The main problem I have is that there is no transparancy in the categories, which styles are judged where? And how many beers are entered into each one? I might use my holiday in Aus as a chance to draft some feedback.

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