[REVIEW] Australian International Beer Awards 2010

(I found this post on the WayBack Machine, as I couldn’t find a back up of my blog when Posterous shut down. Thought it is a bit of a turning point for the Australian International Beer Awards, so a historical document. I will try and retrieve the comments also, as they are very powerful too.)

I have now been sitting on this too long and no one else has said it even after many people talking about it at the time. Brewers and beer industry people were disappointed and pissed off on the day.

The Australia International Beer Awards.

Well this might sound like sour grapes but I would like to challenge the whole event on every level. And I would like to challenge the organizers to actually start to make an effort to catch up with where the world of beer and brewing are today and strive to be the best they can, and move beyond a greedy money making enterprise, that is compromised on every level.

Where to start? How about where I started thinking about all this.

I have been attending the Australian International Beer Awards off and on since 1998. Back then they had a reputation for awarding every entry a bronze medal, and if your beer was OK you got silver and if it was good then you got gold. If you got nothing then you mustn’t have paid your entry fee. (I.e. not a good reputation, but all the brewers felt good because they got something)

Over the last few years they seem to have raised the standards a bit as not every one gets a medal any more.

But things are still ridiculous.

The best part of the awards dinner these days for me is the 30 minutes before the dinner where you can actually catch up with all your beer and brewing friends you haven’t seen for a year from around Australia and NZ and the world.

This year though the beer pre-event reached and all time low. Both beers on offer which would have been most acceptable if fresh were extremely oxidized. To the point there were many bottles lying around on tables with only one sip out of them, including in the sink tops in the toilets. The brewers of these beers must have been extremely embarrassed, and I can only imagine it was a marketing or sales person doing a deal to supply a bunch of beer for free they had to move because it was close to or out of date.

Great people, bad beer.

Next, the event of the awards dinner.

The tickets cost $175. Someone made a huge amount of profit off someone here. The food was fair to mediocre. Nothing amazing, but definitely an underwhelming three course meal, something I would have been disappointed with if I had paid more than $40 at a restaurant for.

The beers on the table seemed to be a selection of beers an importer/distributor was having trouble getting rid of, as well as the usual mainstream “premium” lager offerings (why bother). I would expect an awards dinner for an industry to be celebrating the best of what was on offer. Not doing a deal with breweries and importers to see what beer you could get for free. Which is what this selection of beers reeked of. (I’d really like to get some feedback from some of the empolyees from the large breweries that attended to get there opinion on whether they thought this was acceptable)

The MC was efficient, annoying, and insensitive to the industry. It was interesting to see they had a pre-recorded announcer for the winners, so that the MC didn’t make a total dick of himself when announcing foreign breweries or unfamiliar brewing terms (like we have expereinced in the past). The YouTube (quality) videos they had downloaded and showed in the breaks was an embarrassment not only for the organizers but those of us from the industry. (bring back Rossco)

The time between announcements of the awards was way too long. I found myself outside the main dinning hall meeting up with and talking to people I hadn’t seen for a year or so. The background music was depressing and slow. This event should be one of fun and celebration.

There are several awards that should be dropped as they are either redundant and don’t help the credibility of the awards anymore such as the Best Victorian Beer or just idiotic like the trophy for the Best New Exhibitor. WTF. Why would there be such a ridiculous award? Are you people retarded? You can win a trophy because you entered a beer in these awards for the first time? What?

Or this award, Champion Hybrid Beer? Did someone say Prius?

Then you have to question why there are trophies for Porter and then one for Stout, but then there is just one trophy for Ale? Ale must make up 60% of the entries but there is just one trophy, for many different styles. But Porters and Stouts combined make up maybe 5%.

HELLO?! It is time these trophies where looked at again and reviewed for relavance. We aren’t in the 80’s anymore.

By the end of this event, again, everyone seemed depressed, and disenchanted with the whole thing. Brewers asking questions on what happened, why their beer didn’t medal, or why it got what it got.

Again the question was raised how come so many International beers won (obvious the beers were better), but you can’t buy many of them in Australia, and have to travel to the US or the country of manufacture to actually try them. These results leave the local brewers and beer drinker flaccid towards this competition, as it has no meaning or relevance to the locals. What is this competition trying to achieve? Cash, relevance or credibility? I think cash.

Also maybe look at a new venue if you have to pay $175 for a ticket for a lame meal. Someone is making a lazy $100 profit on this somewhere.

In comparison, only a few weeks earlier I attended the World Beer Cup awards dinner and would have to say it was one of the most amazing meals (on this scale), and better yet the best beer and food matched meal I have ever had. US$85 vs A$175, I got a huge deal in the US. It was a privilege to have been able to attend this dinner, and can understand why there were people outside scalping tickets, for the WBC dinner.

The World Beer Cup meal, not only was matched with some of the best beer on the planet (to the point that people on my table were trying to sneak more beer from the tables beside us), it used beer in the dishes and hops also.

World Beer Cup used 90lbs of hops in the menu, 2700 litres of beer on the tables, 2000 people, and 10,000 plates. It was incredible, more on that in another blog. It made AIBA dinner look like the joke that it has become.

One of the biggest jokes of the night was the fanfare that was made about the judges. Is this some old boys club or something? Maybe the beer “Manders & Co.” from Wig & Pen was hinting at something, or even their beer “The Judges are Old Codgers RIS”.

The judges were all called out by name, and asked to come on stage. (How many where there? it seemed to take about 20 minutes to get them all on the stage). Each of them was presented an award for judging, and more time was taken up with this than anything else for the evening. Seems that the judges were more important than the brewers that made the beer and the beers that won.

The judges, now this has become a bit of a joke, and I have the proof finally. You look through the list of judges and there is a theme here. Most of them have or do work for the large brewers (of mainstream swill, and pseudo-premium lagers (only premium because of the price) in Australia and New Zealand. Where is the international judges, those that are experts in the styles of there region. Can you state that these ANZ judges from large breweries making mainstream lagers, have expert knowledge in all the worlds beer styles?

I entered one of my beers in both the World Beer Cup and the Australia International Beer Awards. Both from the same batch, and shipped and then judged within a couple of weeks of each other.

The one to the US was shipped airfreight in a bottle, the Australia on was sea freighted in a keg. So one would expect that the keg version would be the best. What follows are the comments from each competition on the same beer.

(Disclaimer: I was a judge at the World Beer Cup for the third time in 2010, plus I am a serial award winning brewer, I know a bit about brewing and judging good beer. I believed that the beer I entered was in excellent condition and very medal worthy.)

World Beer Cup comments on my American IPA

–         big citrus resiny nose, good

–         big hops dominate

–         nice bold IPA

–         lingering bitterness

–         clean and fresh

–         fine piney hop character

–         citrus pine finish

Overall result – quality beer others entries are better. (in a class with 100+ entries and 3 medals, a good result and feedback)

Australia International Beer Awards on the same American IPA

–         a little out of balance

–         late hop bitterness not smooth

–         slight menthol character

–         unbalanced too much hop character

–         raw hop character is not appropriate to either US or UK style

–         a little unbalanced

–         hop one dimensional

–         resin character of hopping out of balance with rest of beer

Overall result – Bronze (personally a disappoint result, I question whether the judges had ever tasted an American IPA before judging this beer)

This beer won Gold and Best in Class at BrewNZ last year, with a panel of mostly interntaional judges.

For those interested the style guidelines of an American IPA that both sets of judges used state:

82. American-Style India Pale Ale

American-style India pale ales have intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma with medium-high alcohol content. The style is further characterized by fruity, floral and citrus-like American-variety hop character. Note that “fruity, floral and citrus-like American-variety hop character” is the perceived end, but may be a result of the skillful use of hops of other national origins. Hops of other origins may be used for bitterness as well. The use of water with high mineral content results in a crisp, dry beer. This pale gold to deep copper-colored ale has a full, flowery hop aroma and may have a strong hop flavor (in addition to the hop bitterness). India pale ales possess medium maltiness which contributes to a medium body. Fruity-ester flavors and aromas are moderate to very strong. Diacetyl can be absent or may be perceived at very low levels. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures.

SO for the Australia judges maybe the first sentence of the style guidelines should be capitalized.

AMERICAN-STYLE INDIA PALE ALES HAVE INTENSE HOP BITTERNESS, FLAVOUR AND AROMA.

DUH!

My summary on this is these judges at the Australia Beer Awards are in over there heads, they are judging beers styles they don’t understand, have never brewed and obviously have never tried. American IPA is all about the intense hops! Hops, Hops, Hops.

So I guess in summary the Australian International Beer Awards need to do the following to actually get some credibility back.

1.      Get judges that have tried and understand (or can read style guidelines) the styles they are judging. Might cost you some money to get international judges, but it would be worth it.

2.      Stop ripping off the brewing industry and making money from a crappy dinner, with shit MC and bogus trophies.

3.      The dinner should actual have beer in consideration with the food presented

4.      The beer on offer on the table should be drinkable and represent the best the industry has to offer, this should be a celebration of the best.

5.      Relevance. What is this competition trying to be? The biggest in the world? Not going to happen, there is the World Beer Cup, of a quality and standard they will never be reached by AIBA. Maybe it is time to get more focused on the local region.

Let’s celebrate great beer, and great brewers.

(I found this post on the WayBack Machine, as I couldn’t find a back up of my blog when Posterous shut down. Thought it is a bit of a turning point for the Australian International Beer Awards, so a historical document. I will try and retrieve the comments also, as they are very powerful too.)

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