The Global Cider Masters 2020 Results

This year’s Beer & Cider Masters showed just how much the low- and no-alcohol sector of the category has improved in recent years, with some genuinely excellent brews receiving medals, writes Edith Hancock.


It could appear trite to call this year’s edition of the Global Beer Masters unprecedented. This is the eighth blind tasting we have carried out in 2020 with full social distancing precautions in place. But, to paraphrase Churchill, never in the history of db’s tastings have so many medals been awarded to so many alcohol-free beers made by just one brewer.

Over Skype, our judges tasted 76 beers and ciders, from crisp Pilsner to heady chocolate stout, but the category that shone most of all was low- and no-ABV.

The big winner was a company called Big Drop Brewing Co. Although just four years old, it has harnessed the expertise of some of Europe’s greatest brewing minds to create what founder and former City lawyer Rob Fink thinks are “exceptional beers, that just so happen to be alcohol-free”.

Two of Big Drop’s beers were awarded Gold medals – the Woodcutter Brown Ale and a Paradiso Citra IPA – while the brand’s Pine Trail Ale was handed a Master, the highest accolade possible that drinks can receive in our annual blind tasting series, and the first we have ever given to an alcohol-free drink. The Pine Trail Ale impressed, with pine and honey on the nose and a sweet malt flavour, resulting in a moreish beer, minus the ABV.

“Four years ago I was being laughed out of bottle shops and pubs,” Fink tells db. “I’d stroll in with my alcohol-free stout and they’d tell me all alcohol-free beer is rubbish. I’d be thinking ‘yes I know that, but we’re changing it!”

One thing that sets Big Drop apart from others in the category is that, rather than using traditional methods of removing alcohol, such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis, the beers are fermented naturally to 0.5% ABV; a process the team believes helps the beers retain balance. The brand recruited Johnny Clayton, formerly of craft brewer Wild Beer Co, to help come up with a base method in which, essentially, more grain than normal is used in the initial fermentation period to create the body and flavour that is normally supplied by alcohol.

Now after four years the beers have started receiving awards not just in low-ABV categories, but in overall beer competitions as well.

“The awards are an external validation of what we’re doing,” Fink says. “We were the first, we think we’re the best, and this is being confirmed with third parties – now quite regularly getting medals in full strength categories.”

Another Suffolk-based brewer, St Peter’s, also fared well in our low-and no-alcohol category, winning Silver medals for the alcohol-free versions of its original and golden ale. Our judges were struck by the unusual range of styles entered into this section, with stouts, porters, IPAs and even a sour beer making an appearance.

“The non-alcoholic category showed its growth is not only tied to changing consumer preferences but also increased quality in the beers themselves,” Shane McNamara, global technical manager at ZX Ventures, and one third of this year’s judging panel, said.

“Genuine variety and a focus on flavour has shown to benefit these types of beers, and I continue to watch with eagerness where this burgeoning segment of the beer landscape goes next.”

LAGER
While last year we saw a plethora of well-made Helles lagers entered into our competition, this year, McNamara said, was more of a “mixed bag”.

“Unbalanced bitterness and confusing aroma combinations led to what felt like beers that require further refinement and more intention from the brewer before release. “

However, that is not to say there weren’t a handful of standouts in the lager category, notably from retailer Aldi. The challenger supermarket’s Cape Cyan Natural Blonde Beer, produced by Storm Brewing Co in New Zealand, gained a Master for its balance and refreshing finish and light, but not out-of kilter, body.

IPAS
As we have seen, an increasing number of brewers perfect the art of stronger, hop-forward ales that appeal to younger beer drinkers, more outstanding beers were found in the IPA category this year than in previous editions of the Beer Masters. This, McNamara says, is “is certainly reflective of the market and its prevalence in terms of style. However, the variety of beers entered in the low-no ABV category show a more diverse approach to the segment, which wasn’t present in previous years.”

A special mention must go again to St Peter’s Brewery, which gained a Master medal for its classic IPA; a full-bodied ale with with a zesty character and the hallmark amber colouring we’ve come to love in English India Pale Ales.

Across the Irish sea, a producer perhaps better known for its whiskey than beer also gained Golds in the IPA and Pale Ale categories: Dublin’s Pearce Lyons Distillery. Produced exclusively for Aldi’s stores by the brewer, the judging panel found its Roadworks IPA – introduced to the supermarket’s shelves last year, to be accomplished and hitting all the right notes, and were impressed equally by its strong flavour and long, powerful finish.

PALE ALES
Much like the rise of the IPA, its slightly softer, entry-level cousin the Pale Ale has enjoyed enormous popularity over the past decade, and so the quality of these brews has only increased and the range diversified as brewers large and small compete for lager drinkers just starting to become interested in expanding their repertoires.

Another Irish brewer, Carlow Brewing Company, gained a Gold for its well-executed American ale O’Shea’s Pale New Dawn. “Tropical and grapefruit flavours” came through from the rose-gold liquid, with just a hint of the lime flavour that usually comes out in West Coast pale ales. Dry on the palate, with plenty of pine resin, it offered the salivating sensation that American-style pales are so beloved for in the first place. Meanwhile, Black Sheep Brewery, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, secured a Gold medal for Hop Stepper, a beer it launched last year specifically for Aldi.

CIDER
This is the second year we have run the Cider Masters, and 2020 saw a diverse range of products lined up for our judges.

“The cider category this year showed a wide diversity of entrants,” McNamara said, adding that the beverages that performed best were those that “expressed their naturality and balanced composition”, rather than more colourful, sweeter, flavoured variants.

“Cider has so many more dimensions to it than sweetness levels and overdone fruit infusions. This year reflected the industry’s renewed focus on craftsmanship and quality.”

FLAVOURS
It was a similar result for our flavoured beer category, where citrus-forward styles were favoured over anything overly sweet and fruit-infused. Here, St Peter ’s proved its versatility by picking up a Gold for its Citrus Ale, and securing Silvers for its Plum Porter and its interesting, nuanced Whisky Beer.

LOOKING AHEAD
And looking to 2021, we think it’s very likely that we’re going to see more diverse styles cropping up in the Beer Masters as more categories, from sour to the growing low-ABV segment, enter the mainstream consumer market.

“Less prevalent styles are always welcome,” McNamara said. “There has been a trend for a long time in the US to revive lost, forgotten and overlooked styles. To see this kind of interest from brewers in other parts of the world would only enrich the landscape.”

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Beer & Cider Masters provides a chance for your beers and ciders to star.

The top drops were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Beer or Cider Master. This report features the medal winners only.

The Global Beer Competition 2020 Results

This year’s Beer & Cider Masters showed just how much the low- and no-alcohol sector of the category has improved in recent years, with some genuinely excellent brews receiving medals, writes Edith Hancock.


It could appear trite to call this year’s edition of the Global Beer Masters unprecedented. This is the eighth blind tasting we have carried out in 2020 with full social distancing precautions in place. But, to paraphrase Churchill, never in the history of db’s tastings have so many medals been awarded to so many alcohol-free beers made by just one brewer.

Over Skype, our judges tasted 76 beers and ciders, from crisp Pilsner to heady chocolate stout, but the category that shone most of all was low- and no-ABV.

The big winner was a company called Big Drop Brewing Co. Although just four years old, it has harnessed the expertise of some of Europe’s greatest brewing minds to create what founder and former City lawyer Rob Fink thinks are “exceptional beers, that just so happen to be alcohol-free”.

Two of Big Drop’s beers were awarded Gold medals – the Woodcutter Brown Ale and a Paradiso Citra IPA – while the brand’s Pine Trail Ale was handed a Master, the highest accolade possible that drinks can receive in our annual blind tasting series, and the first we have ever given to an alcohol-free drink. The Pine Trail Ale impressed, with pine and honey on the nose and a sweet malt flavour, resulting in a moreish beer, minus the ABV.

“Four years ago I was being laughed out of bottle shops and pubs,” Fink tells db. “I’d stroll in with my alcohol-free stout and they’d tell me all alcohol-free beer is rubbish. I’d be thinking ‘yes I know that, but we’re changing it!”

One thing that sets Big Drop apart from others in the category is that, rather than using traditional methods of removing alcohol, such as vacuum distillation or reverse osmosis, the beers are fermented naturally to 0.5% ABV; a process the team believes helps the beers retain balance. The brand recruited Johnny Clayton, formerly of craft brewer Wild Beer Co, to help come up with a base method in which, essentially, more grain than normal is used in the initial fermentation period to create the body and flavour that is normally supplied by alcohol.

Now after four years the beers have started receiving awards not just in low-ABV categories, but in overall beer competitions as well.

“The awards are an external validation of what we’re doing,” Fink says. “We were the first, we think we’re the best, and this is being confirmed with third parties – now quite regularly getting medals in full strength categories.”

Another Suffolk-based brewer, St Peter’s, also fared well in our low-and no-alcohol category, winning Silver medals for the alcohol-free versions of its original and golden ale. Our judges were struck by the unusual range of styles entered into this section, with stouts, porters, IPAs and even a sour beer making an appearance.

“The non-alcoholic category showed its growth is not only tied to changing consumer preferences but also increased quality in the beers themselves,” Shane McNamara, global technical manager at ZX Ventures, and one third of this year’s judging panel, said.

“Genuine variety and a focus on flavour has shown to benefit these types of beers, and I continue to watch with eagerness where this burgeoning segment of the beer landscape goes next.”

LAGER
While last year we saw a plethora of well-made Helles lagers entered into our competition, this year, McNamara said, was more of a “mixed bag”.

“Unbalanced bitterness and confusing aroma combinations led to what felt like beers that require further refinement and more intention from the brewer before release. “

However, that is not to say there weren’t a handful of standouts in the lager category, notably from retailer Aldi. The challenger supermarket’s Cape Cyan Natural Blonde Beer, produced by Storm Brewing Co in New Zealand, gained a Master for its balance and refreshing finish and light, but not out-of kilter, body.

IPAS
As we have seen, an increasing number of brewers perfect the art of stronger, hop-forward ales that appeal to younger beer drinkers, more outstanding beers were found in the IPA category this year than in previous editions of the Beer Masters. This, McNamara says, is “is certainly reflective of the market and its prevalence in terms of style. However, the variety of beers entered in the low-no ABV category show a more diverse approach to the segment, which wasn’t present in previous years.”

A special mention must go again to St Peter’s Brewery, which gained a Master medal for its classic IPA; a full-bodied ale with with a zesty character and the hallmark amber colouring we’ve come to love in English India Pale Ales.

Across the Irish sea, a producer perhaps better known for its whiskey than beer also gained Golds in the IPA and Pale Ale categories: Dublin’s Pearce Lyons Distillery. Produced exclusively for Aldi’s stores by the brewer, the judging panel found its Roadworks IPA – introduced to the supermarket’s shelves last year, to be accomplished and hitting all the right notes, and were impressed equally by its strong flavour and long, powerful finish.

PALE ALES
Much like the rise of the IPA, its slightly softer, entry-level cousin the Pale Ale has enjoyed enormous popularity over the past decade, and so the quality of these brews has only increased and the range diversified as brewers large and small compete for lager drinkers just starting to become interested in expanding their repertoires.

Another Irish brewer, Carlow Brewing Company, gained a Gold for its well-executed American ale O’Shea’s Pale New Dawn. “Tropical and grapefruit flavours” came through from the rose-gold liquid, with just a hint of the lime flavour that usually comes out in West Coast pale ales. Dry on the palate, with plenty of pine resin, it offered the salivating sensation that American-style pales are so beloved for in the first place. Meanwhile, Black Sheep Brewery, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, secured a Gold medal for Hop Stepper, a beer it launched last year specifically for Aldi.

CIDER
This is the second year we have run the Cider Masters, and 2020 saw a diverse range of products lined up for our judges.

“The cider category this year showed a wide diversity of entrants,” McNamara said, adding that the beverages that performed best were those that “expressed their naturality and balanced composition”, rather than more colourful, sweeter, flavoured variants.

“Cider has so many more dimensions to it than sweetness levels and overdone fruit infusions. This year reflected the industry’s renewed focus on craftsmanship and quality.”

FLAVOURS
It was a similar result for our flavoured beer category, where citrus-forward styles were favoured over anything overly sweet and fruit-infused. Here, St Peter ’s proved its versatility by picking up a Gold for its Citrus Ale, and securing Silvers for its Plum Porter and its interesting, nuanced Whisky Beer.

LOOKING AHEAD
And looking to 2021, we think it’s very likely that we’re going to see more diverse styles cropping up in the Beer Masters as more categories, from sour to the growing low-ABV segment, enter the mainstream consumer market.

“Less prevalent styles are always welcome,” McNamara said. “There has been a trend for a long time in the US to revive lost, forgotten and overlooked styles. To see this kind of interest from brewers in other parts of the world would only enrich the landscape.”

With high-quality judges and a unique sampling process, the Beer & Cider Masters provides a chance for your beers and ciders to star.

The top drops were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding in their field received the ultimate accolade – the title of Beer or Cider Master. This report features the medal winners only.

Syrah Masters – Asia 2020

Our final Masters of the month saw dbAsia examine a range of Syrah (or Shiraz) from around the world, and it showed that Australia continues to be a reliable source for this powerhouse variety.

The big winner was Australian Vintage, which bagged two Masters for its McGuigan Personal Reserve Oldman Shiraz 2019 and BVWC Farms Shiraz 2018. These two impressed the panel. Anty Fung thought the former “exudes a great typicity in an elegant style, accompanied with spiced red fruit notes and refined tannins.

The acidity at the finish further elevates the wine.” Meanwhile, Marjolaine Roblette Geres reckoned that the latter expression “showed a much more masculine profile, with depth, good length and long ageing potential”.

Tempus Two Uno Series, another stellar winery from the same company, was awarded a Gold. Coming with a price tag above HK$800, the Shiraz nonetheless expressed a typical New World style, redolent of red and black cherries but with great balance and elaborate style. De Bortoli, another Australian producer, shone in the under-HK$100 category.

Its Woodfired Shiraz proved surprisingly excellent value. Fung said: “The wine is really well knitted together, refined and complex. The winery has done a good job for this quality at such a price point.”

Going beyond Australia, the blind-tasting competition also saw some strong performers from other continents. Alpha Estate from Greece received a Silver for its S.M.X.. Comprising 60% Syrah, 20% Merlot and 20% indigenous variety Xinomavro, the blend displayed a mesmerising fresh and powerful aroma packed with cherries and spices, as Geres noted. Chilean Syrah also showed its quality in the competition.

Taking home two Silvers, Viña Casas del Bosque’s Syrah Gran Reserva and Casas del Bosque Casa Viva Gran Reserva Syrah were also the favourites of the panel. Fung liked the former for its juicy layers of blackcurrant, liqueur de cassis and blue fruit, and its well-balanced structure; while Geres, meanwhile, praised the latter highly, saying that it was a “perfect wine”, as she found its smooth and dynamic texture appealing, especially as a good food wine.

After the blind tasting was brought to an end and the labels were revealed, the judges were astonished by the overall quality of the entries, especially the fact that all of them were made in New World regions, or emerging countries such as Greece.

The Judges: Left to right – Jessica Ochoco, senior sales executive at Altaya Wines, Alice Liang, managing editor of the drinks business Asia, Florian Beaubouchez, sales director at Ponti Wine Cellars, Romain Loriot, founder and managing director at ThinkWine

Pinot Noir Masters – Asia 2020

Pinot Noir is now an established favourite in the Hong Kong market. The light-bodied and bright acidity of the variety has successfully won the attention of drinkers living in the sub-tropical climates of Asia.

In the 2020 Pinot Noir Masters – Asia competition, the judges were in search of the exceptional bottles that would appeal to the market’s preference. In Hong Kong, the prestigious region of Burgundy, as it is elsewhere, is the most highly regarded expression of this grape.

However, in the competition, the panel reviewed an array of wines from New World regions, and were surprised by the quality they found. Of all of the expressions on offer, New Zealand’s Marisco Vineyards, based in Marlborough, attracted immense attention from the judges. The King’s Wrath Pinot Noir 2019 reigned supreme, and won the only Master medal of the competition.

Florian Beaubouchez, sales masters round-up director at Ponti Wine Cellars, said: “The balance is great, and the fresh floral nose is simply mesmerising. The wine has the potential to progress, and I’m looking forward to it [when it matures]. With this price (between HK$200 and HK$300), it totally deserves the accolade.” Marisco Vineyards Craft Series The Journey Pinot Noir was also highly praised by the panel.

Both the 2015 and 2016 vintage were recognised with a Gold. Jessica Ochoco, senior sales executive at Altaya Wines, reckoned the former “has a silky-smooth texture with animalistic characters”, while the latter “shows good acidity and drinkability, which accounts for its ability to pair with food. The wine can even go with charred dishes and braised meat.” The company’s range of lower-priced products, The Ned Pinot Noir and Leefield Station Pinot Noir, also proved their quality by winning Silvers.

Hailing from Martinborough, Luna Estate was another strong performer. The 2018 vintages of Luna Blue Rock Pinot Noir and Luna Estate Pinot Noir received a Gold and Silver medal respectively. Falling in the HK$300-HK$400 price bracket, Luna Blue Rock Pinot Noir demonstrated “an elegant balance of fruit and oak”, said Romain Loriot, founder and managing director at ThinkWine.

It was not only New Zealand’s red Pinots that were having a moment, the country also produced an impressive Pinot Noir rosé too. Gold winner Wild Grace Pinot Noir Rosé 2019 stood out for its well-integrated profile with attractive fruitiness.

Loriot said: “Unlike the Provence style, this rosé has good acidity, plus a hint of alluring sweetness at the finish.” Moving towards Australia, Jaraman Pinot Noir 2018 was worthy of a Gold recognition. “It is a typical Pinot Noir with nice lightness and balance.

It also has this menthol flavour and stalky mineral finish that makes the wine intriguing,” said Ochoco. Nepenthe Pinnacle Good Doctor Pinot Noir 2017, another Gold awardee, won because of its “complex and rich layers of spicy flavours, such as cinnamon and nutmeg”, as Beaubouchez pointed out.

Returning to Europe, Franz Haas’s Alto Adige DOC Pinot Nero Schweizer 2017 received attention from the panel. Beaubouchez liked it because it was “a fun Pinot that emits tertiary aroma such as dry herbs, mushroom and meatiness”. Costing less than HK$200, it represents great value for money.

The Judges: Left to right – Jessica Ochoco, senior sales executive at Altaya Wines, Alice Liang, managing editor of the drinks business Asia, Florian Beaubouchez, sales director at Ponti Wine Cellars, Romain Loriot, founder and managing director at ThinkWine

The Rosé Masters 2020 – Asia

The Judges: Alice Liang, managing editor of the drinks business Asia
Anty Fung, wine specialist and manager at Hip Cellar
Juwan Kim, head sommelier at La Petite Maison
Marjolaine Roblette Geres, independent wine educator and consultant

Rosé, in all its versatility, is now one of the word’s most popular wine styles, captivating drinkers with its alluring hues and easy-to-drink, fuss-free profile. In our 2020 Rosé Masters competition, the judges blind-tasted a panel of rosés from around the world.

Consumers often focus on rosé coming from Provence, and think of Champagne producers making white wines, overloooking that Champagne is responsible for some of the most expensive rosé in the world. Best in show with a Master medal was Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Rosé, from a small family domaine that uses fruit from premier cru vineyards. As can only be the case in Champagne, this wine is dominated by Chardonnay (85%), rather than by Pinot Noir (15%).

Marjolaine Roblette Geres, independent wine educator and consultant, said: “The wine is well integrated and quite complex. It exudes attractive brioche and red-fruit characters, and on the palate it has a refined and long minerality, with lively fine
bubbles.”

Seasoned Rosé Champagne maker Lanson took home a Silver with its Rosé Label Brut Champagne. Anty Fung, wine specialist and manager at Hip Cellar, said of it: “Vibrant and forward, the Champagne has a crisper acidity and chalky mineral mouthfeel.”

Another intriguing entry was the Black Creek Pink Moscato from Australian winery De Bortoli. “Floral and balanced, it is an enjoyable party wine that gives good value for money,” thought the judges. Priced under the HK$100 category, the wine was awarded a Silver.

GOOD STRUCTURE

As the only Gold winner under HK$150, the McGuigan Cellar Select Rosé was considered a knockout. Juwan Kim, head sommelier at Hong Kong’s La Petite Maison, was in awe of its “good acidity and structure, with a hint of saltines in it”. He thought the wine had great potential in food pairing.

Coming from Greece, a region not well known for rosé despite its wonderful beaches, was Alpha Estate’s Rosé Single Vineyard Hedgehog. Made with 100%-Xinomavro, this proved to be another star performer in the competition.

Kim said: “The nose is filled with lovely herbal and lavender notes. The intensity is medium, and I like the clean and lingering finish.” Carrying a price tag of less than HK$200, the wine offered great value.

Being France’s heartland of rosé wine, Provence held its own with two fantastic entries from Minuty. Geres liked the Gold awardee Rosé et Or for its “delicate structure with layers of aroma, round and textured”. The Prestige Rosé, as Fung described it, was a “mouth-watering rosé leaning more on white-fruit characters”.

In general, the panel noticed how many of the rosé producers had launched lifestyle campaigns to promote their wines. Rosé has become a go-to staple for junk boat parties and gatherings during summer. On the other hand, there are also increasingly premium producers, such as Domaines Ott and Chateau d’Esclans, in the market to attract fine wine lovers.

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