Lager – the most popular beer style in the world for at least the last 100 years – could be on the verge of its next renaissance and Kiwi consumers are set to be the big winners.
Brewers are taking on the challenge of crafting a winning lager in record numbers, entering more lagers into this year’s New World Beer & Cider Awards than ever before – up 30% on last year’s competition and 60% over three years ago.
Chair of Judges, beer writer and author Michael Donaldson will lead the independent panel of experts responsible for determining the Top 30 winners from hundreds of beer and cider entries when judging gets underway this week, and says he’s looking forward to lagers being the first to hit the tables.
“There’s been talk in beer circles for a couple of years about a lager renaissance— and this jump in lager entries could be a sign it’s starting to happen.”
He explains that while lager is undisputedly the most popular and widely consumed style of beer worldwide, craft brewers have tended to focus on different, bolder and trend-setting styles.
“Now, it appears more New Zealand brewers are taking on the challenge of lager too, going head-to-head in a class that is usually headlined by much-loved international beer brands. Seeing the class grow at such a rate points to exciting times ahead for mainstream and craft beer fans alike.”
And he says that despite being well-known as “cold, gold and fizzy”, we shouldn’t confuse lager’s crowd-pleasing crispness for simplicity: “Achieving that perfect smooth lager is much more complex than it tastes! It requires technical skill to get the balance just right, and patience through weeks and weeks of cold conditioning.”
Pale lagers are likely to dominate the field, but the judges are eager to see what else crosses the table. “Lagers are actually a very wide-ranging beer style in terms of colour and richness, and we are looking forward to seeing great examples of that during judging,” says Donaldson.
The lager style also lends well to no and low alcohol versions, an increasing trend among consumers and reflected in a growing number of offerings and entries to the awards over recent years.
The independent panel of judges is made up of 24 of New Zealand’s top beer and cider judging talents, including many of the country’s most accomplished brewers and cidermakers as well as a malt expert and a certified Baumeister (German master brewer).
Judges work in teams and blind-taste around 40 to 50 beers or ciders a day over two days of intensive judging. They taste each entry simultaneously, debating and rating each one on technical excellence, balance, mouthfeel and most importantly, drinkability.
With many brew brands represented on the judging panel, exacting processes ensure no judge tastes their own product. Only the beer or cider in the glass is judged – brands are kept confidential.
Donaldson says the technical merits of each beer and cider will be carefully considered by the judges, but “great taste” is the ultimate deciding factor for a place in the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30.
“The technical criteria are important, but we are really on the hunt for those beers that are truly special out of the hundreds we’ll taste. The idea that “I’d be happy if this was the last beer I ever drank” is included in the criteria that we use around the table. The Top 30 beers and ciders have to be that good!”
He says the judging will serve up a Top 30 selection that shoppers can explore with confidence. “The results can be a ‘go to’ for New World shoppers, whether they are looking for a great example of their favourite beer style, or to try something totally new.”
The Top 30 beers and ciders will be announced later this year and available in New World stores nationwide, supported by a handy booklet of tasting notes.