The way in which stories are presented can be hugely important, as is what the media choose to highlight or ignore.

 The most blatant example of this phenomenon that I personally witnessed was at a party conference.  A television reporter wanted to run a story about how unpopular the current leader was with the party rank and file.  Unfortunately, the auditorium was full of enthusiastic delegates eager for the leader’s keynote address.  Undeterred by the facts, the reporter simply instructed one row of elderly people to move aside for one minute and had the camera person get a nice panning shot of some empty chairs.  Those images led the six o’clock news.

While the standard of reporting about beer, particularly craft beer, is slowly but steadily improving, both in terms of quantity and tone, there are still issues.  Virtually every story about alcohol- related harm is illustrated by images of beer, even if the story is about alcohol in general. 

Some reporters also struggle to appreciate the nature of beer judging.  A young reporter came to the beer awards some years ago to chat to some judges and get a couple of photos for a short lifestyle story.  My role was to show them round and answer any questions.  Instantly the first inquiry was – how much do they drink each day? 

“Well,” I explained patiently, “they try small samples of the beer – maybe up to 50ml – drink plenty of water and eat crackers to keep the palate fresh, and have solid but not spicy meals during the breaks.  They probably have no more than four or five standard drinks over an eight to ten hour judging session.”

Four or five standard drinks represent a reasonably spirited lunch in my book.  However, the first line of the article (and many like it) was “Swilling beer for a living must be hard work but someone has to do it.”  My careful explanation failed to deter the journalist from writing the story they had always clearly wanted to write.  It is hard to imagine the same media outlet describing a wine tasting as swilling or pestering an international wine judge about how much they drank.

The reason for this preface is that judging for the 2010 BrewNZ Beer Awards is already underway.   A distinguished panel of international and domestic experts are carefully swirling, sniffing and sipping their way through more than 450 entries in 17 categories. 

David Cryer, Chairman of the Brewers Guild of New Zealand, says the record number of entries reflects the growth of the premium craft brewing industry in New Zealand, as well as growing demand by consumers for premium quality craft beer.

Each beer is entered in a specific category to ensure that like is judged against like.  Judges have the ability to award Gold Medals (a world class beer that accurately exemplifies the style, or may vary slightly from style parameters, while displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance), Silver Medals (an excellent beer that may vary from style parameters while maintaining close adherence to the style and displaying excellent taste, aroma and appearance) and Bronze Medals (a fine example that may vary from style parameters and have minor deviations in taste, aroma or appearance). 

Judges can award any number of medals in a category but they are not compelled to confer any if the beer is simply not up to standard.  The highest rated beer in each category receives a funky yet prestigious “Best in Class” Trophy.  After looking at all the results, judges will also select the Champion New Zealand Brewery 2010 and choose the Best International Brewery entered in the Awards. 

One of the categories is the popular ‘Festive Brew’ class where brewers are challenged to come up with a new beer specifically for the Awards.  The theme changes each year and this time it is “let’s go native”, asking brewers to utilise distinctly New Zealand ingredients.  Rumours are swirling about the fruit, spices and (not kidding) vegetables which have been used.  It is always fun.

The results will be announced at the BrewNZ Beer Awards Dinner on Thursday night.  This slightly posh event will be hosted by beer fan and Malthouse regular Paul Mercurio.  In fact, one of Mr Mercurio’s first acts after landing in the country was to pop into the Malthouse just to check everything was still up to the usual high standards.  Although the dinner has long since sold out, the results will be distributed on Thursday night/Friday morning and it is a fair bet that the judges will be spending some time in Malthouse, official bar of Beervana.

So, if you see someone at Malthouse sniffing their beer with slightly more determination than the average punter, you might be sitting next to a bonafide beer judge.  Just don’t mention the swilling…

* The title of this post is a paraphrase of a Czech proverb.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


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