A recurrent theme in beer competitions of recent years has been the lack of balance in many beers employing strongly hopped, spiced and smoked characters, according to Little Creatures Geelong head brewer Warren Pawsey.
Pawsey said beers with lots of flavour “must still be drinkable and must still be balanced”.
“Whacking lots of different flavours into an alcoholic malt base doesn’t necessarily mean you are making a beer that the consumer will repeatedly want to spend money on,” he told brewers at The Institute of Brewing and Distilling 2016 Convention in Sydney this morning.
Harmony and balance
Pawsey, who is head judge at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA), said he has been judging beer competitions regularly for the last 15 years and some common themes are emerging.
“We’re judging beers anonymously, we don’t know what the brands are so we’re not influenced by marketing. We’re just tasting the beer for what it is, albeit it to a given style,” he said.
“It’s my opinion that there are plenty of great beers on the market, but there are some OK beers.
“These beers aren’t trainwrecks but many of them could be tuned up to be a bit more balanced,” he told brewers.
Pawsey said highly hopped beers such as India Pale Ales often lack malt sweetness on the finish giving the beer a thin body, which means hop flavour and bitterness dominates.
“Other IPAs can have ample malt sweetness and body to complement hop bitterness and flavours, however the finish is tannic and dry due to excessive hopping,” he said.
“Other hoppy beers often have assertive bitterness but there is a lack of hop aroma or flavour character.”
‘It’s beer not juice’
Pawsey said it is especially the case that “less is more” for beers with additions such as fruit, spices and oak influence.
“It’s beer, not juice. You need integration of flavour, it’s very important,” he said.
“Your Belgian Wit may look delightful however if you’ve added the entire spice rack you might be losing sales.”
‘Acrid bushfire aroma’
Pawsey said brewers also have to be careful with how they use smoked malt, which can be polarising.
“You can use 50 per cent smoked malt, if the rest of the grist complements it,” he said.
“When you’re using smoked malt, try and avoid the acrid bushfire aroma and flavour – it’s not very pleasant.”
Pawsey said that in all these examples, the beer’s shortcomings could be rectified and balance achieved by improving raw materials selection and brewhouse processes.
“As more brewers enter the growing market, those that make more drinkable beer, more balanced beer, will get more market share,” he said.
“The market segment is growing, so your beer sales should be in growth. Is your growth keeping pace with or even exceeding the growth of the market?
“If it’s not, you may need to tune your beer, or balance your beer,” Pawsey said.
The Institute of Brewing and Distilling 2016 Convention continues.