The Australian International Beer Awards were announced at a gala dinner recently during Melbourne’s Good Beer Week 2013.
Those in attendance at the dinner were treated to a lavish celebration of beer and brewing at the $180-a-head do at Peninsular in Melbourne’s Docklands.
Featuring a menu designed and beer matched by Chris Badenoch of Josie Bones fame, this year’s event continued the process of lifting the event from a fairly expensive awards dinner to showcase of good beer and beer culture. The menu (below) matched to medal winning beers from 2012 and the presentation of the beers showed how far the awards have come over a few short years.
Treacle cured salmon with white slaw and soda bread
Matching beer: Feral White – Feral Brewing Company.
Tasting Notes: Cloudy gold pour with minimal head. Spicy, citrusy notes. Good example of an Australian brewed Belgian style wheat beer with coriander and citrus. Slightly sour note on the finish.
Weihenstephan Dunkel braised beef ribs with smoked potato mash and radish salad
Matching beer: Weltenburger Koster Asam Back.
Tasting Notes: Chestnut brown, off-white head. Notes of roasted malts, chocolate, caramelised sugar, fruit. Pronounced flavours of roasted malt, sticky dark fruits, chocolate and coffee. Full- bodied, rich & chewy on the tongue. Clean finish. Great balance.
Flavours of a Black Forest Gateau made with Mornington Peninsula Porter chocolate cake and Boon Kriek foam
Matching beer: Stonecutter Scotch Ale, Renaissance Brewing.
Tasting Notes: Smoky aromas on top of raisins, nuts, cherries, caramel, coffee & liquorice. Smooth on the palette, mild sweetness with rich notes. Finishes dryish with an alcoholic presence.
I’m obviously not going to be impartial on this score, but Pete Mitcham and Julia Jenkins did a great job MCing the event. It can be a little awkward with two hosts doing the newsreader shuffle, but Pete and Julia managed to pull it off. It almost seems a shame that the awards have a policy of not using an MC twice. Between Pete and Julia, and recent hosts Paul Mercurio and Kirrily Waldhorn they have access to some highly professional presenters who have a deep empathy for beer. The events hosted by these presenters just seem to be snappier events more tuned to the beer industry than those hosted by others, even professionals, with an obvious lack of knowledge about beer, if only because they can pronounce most of the brewery names.
While gold medals were few and far between in this year’s awards, there seems to have been little of the discussion and controversy that has erupted in previous years over whether the too many/too few gold medals awarded and whether the judging was every player wins a prize or too highly technical and out of touch with the contemporary beer market. This may be another tribute to Chief Judge Brad Rogers and the panel of judges that were assembled, comprising a who’s-who of brewers from breweries large and small, including many celebrated internationally.
I asked Brad whether the Australian International Beer Awards could fairly be described as an awards for brewers by brewers, a suggestion that he didn’t dismiss.
“We spent an awful lot of time making sure the panel was fair,” Brad said.
“It’s not a craft beer awards, it’s an international brewing awards and the panel must reflect that.
“The panel was made up of brewers. We didn’t include beer journalists or suppliers or industry representatives.
“I am more than comfortable saying that this team of 42 judges did a fantastic job.”
Brad said continuing to develop the judging panel is a high priority for the committee, including further development of an associates program where awards stewards will be able to develop into judges. Young brewers will also be added to the panel as associate judges, sitting on panels to judge without their scores being used in the awards. In doing so they will be able to develop further experience and expertise that will benefits the awards into the future.
While gold medals may have been relatively few, especially given more than 1400 beers were entered, some of the medal highlights of the awards include:
- The first Gold Medal awarded for a gluten-free beer. I road-tested the O’Brien Belgian Pale on a radio spot earlier this year and thought it was a cracking beer, and certainly a beer that you would be happy to drink whether you were coeliac or not. It’s great to see this category continue to develop and grow.
- Nail Brewing’s Clout Stout getting Gold, extending brewer John Stallwood’s consecutive gold medal run to five.
- Cooper’s Sparking showing its still got class, winning the trophy for Best Australian Style Pale Ale.
Matilda Bay’s Alpha Pale Ale capped a series of Gold medals at a variety of awards over the last few years by taking the Champion Australian Beer gong. Over at Crafty Pint, James Smith aptly said of Alpha, “The powers-that-be push stablemate Fat Yak but those in the know drink Matilda Bay’s genuine US pale ale.” It’s perhaps no surprise that Alpha is starting to find a home on more taps nationally. I spoke briefly to a very proud head brewer, Scott Vincent, after the awards ceremony who attributed the honour to changes in the way Matilda Bay has bought and used their ingredients to maintain their freshness. Unfortunately, after midnight at the end of the awards isn’t the best time to take and retain detailed information about such things and now we have probably missed our chance to get the background to this story. When I last referred questions about Matilda Bay to the marketing gurus at CUB I was advised they were being more being choice-full (( Yeah, I don’t think choice-full is a word either but it seems to be from the same marketing lexicon that gave us ‘consumer-facing brewery’ to refer to Matilda Bay’s Port Melbourne brewpub. I think it means that they’re not speaking to us. Oh well, you’ll just have to read their news unquestioned on mediareleaseposingasjournalism.com. )) about who they were spending time conversing with, so we’re unlikely to get a chance to follow up directly on this one. Still, congratulations to Scott and his talented team of young brewers on an outstanding result for an outstanding beer.
- CUB winning the Champion Large Australian Brewery was another highlight. You might be surprised to hear it, but this is a great result. New owners SABMiller talked a big game about going back to beer fundamentals when they took over last year. While continued nonsense such as the Crown Lager history debacle, the-flavour-of-VB-absolutely-won’t-change-oh-whoops-yes-it-did and Comb-overgate might make you wonder whether the CUB marketing team’s email regularly gets hacked by Nigerian scammers, the brewers certainly know what they’re doing and the renewed focus on beer is paying dividends. Let’s hope the brewers are allowed to prevail over the marketers more often.