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.