Last Friday night the ‘stars’ came out for the inaugural Australian Craft Beer Awards in Sydney. As well as being an opportunity for the craft beer community to get together and share a beer, it was also a chance to reflect on how far the craft beer scene has come since the inception three years ago of its steering body.
The CBIA has come to be recognised almost universally as a worthy representative association for those who brew, sell and drink beer in Australia. In terms of education and public awareness of better beer, the CBIA has done much to promote what we inside ‘the bubble’ know to be a good thing. Through the recently launched website the CBIA has created a portal for the novice to begin their beer journey while events such as the second Craft Brewers Conference held in May has also managed to seamlessly unite the many different – and sometimes disparate – elements of the brewing scene.
The first Australia Craft Beer Awards, rather than being an ‘alternative’ or ‘breakaway’ awards route in opposition to the other state-based and national awards, was the chance to celebrate what makes craft beer different to the mainstream by recognising excellence in a wider range of beer styles. And while the awards are unapologetically in their infancy (only packaged beer was eligible for the competition this year) the intention is to grow in parallel with the support given by the brewers.
An impressive 280 entries from 80 of the 200 or so ‘craft’ brewers around Australia was indication enough that the awards have some value to the community and also that they are seen as a valid fixture on the calendar. For many years now it seems that we have found the need to define ‘craft beer’ not by what it is but by how it differs from the mainstream and these awards serve to compliment the craft sector rather than to be simply self-serving.
The awards also showed that craft at present is representative of world beer styles. Some may argue that the fact that some 96 of 280 beers were entered in the Pale Ale category signals the opposite but this might suggest a simplification of the criteria and voting process. CBIAs Dave Bonighton told Brews News he hoped sub-categories would be added over the next few years. “I’d like to think in the near future we would have enough entries to award medals and trophies in Australian, US, English and Belgian pale ales.”
Bonighton went on to explain the voting, medal and trophy criteria. “The system we chose is something of a blend of Brewers Association guidelines as used in the World Beer Cup and the system used for the AIBAs (Australian International Beer Awards) Beers are rated on appearance, aroma, style, flavour and technical execution and Bronze, Silver and Gold medals are awarded”. Trophies for Best in Category are determined by a single Gold in the category and, where no beer is deemed worthy of Gold medal status, no trophy is awarded.
“Where more than one Gold is achieved in a category, those beers are re-tasted and a Trophy winner decided’, Bonighton explained. In all, six Trophy-worthy beers went on to be re-tasted to determine the inaugural “Champion Australian Craft Beer” A panel of judges was chosen to determine the ‘best of the best’ but, as Bonighton pointed out, the honour of being chosen to taste the winners was a double-edged sword.
“The Champion Craft Beer tasting was conducted by selected judges who had no beer of their own in the running, so to get the nod for that panel you realised you weren’t a chance of the major prize!” Bonighton joked. All beers entered in the competition were tasted ‘blind’ allowing for the merits of the beer itself to be the only determining factor in its chances of gaining a medal or a trophy.
The CBIA is to be congratulated for the stewardship and organisation of both the awards and the presentation ceremony. The awards themselves, hosted with elegance and efficiency by the Beer Diva, Kirrily Waldhorn, was a casual affair, briskly timed but allowing the requisite gravitas an awards ceremony deserves. The ‘stand-up’ nature of the event allowed for catching up over the many beers entered for judging and meant the opportunity for an early night for those struggling with the rigours of Sydney Craft Beer Week.