Alex Stevenson, The Drink School, Natalya Watson, beer writer; Pete Hughes, Brewhouse & Kitchen; Danm Sandy, Kill the Cat.
Pale and interesting
While IPAs impressed the judges last year, craft pale ales fared better in 2018, with three Golds awarded in the category. Tropical notes are “bang on trend” according to Peplow, evidenced by the success of two citrus-packed, hopforward beers from South Eastern Brewery.
When it came to the hopforward, higher-strength IPAs, Derbyshire-based brewer Abbeydale’s Deliverance PIPA came up trumps, bagging the category’s only Gold. “The hop-forward ale category offered a feast of flavours and hop aromas, from the floral and fruity to the earthy and woody, but the beers that stood out were those offering the perfect balance between a sturdy malt backbone and a flavoursome, assertive hop character.”
Highs for a low
The low- and non-alcoholic category has suffered from a poor reputation for decades, but recent consumer interest in health and sobriety is forcing drinks firms to work hard to create a guilt-free beers that don’t force drinkers to compromise on taste. Thanks to their ability to spend more on developing non-alcoholic beers that people would happily swap for their usual beverage, beer giant Heineken led the way in this portion of the competition, winning a Gold for its 0.0. “It’s great for its category,” said Peplow. “Very clean and well made.”
With the rise of health-conscious consumers, fruit infusions have sprung up throughout the drinks industry, and beer is no exception, but the judges were less impressed with this year’s offering of fruity brews. “Infused beers, particularly with fruit, often showed flavours that were out of balance and had poor taste integration into the beer itself,” McNamara said. “This was regardless of whether the fruit was infused with a base beer of lambic, gose, lager or IPA.”
Lotte Peplow, accredited beer sommelier and Brewer’s Association representative.
Dark beer brilliance
Ending on a high, McNamara noted the high standard of dark beers on offer this year, particularly porters, which stayed true to form with “flavoursome maltforward notes of chocolate and hints of light roasted coffee”. Harviestoun performed well yet again in this category, earning a Gold medal with its Old Engine Oil, alongside Sussex-based Long Man Brewery Old Man Porter, both of which “balanced well with the subtle bitterness and medium bodied finish”.
On the whole, this year’s entries had stars in all categories, but they also showed that, while fruity infusions are gaining popularity across the drinks industry as a whole, they’re not always easy to get right. More than a few missed out on medals, and those that did perform well never strayed too far from their traditional styles, drawing on the characteristics of hop species for their flavour profiles instead of added extracts.
But that isn’t to say innovation wasn’t welcome. Low-alcohol beers have come a long way since we launched our competition, and more craft brewers are getting the hang of notoriously tricky-tomake lagers. We look forward to watching these categories develop in the coming months, and finding out how they’ll shape the products our brewers enter next year.
The judges (l-r): Joe Bevan, Institute of Brewing & Distilling; Dr Jacopo Mazzeo, freelance consultant and writer; Alex Stevenson, The Drink School; Pete Hughes, Brewhouse & Kitchen; Shane McNamara, Longflint Drinks; Natalya Watson, beer writer; James Kellow, Crate Brewery; Rebecca Pate, beer blogger; Edith Hancock, db; Dan Sandy, Kill the Cat; Lotte Peplow, Brewers Association; Phoebe French, db.