Michael Donaldson runs his eye over the gold medal winners in the New World Beer & Cider awards
I’ve been honoured to take on the role as the independent chair of judges at the New World Beer & Cider Awards for the past couple of years.
As a consumer-oriented event it’s an amazing way to introduce new people to some of the fantastic beers that many of us take for granted. No matter how fast we think the (ill-defined) craft sector is growing, roughly five out of six people continue to buy what we’d call mainstream or premium beers – the green bottles and what’s on special. So to heavily promote a range of great beer in one of the country’s biggest supermarket chains is huge, not just for the individual brewers, but for the industry as a whole.
Below are tasting notes for the 27 gold medal winners but I’d like to give special mention to a few of the winners. First I was as stunned as anyone when chief steward Craig Bowen revealed Epic Armageddon as the winner of the IPA category. I sat in as five of the best judges in the business scrutinised the five finalists – they were forced to take their time because the range was so complex and so good. The fact Armageddon found its way to the top of the podium again should be a shock given how tough the competition is but this beer has now won two New World trophies, five Brewers Guild of NZ trophies as well as awards in Australia and Sweden. In the past two years it’s been almost unbeatable in competitions.
I think the secret to its success is the technical excellence and the tight, balanced structure. It literally walks a tightrope of taste and remains the benchmark IPA in New Zealand. I’m not normally a cider drink but Zeffer’s Two Point Five cider – literally made with flowers – was astonishing.
Fans of barrel-aged sour beers are in for a treat with Petrus Aged Pale, one of three imported beers to win a gold medal.
Also, special hat tip to Sparks Brewing. Adam Sparks has been in the business only a couple of years but his Outlander Extra Stout has fast become one of the best in the land.
Epic Armageddon: A delicate perfume of rosewater and grapefruit give away to pine and mint spice; broad caramel malt sweetness lingers to temper aggressive hop bitterness. It’s juicy and rich but finishes clean and dry with the hoppiness building with every sip. Judges noted its perfect balance between hop and malt, with one adding simply: “I love it.” In an era where some beers can be one-dimensionally hopped, this is the full 3D experience.
Emerson’s Bird Dog: The beer named for a song by The Verlaines features huge hop chords of ripe stonefruit on the nose, a bassline of juicy malt, and pithy backbeat as the hops assert themselves at the end of a super-long finish. “Smashable, tasty,” said the judges. Three Boys West Coast Red IPA: Biscotti lightness on the palate but with deceptive late-palate punch which delivers a broad and hefty hop bitterness. “Lush, well-integrated, smooth,” said our judges.
McLeod’s Tropical Cyclone Double IPA: Huge tropical fruit aromas with the slightly musky, dank smell you get from ripe papaya. “Great length, well-balanced, clean and juicy,” said the judges, with one adding: “These guys got the memo and delivered.”
Deep Creek Lupulin Effect Double IPA: Showcases intense citrus flavours of orange and mandarin on a sweet, full malt base. “I love this,” said one judge.
ParrotDog Pandemonium: The all-Australian hop bill gives a hint of juicy tropical aromas with an underlying, extremely appealing dankness that’s carefully held in check. Light and dry, the bitterness is pleasant and restrained. Delicate and thoroughly drinkable at 4.8 per cent ABV. “I could drink a dozen,” said one of our judges.
Sawmill Pilsner: Slightly sweet over bitter, with a honey and cereal grain character underpinning a classic Kiwi hop combo of Motueka, Riwaka and Nelson Sauvin – all used judiciously to create a daub of tartness focused on lime and lemon. Dry, lean and with some building bitterness.
Good George Pilsner: A blend of old- and new-world hops delivers a grassy, organic, earthy aroma with some mid-palate zest. A good rising bitterness is gently offset by a creamy mouthfeel to deliver a refreshing, firm flavour hit. “Great job,” said our judges.
Bach Brewing Driftwood Pale Ale: For a 5 per cent beer it doesn’t skimp on flavour. There’s an aroma of fruit cocktail, a slender body, soft mouthfeel and dry finish. “Amazing hop character on lighter body,” said one judge. “Big hop and skinny malt is executed with excellence, great beer,” said another.
Added notes: It’s worth pointing out that this year’s competition was cut-throat and as such we had just one gold medal winner in the pale ale category. As a guide to explore further, the following silver medal winners make up our top-10 in this popular style. All of them may not be available in all New World stores but I encourage you try them if you see them: Epic Thunder, Tuatara Tomahawk, ParrotDog Clipped Wing, Liberty Oh Brother, McLeod’s Paradise Pale Ale, Sawmill Pale Ale, Lakeman Taupo Pale Ale, Birkenhead Pacific Pale Ale and Fat Monk Pacific Pale Ale.
Hawke’s Bay Pure Lager: A classic lager which befits a charming bottle. It’s as clean as a whistle with delicate orange blossom and elderflower notes. The bitterness is flinty and subtle. A delicate but firm lager with a long, dry finish. I dare you not to like it.
Mac’s Gold: The addition of some crystal malt adds palate weight to a grainy texture and delivers what our judges called a “pleasant sweetness”. The bitterness is gently floral and grassy with a late tang offsetting the mid-palate sweetness. A veteran performer still holding its own.
Flavoured, Experimental & Aged
Brouwerij De Brabandere Petus Aged Pale: Aged 24 months in foeders. Musky notes of an earthern cellar, old wood, wet earth, decaying autumn leaves. But underneath there’s a fresh vibrancy of lemon, berries and granny smith apples. The mouthfeel has a creamy acidity, and is followed by tart, dirt-dry finish. The judges said: “Great sour ale, super refreshing.” Thirst quenching, assertive, tannic, sour, woody, funky, sweaty.”
Behemoth Triple Chocolate Stout: Chocolate mousse aromas and flavours dominate. While it’s intense, the sweetness is majestically offset by a dry cocoa bitterness. The milk stout base offers delectable creaminess and the addition of cacao nibs, cocoa powder and vanilla create layers of flavour. “Perfect,” said one judge.
Galbraith’s Redemption: Super-light body and some judicious floral and woody hop notes. “Surprisingly full mouthfeel for low alcohol beer,” said one judge. “Tastes bigger than expected,” added another, while a third said: “I’m an unashamed fan – hop spiciness is delicious.”
Porter & Stout
Sparks Outlander Foreign Extra Stout: Whopping, viscous, flavour-packed bomb of a beer. The coffee and chocolate aroma gives way to a silky smooth, unctuous palate. There’s a hint of leather, umami, and vanilla. Amazing length and great roasty-bitter finish add balance. “Awesome beer,” concluded our judges. Emerson’s London Porter: Definite character of Vogel’s bread that’s spent a fraction too long in the toaster but is not yet burnt, served with a daub of marmite. The body is light and easy-going, belying the deep ruby colour, but it finishes firm. “Approachable, crushable,” said the judges.
Mike’s Chocolate Milk Stout: Addition of lactose, which enhances sweetness and brings a creamy texture to the mouthfeel. Despite that, it’s quite a light body with a cocoa dryness. Velvet smooth and sweet with some late bitterness to balance, this is a drinkable and fulfilling drop.
Bach Brewing Witsunday Blonde: An amalgam of a Belgian wheat beer (or witbier) and an IPA, the first aroma is like a classic fruit salad. That’s the yeast and hops talking. The mouthfeel is luscious and creamy from the wheat and there’s a bright lemon tartness underpinned by some late bitterness and a clove and lemongrass spiciness. Layers of flavour and texture in this one.
Deep Creek Dusty Gringo India Brown Ale: Twin elements of malt and hops are seamlessly combined and yet there’s a distinct flow to the taste – malt first, hops second. Cocoa and gently burnt sugar are followed by grapefruit, orange and tropical fruit notes. The hop oils are resinous and rich, creating waves of flavour and dryness. “Attractive and inviting malt-hop combo,” said our judges.
Good George Amber Ale: On the nose there’s subtle caramel and a hint of chocolate but neither are dominant and in the background there’s a nice woody whiff from the hops. The mouthfeel is gentle and there’s a delicate sweetness, which makes this light-bodied beer quite quaffable. A broad, generous bitterness kicks in late and drapes a drying blanket across the palate. At 3.7 per cent it’s the very definition of “sessionable”.
Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Nocturnum: From the oldest brewery in Belgium’s Ghent region. Expect huge doses of stewed and dried fruits, plum pudding sweetness, licorice, some pepper and clove spice, warm alcohol, viscous, rich sweetness but with just enough late, workmanlike bitterness to keep everything in moreish check. As one judge eloquently summed up: “Lush as f…”.
Hertog Jan Grand Prestige: This is a BIG beer. At 10 per cent ABV, it’s slick, oily, big and complex and can easily do the job of a red wine with food. First up there’s a faint and pleasing banoffee pie aroma of chocolate and banana. Underneath that the malts deliver caramalised pears, chocolate-coated raisins, a hint of coffee, and just a tick of cocoa-dry bitterness to complete the package.
Apple & Pear Cider
Harvest Scrumpy: This 8.2 per cent cider is in a distinctive new world style, not too sweet and with a steely backbone. It offers the appeal of fresh apple juiciness balanced with a zingy, tart finish and a clean, lively texture. “Fresh and alive, vibrant,” said one judge. “Beautifully balanced, great structure, excellent acid-sugar-phenolic balance – very smart cider,” added another.
The Hills Pear Cider: Exhibits baked pear and almonds on the nose with a hint of dusty hay bale, rural funk which gives way to an unexpectedly sweet hit on the first sip, which in turn is washed away by a bone dry bitterness. Rich nectar on the mid-palate with hints of apple pie spice give way to an oaky, tannic character which adds to the dry finish.
Mac’s Cloudy Apple Cider: Juicy and mouthwatering, it will slake any thirst on a hot day because the lovely juiciness is offset by a just-right sourness that makes you think lemon squash. approachable and moreish said one judge, with another concluding: “Really impressive, great presence”.
Flavoured & Fruit Cider
Good George Drop Hop: Hops add extra dimensions of flavour to the base cider. Aromas of passionfruit, mango and pineapple (or even pine and apple); juicy and resinous on the palate, giving way to a tannic and tenderly bitter hop bite. Our judges loved the innovation that came with taking beer ingredients and adding them to a cider.
Zeffer Two Point Five: Hard to believe it’s only 2.5 per cent given the huge flavour. This is created by soaking fresh flowers – sunflowers, rose, jasmine and calendula – in freshly crushed apple cider. It’s so big on flavour you could mistake this for a wine and yet – to repeat – it’s only 2.5 per cent. “Ethereal and elegant, harmonious and attractive,” said one judge. “Quirky, different,” said another, with a third adding: “Layers of delicate floral fruit, refreshing with a dry finish, well-balanced and of interest.”