Last week, as the sun was rising on a balmy 1.4C Christchurch morning, the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards were kicking into their first full day of judging.  The temperature was still struggling to get above 5C when I arrived at midday to snap some photos and hopefully get some early takes from the judges on the quality of this year’s crop of entries.  

The stewards were working away with their signature calm efficiency, pouring hundreds of beers over the day and ferrying them to the judging tables.  Meanwhile the keg team work outside, gassing, degassing and pouring their way through a full shipping crate’s worth of kegs.  They were going to see the worst of it tomorrow with torrential rain forecast for the coldest part of the morning. 

Last year’s competition happened on a knife edge, with borders closed and Auckland in lockdown.  But now with travel restored and a greater diversity of judging expertise available, four more judges were brought on this year, bringing the total to 28, and head judge Tina Panoutsos was also able to make a return from Australia.  

Although the conditions around Covid restrictions had improved, the entry numbers were down over last year, as the brewing industry continues to feel the bite.  

A steward pouring samples at the Brewers Guild Awards judging. Photo: Tim Newman
A steward pouring samples at the Brewers Guild Awards judging / Photo: Tim Newman

There was a significant change to the planning this year, with GVI Logistics coming on board to centralise the transport of beers from across the country to the judging venue in Christchurch.  This greatly simplified what has historically been a complex and often fraught process of beer herding.  The beer is now catalogued on both ends of its journey, and arrives already grouped into style categories.  Having spent many hours in the past sorting and filing beers into those fridges, I can see the benefit of the new system.

Judges praise Hazies and European styles

I caught up with judges Joseph Wood (Liberty Brewing), Damian Treacher (Beer Baroness) and Colin Mallon (Sprig & Fern) during a break.  Most of the big categories were yet to be tasted, but the ‘European Ales’ bracket had already produced some standouts the day before.  So anticipate a great year for saisons and sours, and more exciting wild ferments as spontaneous beers continue to grow in popularity.  The hazies had just been judged, which is sure to be another monster of a category this year, and I was pleased to hear that there was a general agreement amongst the judges that the quality of hazy beer had continued to improve as more producers got to grips with the style.

The all important results will be announced over livestream on July 21 (you’ll catch me at the Two Thumb Colombo Street brewery in Christchurch for that satellite awards celebration).  You’ll be able to read my full commentary on the results and categories, along with profiles of the trophy winning beers and all our other awards coverage on and in our August issue.