A 31 per cent “beer”, a braggot made with raw wild honey, and a beer reminiscent of a raspberry and coke – welcome to the second year of the Rare Beer Challenge.

Hosted by Fortune Favours, the Rare Beer Challenge is an event which asks Wellington breweries to push their imaginations to the limits and brew something weird but wonderful, in a bid to raise awareness and funds for Rare Disorders NZ.

In only its second year, the number of breweries which competed for the coveted 2022 winners presentation cap grew from 11 to 18, with a huge step up in creativity from last year. Unlike most beer competitions, the Rare Beer Challenge entrants are rewarded for thinking outside the box of traditional beer style parameters — as long as the beer itself is also fault-free and enjoyable.

Entries were judged not only on aroma, flavour, mouthfeel and appearance, but also on their inspiration, how rare the beer and/or its ingredients are, and how unusual the concept is. Breweries are also rewarded for linking their beer to Rare Disorders NZ and the work they do — those beers that have an accompanying story that relates to Rare Disorders and its advocacy work, have drawn inspiration from that, or have taken the time to promote the organisation with their beer, are more likely to gain higher scores in the creativity and X-Factor sections.

This year the judges, and later the patrons, were treated to a huge array of strange beers. There were small batch beers, beers brewed with home-grown ingredients, beers aged in expensive barrels, those with surprising ingredients, and even those that were just plain weird styles.

Waitoa was one of those breweries, making a lichtenhainer — an historical German beer which is traditionally both sour and smoky, which might explain why you don’t really see that kind of beer brewed commercially. Only one of the four judges had even tried one before. Waitoa decided to add peaches to their version, giving it a juiciness and a drinkability that really lifted the beer —and they were rewarded with a third placing.

In second place, Boneface attempted to brew the beer version of a raspberry and coke but took it to an even rarer level, by using both rare ingredients and rare treatments when it was fermenting. Rather than using raspberries, Boneface sourced tayberries — a raspberry and blackberry hybrid — from Geraldine, to mimic the raspberry syrup flavour and colour. During fermentation, Scottish staff members recited Robbie Burns poetry to the Kola & Tayberry Sour every day — even coming in on days off! — and played it Scottish music to aid yeast growth. The beer certainly tasted like a grown-up raspberry and coke and was a hit on the night.

But the winner, Choice Bros’ A La La La La Long Imperial Isotonic Sports Beer, went above and beyond with the rare factor. Also gaining some inspiration from a non-alcohol beverage, A La La La La Long’s flavour was modelled after the Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat — only Choice Bros wanted to create an isotonic beer with similar sugar and salt content to human blood, for a quicker absorption and rehydration. Its salty-yet-sweet flavours and dry-yet-full body was super strange and certainly was nothing like the judges had tried before, earning it the coveted presentation cap for 2022.

While there was a whole heap of creativity in the 2022 competition, brewers are inherently creative, and so the judges found themselves asking “how rare is this beer really”? It’s amazing how using rare ingredients, such as saffron, or taking a strange concept, like brewing with tomato or szechuan pepper, actually resembled other beers that had appeared on the market before.

The drinkability and deliciousness factors were incredibly high overall though, even if some of the ideas could have pushed the boundaries further. And that made for a great night of celebrating and raising money for the rare disorders community, with Fortune Favours packed full of punters testing their own boundaries hours before the winners were announced. While some of the beers are truly just two-keg rare, some of the entries will be available more widely — so go out and see if you can score a taste of a 2022 rare beer, and perhaps push yourself to try something out of your own comfort zone.