Today, and for years now, the West Coast IPA Challenge is the busiest night at the Malthouse – bigger than Christmas Eve, New Year Eve, St Paddies and any other boozefest you care to name. The place is full by 4.30, with punters queuing on the street. And for the past couple of years, due to popular demand, it also takes over Fork & Brewer on Bond Street.
The winner is announced about five hours later, with the traditional presentation of the Golden Gumboot, a highly sought-after trophy comprising a single Number One Shoes gumboot and an awful lot of gold spray paint.
The Challenge started as a bet between Hallertau’s Steve Plowman and Epic’s Luke Nicholas – who could make the best West Coast-styled, hop-forward IPA? Remember that back in 2008 it had yet to be determined that New Zealand was going to go nuts for New World IPAs. Luke, Steve and the Malthouse were ahead of their time.
From 2008 to 2010 there were just two entrants, and two beers – Epic Armageddon and Hallertau Maximus Humulus Lupulus. The Challenge as we know it today really took off in 2011, when it was opened up to more brewers and the competition aspect became more important. And the event has spurred other single-style competitions – Smith’s annual NZIPA competition in Queenstown, Heyday’s Hazy IPA competition which launched last month, and Moon Under Water’s New Zealand Stout event.
The West Coast IPA Challenge is always judged blind by a panel of judges and any brewers on the panel do not taste their own beer. The brewers themselves stand aside for the final judging round of four or so beers.
This year’s judging panel includes retailers Alyssa Prentice, Mark Gower and Stacey Walsh alongside brewers Kelly Ryan (Fork), Tracy Banner (Sprig & Fern) and David Nicholl (Moa) with beer writers Geoff Griggs, Jono Galuszka and me.
While the winner gets the no-expense-spared Golden Gumboot, second and third places are also awarded. These are also known, logically, as the Silver Gumboot and the Bronze Gumboot, but are strictly virtual prizes as the spray paint budget doesn’t run to three colours.
Since the event was expanded in 2011, five breweries have won gold and eleven have earned a podium finish. (I’ve excluded the People’s Choice votes, as these are not selected through blind tasting.)
No one has yet won three times, but three breweries have won it twice. ParrotDog’s West Coast won last year, while High Time won in 2015. Liberty’s The Kush won in 2017, after its Knife Party took the Boot in 2013. Moa won in 2016 with Perri’s Sky Juice and in 2011 with McMoa. Of the three double winners, Liberty and Moa have also scored a third place each.
Epic has won once (Hop Zombie, back in 2012) but with two seconds and two thirds, it has had more medal finishes than any other entrant. More than any other brewer, this is a style that Epic specialises in, and every year Epic must be rated as a genuine contender.
Renaissance collected the Golden Gumboot once, with Bloody RIPA red IPA in 2014. It also finished second in 2015 with Boom.
Several breweries have picked up more than one podium finish without ever winning the gold. Good George finished second last year, and second equal in 2017. Tuatara and Fork have both collected a single second and third. Hallertau has claimed one second since the event opened up to multiple entrants, as has Garage Project, while Baylands has gumbooted once with a Bronze in 2013.
And what of the also-rans? Both Deep Creek and McLeods collected major trophies at the Australian International Beer Awards this year and neither can be written-off for 2019.
And that’s part of the fun – while there are genuine favourites, it’s a competition that any commercial brewer can win. Blind judging ensures that the right ingredients well-presented can always collect the Golden Gumboot, and that’s why the award announcement, sometime around 9.30 on Friday 26 July, will be a genuine surprise and deserved mana.
Be there or be somewhere else.
Friday 26 July – 12th Annual West Coast IPA Challenge
Wednesday 7 August – Road to Beervana The Great British Takeover. Featuring Thornbridge (England), Tiny Rebel (Wales) and Fierce Beer Co (Scotland)