After a Covid mandated cancellation in 2021, the Brewer’s Guild Awards were finally back in October, with hopeful brewers and thirsty pundits once again getting to cast their eyes along the hallowed list of results that cast the best from the rest.
With the Cider category given the boot (they have their own awards now), and a generally suppressed year all-around, entry numbers were slightly down from 2019. Of significantly more impact than reduced entries was the brutality of the judging, with an almost 50 per cent drop in gold medals awarded. The reduced panel were marking unprecedentedly hard this year, with only 35 golds award.
So, here’s a quick look over the categories and results, the movers and shakers, and the beers that managed to take the trophies home in the 2021 Brewers Guild Awards.
57 Entries 3 Gold 14 Silver 15 Bronze
Trophy: Boneface Outlaw IPL
International Lager has historically been a test of precision and restraint, with mass produced lagers frequently taking the trophy. But the surprises kicked off immediately with an India Pale Lager winning here. To see not just a craft beer but an IPL of all things grab it this year is a huge shakeup. One of Boneface’s first beers, Outlaw IPL is just that, a beer that breaks all the rules. Amongst row after row of straight-laced and buttoned-down mass-appeal lagers, it’s a big, juicy and hop forward drop with a (comparatively) insane concentration of flavour.
107 Entries 5 Gold 28 Silver 20 Bronze
Trophy: Panhead Port Road Pilsner
The NZ Styles category grew significantly over 2019, driven by the continuing rise in popularity of New Zealand-style pilsner. Despite the bump in entries, the number of golds awarded refused to budge, holding steady at five. On the other hand the silvers nearly doubled, indicating a strong level of overall quality throughout the entries. The winning Port Road Pilsner from Panhead is no stranger to the podium, now being far and away New Zealand’s most domestically awarded beer. It remains a source of tremendous pride for the Panhead team.
19 Entries 2 Gold 2 Silver 6 Bronze
Trophy: Alibi Temná Zima Dark Lager
This niche little category has only been around for two years, and it isn’t showing any sign of expansion, presenting an identical 19 entries to 2019. It did see some better traction in the medals though, gaining two golds over none the first time. Of those two, it was Waiheke’s Alibi Brewing that took first prize with their Temná Zima dark Bohemian pilsner. Head brewer Bearnard Neate envisioned Temná Zima as a winter version of their house pilsner, but wasn’t sure it would sell. Those fears should now be soundly behind him.
16 Entries 0 Gold 5 Silver 7 Bronze
Trophy: Emerson’s Bookbinder
British Ale has been a category on the wane for some time, but this year was particularly savage. Entries were down almost 50 per cent, and the medals were in a similarly sorry state, with zero golds awarded the trophy selected from of the five silver winners. Emerging from the debris was none other than Emerson’s Bookbinder, by far the most established beer amongst the winners, with this being its staggering 25th year on the market.
42 Entries 5 Gold 7 Silver 13 Bronze
Trophy: Garage Project Chance Luck & Magic
European ale held on strong this year, maintaining nearly the exact entry and medal count as 2019. The real news here was the trophy winning beer. Brewed by Garage Project’s Wild Workshop, Chance Luck & Magic is the first Lambic-style ever awarded a trophy at the BGONZAs. Combining three years of 100 per cent spontaneously fermented beer, founder and head brewer Pete Gillespie describes it as the ultimate expression of the Wild Workshop project.
23 Entries 0 Gold 6 Silver 5 Bronze
Trophy: McLeod’s Harvest Moon Black IPA
You could only call it a disappointing year for Amber/Dark Ale. Entries dropped by a third, and none could manage to muster a gold, leaving the trophy to be picked out from the silver medals. Said trophy winner, McLeod’s Harvest Moon Black IPA, was inspired by ‘El Jefe’ from the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont. All Simcoe hopped and just enough Carafa malt to make it dark with a thread of roast. IPA first, dark ale second. Soundly sold out and will be available again in April of 2022.
INTERNATIONAL PALE ALE
65 Entries 4 Gold 7 Silver 12 Bronze
Trophy: Garage Project Proper IPA
Formerly American Pale Ale, this category was re-named this year and immediately found itself the subject of controversy with a self-described IPA winning the trophy. The judges were not at fault here, with all beers tasted blind and the stylistic differences between bright IPA and APA have never been closer together. But after the 2018 awards ‘Monteith’s-Gate’ rules about entries adhering to the categories written on their own packaging were supposedly shored up — but perhaps not all the way.
INDIA PALE ALE
61 Entries 2 Gold 12 Silver 27 Bronze
Trophy: Behemoth Get Busy Hopping IPA
IPA entries were cut almost in half by the exodus of Hazies into their own category. The judging proved particularly brutal too, with only two golds awarded amongst the entirety of the entries. IPA sorcerers Behemoth won the trophy for the second time in a row with their Shawshank Redemption-riffing West Coast-style IPA.
130 Entries 5 Gold 19 Silver 35 Bronze
Trophy: Waitoa Afterglow Hazy IPA
I’m still quietly confident that we’ve seen the hazy peak this year, but what a peak it is. This is the first time hazies have had their own category, which immediately sprung to become the largest in the competition. This brings into sharp relief just how big a deal hazies have become in little over two years. Those leviathan entry numbers didn’t translate too well into medals though, with only one more gold awarded than International Pale Ale. The trophy winner was a new seasonal hazy IPA from Waitoa Beer in Wellington.
60 Entries 1 Gold 9 Silver 19 Bronze
Trophy: Burkes Unforgiven Porter
On paper Stout & Porter had a terrible year, holding on to entry numbers but crashing down from six golds to almost zip. But that solitary gold winning porter from Burkes turned out to be something very special indeed, going on to win Champion Beer. For the full story on this one and an in-depth tasting profile, check out my other article ‘In Search of NZ’s Best Beer) elsewhere in the issue.
WHEAT & OTHER GRAIN
12 Entries 1 Gold 5 Silver 3 Bronze
Trophy: Three Sisters Roses & Rivets Red Rye IIPA
Though suffering a severe drop in entries, Wheat & Other largely held onto its medal average this year, one of only a scant few categories to do so. It was the ‘Other’ that impressed on the day, with a rye imperial IPA taking the solitary gold and consequently the trophy. Brewed by Three Sisters in Taranaki, Roses & Rivets is a big, bold and distinctly red imperial rye IPA, conceived as an imbibable homage to the iconic World War 2 poster of Rosie the Riveter.
FRUIT & FLAVOURED
119 Entries 2 Gold 18 Silver 37 Bronze
Trophy: Beer Baroness Dare to Diva Berry Sour
Troubling times for Fruit & Flavoured this year, growing by a few entries yet falling in the medals. A technical category rather than a stylistic one (if you’ve added fruit, spice or other a-typical flavourings then you’re in), it encompasses the entire range of styles from stouts to lagers. Of those diminishing two golds it was Dare To Diva, a brilliantly ruby berry sour from Christchurch’s Beer Baroness that took the trophy.
SPECIALTY & EXPERIMENTAL
95 Entries 1 Gold 17 Silver 29 Bronze
Trophy: Speight’s Mid Ale
Ever the head-scratcher, this category might as well be renamed Beer. With massive desert stouts, brut IPAs, sours and light beer (still bafflingly without its own category) all competing together, this Thunder-Dome of a bracket is consistent only in its total unpredictability. It suffered one of the more miserable routs of medals this year, bombing from six golds to just a single one. That last light in the dark was none other than Speight’s Mid Ale, a 2.5 per cent beer. No arguments from me there, Speights Mid is in my opinion, the most worthwhile budget light beer in NZ.
BARREL & WOOD AGED
33 Entries 4 Gold 9 Silver 10 Bronze
Trophy: Kereru Amberine Quadrupel
One of the only categories to see an increase in medals over last awards, despite taking a significant hit to its numbers. The entries here typically represent the strongest and most labour-intensive beers. With so much love and hard work poured into these creations, and months, if not years, of aging in barrel, this is the battle of the biggest and the boldest. The trophy winning beer this year typified everything this category is about, a New Zealand whisky barrel-aged quadrupel from strong beer maestros Kereru.