A lingonberry pancake farmhouse ale brewed by Heyday Beer Co. was this month crowned the 2023 Rare Beer Champion, beating out 20 other wacky, wild and just plain weird beers to take out the winner’s cap.
The Rare Beer Challenge is an annual event hosted by Fortune Favours to raise funds and awareness for Rare Disorders NZ. Breweries create a unique beer inspired by the charity, promoting it — and the cause — on social media. Now in its third year, the event was extended beyond just Wellington, with several breweries from across the country invited to take part alongside those based in the capital, and the 21 beers were poured at both Fortune Favours in Wellington and 16 Tun in Auckland.
It’s my second year being a judge in this event and this year, it was a real pleasure to see that the majority of breweries are finally understanding the “rare” part of this beer challenge, and really pushing boundaries of what a beer can be. Among the entrants, we had an energy drink beer, a beer made with lentils and south Indian spices, a short rib ragu beer, and a dampfbier — a style none of the judges had even heard of, let alone tried before. Not only were the majority of beers rare, but tasty too — a fine line to draw, and something that’s important when every sale of your beer raises money for charity.
Heyday’s winning beer, The Big Lebrewski, was a farmhouse ale back-sweetened with lingonberry concentrate and maple syrup that really did taste like pancakes, but without losing the beer behind it. Not only was it a tasty and well-made beer, but Heyday was clear in how it linked to rare disorders; they explained how they chose to highlight a rare ingredient — lingonberry — to signify the attention Rare Disorders NZ brings to those suffering from a rare disorder or disease.
The final piece in judging this competition is how the breweries promote Rare Disorders and in that respect Heyday knocked it out of the park. They not only put up posters about their beer and the challenge, but also created oversized bowling pins branded with their beer and rare disorders logo, posted three social media posts and a video about their beer, the challenge and how it all linked to Rare Disorders, and also commissioned a hop rug by Wellington artist Maze Rugs, which was auctioned off to raise money for the charity.
The second place getter, Alibi, also had a strong social media promotion of their beer, the event and Rare Disorders, and explained how the cherries used in the beer represented both oxygen-carrying blood cells and the heart. And my, was Alibi’s barrel-aged cherry sour delicious. In fact, most, though not all, of the breweries which scored in the top five did all three things that the judges look at well: brew a unique, yet tasty beer, explain the beer’s link to rare disorders, and promote the Rare Beer Challenge and Rare Disorders.
But the thing most breweries are still struggling with three years on from the start of the competition, is connecting their beer with rare disorders. Panhead nailed that aspect this year. Their Heart of Gold Aurum Ale was made using 17 ingredients, to signify the one in 17 New Zealanders living with a rare disorder. They also named their beer with a nod to a rare disorder, and after a song — as they explained it — of companionship and love.
Breweries who designed their beer with inspiration from rare disorders at the core generally scored higher with the judges than those that took a beer they had sitting around or were brewing anyway and entered it. There were also several beers that had thought carefully about how they could make a rare beer and conveyed that but didn’t make the link to rare disorders. Just adding weird ingredients to a beer, while cool, isn’t enough in this competition either.
Another big part of the scoring is also down to the promotion of Rare Disorders NZ and the Rare Beer Challenge in the leadup to the event. There were some amazing Instagram posts and stories from some of the entrants, including another epic effort from Fortune Favours, but others didn’t promote their beer or the event on social media at all, again missing out on points.
But overall, the event was a resounding success. Punters in both Wellington and Auckland enjoyed their nights drinking barrel-aged flower beers, beer-sake hybrids, smoked barrel-aged cask beers, and blackcurrant fig leaf barley wines. The creativity shown by breweries this year was through the roof, and the Rare Beer Challenge raised more than $17,000 for Rare Disorders NZ — a new record. Cheers to that.