Beer Masters 2019: results in full

The year’s Beer Masters showed the development of styles in the sector, as well as the the growth of the low- and no-alcohol category.

WHEN WE launched the Beer Masters in 2014, the craft beer industry was starting to mature. Now we’re seeing much more variety in the sector, from barrel-aged imperial stouts and low-ABV pale ales, to hop-forward IPAs and lagers made from leftover bread. We may not yet have seen see smoothie-thick New England IPAs and double-fermented cranberry Goses in supermarkets, but the list of beers entered into our Masters this year shows just how the UK’s everyday beer-drinking culture has changed in the last five years. This year’s Global Beer Masters judging panel consisted of nine industry experts, ranging from sommeliers and buyers to ZX Ventures insiders, who oversaw a broad range of brews organised into seven style categories.

In a bid to level the playing field and make this a competition aimed at the everyday drinker who buys beer from the supermarket as well as aficionados, small craft brewers were judged side by side with the world’s biggest producers. Overall, there was a shift in the lager category towards more malt-forward, Helles styles over the Pilsners that dominated our blind tasting last year. Craft lager was the hot topic of 2018, and dozens of beers we tasted in 2019 sought to replicate its crisp, floral flavours and bitter finish. But, as co-chair Shane McNamara noted, this year showed “a shift towards balance.

“While hop-forward beers were still present in the line-up, they were backed by more malt presence without being dominating.” Malt-forward Helles-style lagers, he said, were more present this year. “This would appear to follow a consumer trend in the desire for a clean, crisp malt-forward lager with floral aromas rather than a clean, crisp, slightly more bitter lager with herbal aromas.”

While there may have been fewer Gold medals handed out in 2019 than in 2018, beer sommelier Natalya Watson said she thought this was no bad thing. “It’s better to have more good beers overall, than to have a few outstanding beers in a pool of mediocre ones, which would shake out to the same average.”
Though Helles styles came into play, our largest category was, again, hop-forward ales, which Watson said comes as no surprise, because consumers “can’t seem to get enough bitterness these days”.

About the Beer Masters

While the Global Masters runs a series of blind-tasting competitions throughout the year focused on wine varieties – from Chardonnay to Cabernet – and wine styles, from rosé to sparkling, along with key wine regions, such as Champagne and Rioja, the programme of events also includes judging sessions on other categories, notably cider, and most recently, beer.

The beers in this blind-tasting competition were judged over the course of one day on Friday 30 August at the Brewhouse & Kitchen on Geffrye Street in Hoxton, London. This report features the medal-winners only.

Please visit the Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the opportunity to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0)20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: sophie@thedrinksbusiness.com

LOW-RISERS
Last year, we included a low- and no-alcohol category in our competition for the first time. Globally, volume sales of mainstream lagers are falling, along with overall alcohol consumption. We see countless reports and surveys telling us that the new generation of consumers barely drinks at all, and when they do, they want it to add value to their lives. The beer industry has been quick to act, and no-alcohol beers have been launching on a weekly basis for several years. With brewers striving to make something that is so much more than a consolation prize for the designated driver, it seemed appropriate to widen the remit of our awards to offer sober-curious consumers guidance on the beers to seek out when they’re taking a break from their regular choices. Last year, we were able to award a Gold medal to Heineken’s newly rolled-out 0.0 lager, but this year, the category’s only Gold went to a newcomer; Small Beer Brew Co. Coming in at 1% ABV, the dark lager not only signals a marked improvement in the quality of low-alcohol beers within just one year, but also in the range of styles available.

McNamara said the types of low-ABV beers on the table this year “continue to show the progress of brewers and their ability to craft flavoursome fault-free beers that fulfil the drinkers desire for taste and not just no/low alcohol”. Another beer that fared well in this category, from Storm Brewing in New Zealand, was lighter in style, proving that all over the world, beer businesses are getting better at delivering low-alcohol lagers that are consistently good. Watson said she found Storm’s Light Beer “flavourful and well balanced, which is tough to do with a low-strength brew”.
Though beer and alcohol are familiar bedfellows, it’s clear that our judges are open to new experiences.

Nick Bell, wine, beer and spirits buyer at Harvey Nichols, said he wanted to see a “larger variety” of guilt-free beers at next year’s competition.
Watson also said she wanted to see more low- and no-alcohol beers entered in the 2020 competition to find out “how they’ve improved by this time next year”.

POWERFUL PINTS
At the other end of the spectrum, beers that packed a punch with ABVs in the double figures also proved popular. Breweries such as Duvel in Belgium and Porterhouse in Ireland are experimenting with barrel-ageing, and the results are promising. Porterhouse Brewery picked up a Master with its Celebration Barrel-Aged Stout, which comes in at 12%. Matured in Bourbon and Port casks left over from the Dingle Whisky Distillery’s spirits maturation, the pitch-black beer is charged with toffee, vanilla and coffee, carrying all the flavours well, with a rounded texture owed to time spent in barrel.

As a whole, the hop-forward ale beer category yielded strong results, with Golds awarded to a deep ruby Yorkshire ale from Black Sheep Brewery, as well as to St Peter’s in Bury St Edmunds for its cream stout. Nick was particularly pleased with the darker brews this year, noting that the porters and stouts had some “absolutely stunning entries”.
But dark and brooding weren’t the only ways brewers caught our judges’ attention this year. Another high-roller was Delirium Tremens from Huyghe Brewery, which fared well in last year’s competition. This year the judges gave it a Gold. Watson said this beer performed well because its high strength “is balanced by its fruity esters and grainy sweet-malt backbone”. The results show that high strengths pay dividends, provided the beer’s flavours stand up.

GREEN FUTURE
Looking to 2020, our judges were keen to see more low- and no-alcohol beers on the table, as well as Belgian styles, which, as Watson put, it “tend to perform well”. But Alex Stevenson, Beer Academy Sommelier, Certified WSET educator and co-chair of our panel, also thought the time is right to focus on brewers who are not just making great beer, but doing so with the planet in mind.
Taking in the industry as a whole, he said, “the main trends I am seeing tend to be around sustainability, low-ABV and also quality over quantity”. While this year we had more low-ABV beers than ever, Stevenson still felt there was a lack of options on the table, “and not much was said regarding sustainability”.

Some of the brewers who entered our competition have their own eco-friendly credentials. It takes roughly 10 pints of water to brew just one pint of beer. Small Beer Brewing claims it has cut this down to 1.5 pints at its own facility in south London. Toast Ale, meanwhile, is brewed from leftover bread. Perhaps we’ll see more brewers touting their green credentials next year.

Judges: (L-r) Back row: Shane McNamara, James Kellow, Nick Bell, Alex Stevenson,
Anthony Gladman; front row: Sarah Hyde, Natalya Watson, Edith Hancock

Results: Beer & Cider Masters – Asia

Below are the results of our Beer & Cider Masters – Asia.

Phenolic/Astringent

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Tremlett England Dry Gold
Authentic Cider Olivers Cider and Perry) Gold Rush #5 England Dry Silver
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Puffin England Dry Silver
Authentic Cider (Dunkertons Cider) Dry Organic Cider England Dry Silver
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Barn Owl Wales Medium Master
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Vintage England Medium Silver
Authentic Cider (Dunkertons Cider) Organic Black Fox Cider England Medium Silver
Authentic Cider (Dunkertons Cider) Browns England Medium Silver
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Redstreak England Medium Silver
Authentic Cider (Hallets) Real Cider England Sweet Gold
Authentic Cider (Dunkertons Cider) Premium Organic Cider England Sweet Gold
Authentic Cider (Perrys) Grey Heron England Sweet Silver

Flavoured

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Authentic Cider Olivers Cider and Perry) At the Hop #7 England Dry Silver

Perry

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Authentic Cider (Dunkertons Cider) Organic Perry England Medium Gold
Authentic Cider Olivers Cider and Perry) Fine Perry England Medium Silver
Authentic Cider Olivers Cider and Perry) Classic Medium England Medium Bronze
Authentic Cider (Hallets) Real Perry Wales Sweet Bronze

Lager

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Harviestoun Brewery Schiegallion Scotland Light Gold

Ale

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Harviestoun Brewery Bitter and Twisted (beer) Scotland Light Bronze
Harviestoun Brewery Broken Dial Scotland Medium Bronze
Harviestoun Brewery Old Engine Oil Scotland Dark Gold
Harviestoun Brewery Old Engin Oil Engineers Reserve Scotland Dark Gold

Speciality (aged)

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dunh 12 Year Old Scotland Dark Gold

Speciality

Company Product Name Country Sub Category Medal
Harviestoun Brewery Ola Dunh 18 Year Old Scotland Dark Master

Chardonnay Masters 2013: The medalists

A select group of judges put aside preconceived ideas about this global grape variety as wines were appraised on style not region. Here we list all the Chardonnays that received a medal.

Chardonnay MastersOF ALL the world’s grape varieties, no other can match Chardonnay for its geographical reach and stylistic virtuosity. From the great grands crus of the Côtes de Beaune to the “sunshine in a bottle” that represents many people’s introduction to wine, Chardonnay mingles seamlessly with aristocracy and proletariat alike. The flip side of this virtuosity means that, more than any other variety, Chardonnay is particularly susceptible to fashion, making itself loved, derided and misunderstood in equal measures. What better candidate therefore with which to expand The Drinks Business Masters series?

Unsurprisingly for a variety which so often reflects winemaking technique as much, if not more, than any strong sense of place, the results offer an intriguing picture of which regions and producers are getting this balance right. Of course, deciding where that balance lies can prove highly subjective and provoked some lively discussion among judges. The interplay of factors such as fruit ripeness, oak, alcohol, acidity, residual sugar, malolactic fermentation, battonage and oxygen management requires deft decision making by winemakers.

Crucially, however, the end result should not distract the drinker by displaying its vinification too overtly, but rise above the sum of its parts to create a harmonious whole. The hundreds of wines entered into this inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters representing no fewer than 18 different countries demonstrated that winemakers today, from all parts of the world, are rising admirably to this challenge.

“The tasting reminded me why Chardonnay is such a hugely successful grape,” summed up Sebastian Payne MW, buyer for The Wine Society. “Its bouquet relatively seldom shouts at you, unlike Sauvignon or Gewürztraminer or even Riesling, but the flavour is satisfactorily full and rounded, never aggressive or over-acidic, and its wines are splendidly versatile when you eat.”

CORRECT BALANCE

Meanwhile Justin Knock MW, a winemaking consultant for clients in South America, the UK, Spain and his native Australia, commented on some of the current stylistic trends demonstrated by this competition. As a general observation, he noted: “In my view winemakers in pursuit of less overt ripeness are making better wines.” In terms of vinification, Knock found “oak was generally very well handled”, adding: “I noticed that some viscous, buttery malolactic fermentation characters are making a return – perhaps in view of finding acid balance in earlier picked styles.” Hailing this evolution as a “welcome return”, he argued: “It has a natural place in truly great, complex, textured Chardonnay.”

What’s more, Knock noted the appeal on offer even among more modestly priced wines. “It was great to see that even at entry level prices wines are showing better balance, even when in a more overt and predictable style,” he commented. “It shows that Chardonnay has multiple dimensions and that people are open to a wide range of styles.”
For consultant Richard Bampfield MW, the entries offered a valuable update on what we can now expect from a variety which is so prone to the pendulum swing of fashion. “A few years ago, I think that such a tasting would have featured wines showing more evident development, probably more evident oak and more overt smoothness and roundness,” he suggested. “Nowadays the aim is for a fresher style, almost as if the wines have been blended with some Sauvignon.”

In Bampfield’s view, this evolution marks a positive step for Chardonnay. “I think this is a healthier direction with the proviso that higher levels of acidity also require a reasonable level of ripeness to ensure a balanced result,” he concluded.

The judges may not have known the origin of the wines in each flight, but some regions certainly met their exacting criteria with greater regularity than others. While there were pockets of brilliance from individual producers across the globe, a number of regions stood out for the consistently exceptional quality of their Chardonnay.

SOUTHERN COMFORT

Within a strong overall performance from Australia, the Adelaide Hills and Margaret River shone particularly bright. California’s rich, buttery style can divide opinion among European palates, but the judges were quick to reward those achieving elegance alongside generosity. Meanwhile, in South Africa it was the cooler climate regions of Elgin and Walker Bay which impressed judges with the freshness and poise of their Chardonnay. For a while now there have been enthusiastic noises about the underrated quality of New Zealand Chardonnay, so long overshadowed by the country’s popular Sauvignon Blanc.

The entries this year reinforced this impression, showing that Marlborough today has more than one trick up its sleeve. And finally, let’s not forget France. No doubt aware of the contenders seeking to knock them from their pedestal, Burgundian entries made up a relatively small proportion of the wines judged. Of these, many acquitted themselves with distinction; however, Payne used the quality of the competition to warn: “Burgundy, particularly the Côte d’Or, needs to look to its laurels and

FRENCH STYLE

Of course, Burgundy is not the only corner of France that understands how to make excellent Chardonnay, a fact reflected in the impressive medal haul from Champagne, whose blanc de blancs continues to set an ambitious benchmark for the growing number of styles emerging in the ever more dynamic sparkling wine sector. In short, the inaugural Global Chardonnay Masters presented a compelling snapshot of this extraordinarily versatile variety, which is capable of offering enormous pleasure in just about every price point and country you care to imagine.

What’s more, Chardonnay producers are not ones to stagnate: this is not only a commercially crucial category, but one that rewards regular reassessment.

Sparkling Chardonnay
Company Product Name Medal Country Vintage Price(£)
Champagne Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Master France 2005 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Chardonnay Gold France 2005 20-30
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Signature Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Cattier Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Gold France NV 30+
Champagne Gosset Champagne Gosset Blanc de Blancs NV Gold France NV 30+
Centre Vinicole-Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Chardonnay Gold France 2005 30+
Edoardo Miroglio Edoardo Miroglio Blanc de Blancs, Brut NV Silver Bulgaria NV 10-20
Nosio Rotari Cuvee 28 100% Chardonnay NV Silver Italy NV 10-20
Champagne Charles Heidsieck Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Millesime Silver France 1995 30+
Barokes Wines Barokes Bubbly Chardonnay NV Bronze Australia NV 0-10

Cabernet Sauvignon Masters 2014: The results

An impressive lineup of judges convened for the Global Cabernet Sauvignon Masters to put 200 wines through their paces in June.

Untitled3 Having recently cemented its title as king of the grapes with the news that it has overtaken Spanish white variety Airén as the world’s most widely planted grape, no serious wine competition would be complete that didn’t put Cabernet Sauvignon under the microscope. According to a recent study form the University of Adelaide, since 1990, Cabernet Sauvignon has more than doubled its share of hectares under vine, though many may argue its heartland remains on Bordeaux’s Left Bank, where some of the world’s most highly prized wines are crafted from the grape, which is used to form the backbone of Bordeaux blends. However, this thick-skinned variety can thrive in an array of terroirs around the world, and can be found flourishing everywhere from Coonawarra and Margaret River in Australia to the Napa Valley in California and Chile’s Maipo Valley.

The 17th century lovechild of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon is appreciated by grape growers for its naturally low-yielding, late-ripening nature and ability to add structure, colour and power to blends. In addition, the grape’s naturally high acidity and tannic structure mean wines made from Cabernet can be built to last. Given that it is planted in a plethora of pockets around the world, there is no cookie-cutter signature style for Cabernet, though many boast notes of blackcurrant, mint, eucalyptus, bell pepper and cedar, with cherry and olive notes present in cooler-climate Cabernets, and warmer Cabs often veering towards the jammier end of the flavour spectrum.

Building on from the success of both the Chardonnay Masters and the Pinot Noir Masters, around 200 wines from nine countries were submitted to our inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon Masters, with judging taking place on 8 May at Elysée restaurant in central London. Served blind and assessed without prejudice about their country of origin, the wines were arranged according to their price band as well as style, from low price to high, and unoaked to oaked, in order to make the competition as fair as possible. Judged by a stellar panel of Masters of Wine, including Sebastian Payne MW of The Wine Society, Demetri Walters MW of Berry Bros & Rudd and Justin Knock MW of Encirc, the wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining more than 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning more than 90 points were given a gold, those more than 85 points a silver, and those more than 80 points a bronze.

New order

The majority of entries for our Cabernet Sauvignon Masters came from the New World, with just one wine from Bordeaux taking part in the competition. While two-thirds of the wines were single-varietal Cabernet, the remainder were blends crafted from at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. During the tasting, the judges looked for balance, fine tannic structure, a bright fruit profile and a complex character, as well as a long finish.

So how did the wines fare? Of the 200 wines that entered, 141 were medal-winners, with 83 walking away with a bronze, 41 awarded silver, 14 impressing enough for a gold and just three scooping the top accolade of a Master medal. “Cabernet is one of the great grapes of the world and you can see why it’s planted everywhere as it delivers on many different levels. We haven’t had too many howlers, thankfully,” quipped Payne. “Caberent Sauvignon proved that it is able to deliver value for money. Producers across the world are stepping up their game and the hit rate in the competition was very good,” added Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association.

Untitled4

(L-R): Patrick Schmitt, editor of the drinks business, Hugo Rose MW of the Wine Investment Association, Vanessa Cinti of Cut at 45 Park Lane, Sebastian Payne MW of The Wine Society, Rebecca Palmer of Corney & Barrow, Mark Savage MW of Savage Selection, Lucy Shaw, deputy editor of the drinks business, Justin Knock MW of Encirc and Demetri Walters MW of Berry Bros & Rudd.

In terms of individual countries, judges praised Chile for its ability to deliver reliable and consistently high-quality Cabernet at an affordable price point. “You can find fantastic value in Chile, which has a lot to recommend it,” said Payne. “The consistency of the Chilean Cabs was a big surprise for me – the wines offered dark fruit and a creamy texture,” commented Vanessa Cinti, head sommelier of Wolfgang Puck’s debut London restaurant Cut at 45 Park Lane.

While the US put in a consistent performance, it was Australia, and most notably Coonawarra, that got our judges’ pulses racing, with the inherent elegance of the wines from the Southern Australian region setting them apart. Australia also led the way in the gold medal tally, scooping five golds and a Master for Katnook Founder’s Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. “Both Australia and Argentina are doing a very good job with Cabernet Sauvignon and are offering decent-quality examples for under £10. You can see the evolution the countries have undergone in recent years. The Australian wines were lovely and fresh with herbal and menthol notes,” said Cinti.

Hot on Australia’s heels was Chile, which won four golds, followed by Argentina, which scooped two golds and a Master for Pascual Toso Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, with Spain picking up the third and final Master for Torres’ Mas La Plana 2010, which has been made from a 29-hectare vineyard in the northern Spanish region of Penedès since 1970. South Africa delivered a solid performance, earning two gold and three silver medals, while, somewhat surprisingly given its strong links to Cabernet, the US picked up only one gold medal for Jackson Family Wines Stonestreet Monument Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2010.

Question of style

A debate arose around oak, with a number of judges lamenting the inability on the part of many producers to handle it properly. “While Cabernet has a natural affinity for oak, a lot of the wines were smothered and it wasn’t used judiciously, meaning the oak owned the wine rather than the other way around,” commented Berry Bros & Rudd’s Walters. Payne of The Wine Society concurred. “At the end of the day, you want to be able to drink the whole bottle, not just one glass, and some of the wines messed around with the oak a little too much and the alcohol levels were too high, but there is a market for those styles of wine,” he said.

Untitled1As to whether Cabernet performs better in a blend or as a solo act, the judges were unanimous on the former. “I’m not certain that Cabernet Sauvignon delivers varietal character under £10. What you tend to get is a lot of structure without the fruit balance. A few of the under-£10 wines worked, but the tannin often smothered the fruit. The blends were more rounded and balanced with better palate weight and structure than the single varietals,” said Walters, to which Payne added: “As a single varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon rarely hits the high spots – it works better in blends. As a grape it does fantastically commercially and is hugely successful; the trick is to keep the freshness locked in.” Cinti, meanwhile, was more forgiving of the single varietals. “Some of them worked well – I think there is a space for them in the market. When made well, Cabernet can more than hold its own as a single-varietal wine,” she said.

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