There was a lot of debate in the wake of the Brewer’s Guild annual awards dinner, which ended – in my view – on a slightly flat note when Lion was crowned New Zealand’s champion brewery.
The contrast to the previous year could not have been more stark. The 2014 champion was Townshend’s – the one-man band operation of Martin Townshend tucked away in bucolic Upper Moutere on the outskirts of Nelson.
This year the prize went to our biggest brewery, one housed in massive plant in Auckland and which employs substantially more people than the 160-odd who reside in Upper Moutere.
Now there’s nothing wrong with Lion winning awards – it’s more what the award symbolises.
Their gold medals went to Waikato Draught, Speight’s Old Dark, Beck’s and Issac’s Berry Cider. Also winning four golds were Panhead Custom Ales (Port Road Pilsner, Johnny Octane, Quickchange and Hardtail Henry), Moa (Festive IPA Belgian Edition, Rum Barrel Sour, Tripel Sauvignon, Sour Blanc) and Tuatara (Tu-Rye-Ay, Ardennes, Sauvinova, XV) – but Lion took the overall prize based on the points system which rewarded the big brewery’s sheer volume.
There’s a number of ways you can spin this outcome.
One: isn’t it great that such a big brewery can make quality beer that holds its own in a blind tasting against the best on offer in the country (forgetting for a moment that cider isn’t actual a brewed product and in my view shouldn’t be included in any beer awards – but that’s an editorial for another day).
Two: Isn’t it amazing that a relatively small brewery like Panhead can foot it with a multinational, foreign owned juggernaut.
For the good of the industry I know which is the better story – there’s way more mainstream mileage in tale of Panhead’s Mike Neilson with his blue collar, petrol head ethos. Even the
fact his brewery is in an old tyre factory where his dad used to work is pure gold.
So for me, what could have been a celebration, what should have been a feel good story – an opportunity for our industry to showcase yet another unique, original and appealing star to
a wider audience – was lost.
It’s not Lion’s fault they made so many good beers but there should be a better system for separating breweries based on volume so we don’t get such a skewed result. It’s something
for the Brewers Guild to think about for 2016 when – judging by the continuing increase in breweries and products – there will be almost 1000 entries.
Perhaps bonus points could be awarded to small breweries based on volume?
Or what about a percentage system? After all, as Craig Bowen from the Brewer’s Guild noted in his closing speech, there were two breweries who picked up a medal for every beer they
Liberty Brewing hauled down 13 medals (including one for packaging) and Bach Brewing claimed nine medals (including one for packaging).
Given the vagaries of judging the range of styles these breweries entered, that is something quite special.
So, yes, well done Lion. But when it comes to celebrating and promoting beer and I prefer to savour and praise the brilliance and reliability of blokes like Joe Wood and Mike Neilson, among others. They are the ones making the beer we want to talk about.