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Trends put to the taste test at New World Beer & Cider Awards

An expert panel of judges is putting some of the latest trends in beer and cider to the taste test this week as the 2024 New World Beer & Cider Awards gets underway in Tāmaki Makaurau.

Around 100 local and international bevvy-makers have put forward over 600 brews, including everything from traditional ales, lagers and stouts, to trend-setting non-alcoholic, low carb, and hazy brews.

Beer writer and author Michael Donaldson, who’s chaired the judging since 2016, says entries to the competition often reflect what’s happening on supermarket shelves and in fridges around the country.

“The classic Kiwi beer chiller looks a lot different than it did just a few years ago,” he says, “and several of the trends we’ve seen emerge on the judging table over these past few years are now really taking off.”

Low carb on a high

The fastest mover this year is low carb. Across Aotearoa, sales of low carb beer grew by more than a third in the year to November 2022- and its popularity has continued at a similar pace since, driven by consumer trends towards lighter-tasting and better-for-you options.

“While it’s still a relatively small segment of the beer category, brewers are getting in behind it and increasing the range of products on offer.

“In response, the New World Beer & Cider Awards has set up a dedicated class for low carb beers, which has attracted almost 5% of the field this year,” says Donaldson.

With the ultimate aim of helping New World customers find the best new brews, the judges will be looking for beers that are technically excellent and well-made, but most importantly, taste delicious.

Yes to low and no-alc

Once an anomaly in the chiller, and the winners circle, low and no alcohol beers and ciders have become a mainstay in both over the past couple of years.

Around 7% of entries to the 2024 New World Beer & Cider Awards are low or no alcohol (2.5% ABV or less), almost twice as many as at last year’s competition.

“Between the pre and post Covid period, so roughly the start of 2019 to the end of 2022, there was a sevenfold increase in the amount of non and low-alcohol beer being consumed nationally-.

“That will only have increased further in the year or so since, as more and better examples of these beers have come on to the market.

“There has been a swell of really high quality low and non-alcoholic beers and ciders lately, especially from local craft producers who’ve been working hard to perfect their techniques and achieve brews that taste like the real thing.”

Like consumers, the judges are looking for no and low alcohol beers and ciders that measure up to the same standards as their regular strength counterparts. “You want the same great taste without the booze, so we’re still looking for a depth of flavour, a sweet-bitter balance, great mouthfeel and a pleasant after-taste.”

Hazy hangs on

Despite some naysayers, the hazy trend is here to stay, says Donaldson.

“We may have passed ‘peak hazy’, but it’s still a firm favourite and definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. Long-time beer fans, and new ones, have really taken to the fruitier, less bitter flavours of hazies and they’re now a core part of many beer fridges.”

In Foodstuffs stores in the North Island for example, hazy beers make up around a quarter of craft beer sales, proving them as a firm favourite, while in the competition, brewers are backing them too – entering twice as many hazy beers as any other style.

In total, there are over 120 hazy beers to be judged at the 2024 event. The next largest class is IPA, at around 70 beers.

Judging 101

It’s a challenge the 28-strong independent panel of judges, led by Donaldson and Deputy Chair Kelly Ryan, are ready to take on, with each judge poised to taste, debate and score around 50 beers per day over two days.

“Each table works together to evaluate the entries, rating each one on technical excellence, balance, mouthfeel and most importantly, drinkability.

“If an entry ticks all the boxes, we’re then looking for x-factor – that extra special something that make a beer or cider memorable and puts it ahead of the rest.”

The 30 top ranked entries will make up the New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30 – a ‘must try’ list of winners that will then be made available in New World stores nationwide. A further 20 ‘Highly Commended’ brews will also be celebrated in a combined Top 50 list on the New World website.

“We know standing in front of the chiller trying to a choose a beer or cider – or even an alcoholic kombucha or ginger beer, can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are keen to try something new.

“As judges, we only see what’s in the glass on the day – no brands, and a tight stewarding process ensures no judge tastes a product they may have been involved in making.

“New World customers can choose a Top 30 winner with confidence, knowing only the best of the best make it through this process, with no outside influence.”

Results will be announced in May.

– NZIER. 2022. Brewing in New Zealand. A report for Brewers Association of New Zealand.

 

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