Will Technology Save Craft Beer?

After writing my not so popular post about the sky is falling on craft beer – Craft Beer Bubble In New Zealand? there seems to be others thinking similar thoughts about the future of craft beer. (just to clarify one more time, it isn’t the end of craft beer, but more of the potential coming correction)

You’d Probably Never Guess That This Is Craft Beer’s Scariest Problem

“By June 2013, the number of breweries had exploded to 2,538 total U.S. breweries. We’re talking a compounded growth rate of 10% per year for the past 35 years!”

How overcrowding could weaken or cheapen the craft beer movement
But what happens as this field begins to get crowded? One possibility is that the nostalgia surrounding craft brew, and even the quality, could get watered down. It would be clearly tougher and tougher for new entrants into the field with so many established breweries already up and running, so there’s honest concern that brewers may cut corners and cheapen the craft business just to get their product in front of consumers, which would only serve to harm the entire craft beer movement.

Joe Tucker RateBeer.com says “Most consumers have been dealing with a dizzying array of options for 10 years, so this is really nothing new despite all the new players. There’s only so much shelf space at beer stores and tap handles at bars. We’ve already had too many choices, so I think despite most of us knowing there’ll be some kind of shakeout, the temporary increase in options will only create hardship for new brewers trying to establish their brand and new consumers.”

“However, it could also mean rough times ahead of new breweries just starting up and difficulty in differentiating their brand from the next dozen breweries being opened”.

– Too Many Breweries, Too Much Choice
– Start Up Breweries difficulty standing out
– Technology will help beer drinkers cut through the crap
– Better make high quality beer

There is so much choice, from so many breweries with so many different beers. Beer drinkers, retailers and bar owners need a way to consider what to purchase. So little time to try everything. Therefore the crowd sourcing of reviews of online databases (RateBeer.com, Beeradvocate.com and the app Untappd.com) does provide some help.

The problem though with these crowdsourced beer review websites is that the majority of people rating and reviewing the beers generally are noobs. The majority have little knowledge base, or experience in tasting beer or any knowledge about how beer is brewed, or even what common off flavours are.

UntappdMany of those rating beers are influenced by brand, experiences in relation to the brewery. i.e. if they have met the brewer, or someone gave them a free beer at a beer festival. A lot has to do with trying beers and rating them high based on the fact they were already in the top 10, top 100, etc. These inexperienced raters/reviews reduce the highs and the lows, skew results based on advertising, social media expertise of breweries and hype that is spread by word of mouth.

Potentially these databases probably give you a fair indication of a beer.

I had the privilege of being involved with using Untappd.com when it first started. I found in the early years that the beers on there had a pretty fair and accurate rating. You could buy a beer based on the rating. Now days it seems as though every beer has a 3.6 rating, and the very good ones a 4.

People that rate beers based on the label, or sip, or rating a lager a 1 out of 5 because they prefer stouts, just isn’t helpful.

I would like to see a database/app that has verified/qualified raters. People reviewing beers that had been reviewed themselves. Raters that collectively had an experience base that meant the beers they rate will be unbiased and just about the beer they drank, not the label, or the brewpub or the hot sales person. People that are quality brewers, beer judges, or raters who’s rating shows they have experience and they are rating the beer for what it is, and not that they got a selfie with the brewer.

It would also be helpful to look at ratings based on distance from brewery, as well as ratings over time.

Technology could not only save craft beer, but make more great beer available to more people, and reduce the bad beers people drink.

Would collecting information about how fast beer is selling help this database? From a comment made in a bar recently “beer X sells out in a few hours, but then there are beers such as Y & Z that could be on that tap for up to 2 months” (I said what a single 50 litre keg on a tap? Yes, because no one really likes it).

Anyway I hope someone will come up with an app that makes your craft beer experience easier, and even better. Big data for the win.


How To Win The Beer Awards

This was originally just going to be a tasting of Renaissance Brewing Company beers, as they had won the Champion Small Brewery for the second time in a row at the 2014 AIBA (Australian International Beer Awards). It has evolved into things I think about when looking at results and when thinking about entering my beers into competitions.

It started with the thought about “hey I should get my hands on all the award-winning Renaissance beers so I can and see what makes them the Champion Small Brewery two years in a row.”

In Auckland, specifically Lunn Ave there were only 5 available of the 11 medal beers – from 13 beers entered. The stores visited were PaknSave, New World and Fine Wine Delivery Co. It turned out to be a good sample. Below is the name of the beer / best before date/ medal won and tasting notes.
Renaissance Champion Small BreweryVoyager IPA – Mar 15 – Silver aroma subtle sweet fruity. OK, low hops, no faults, lingering bitterness, did well in category. Seemed to be lacking hop intensity for the style.
Elemental Porter – Aug 14 –  Bronze – very tasty, biscuity, good mouth feel, good balance and drinkability, smooth chocolate, caramel, clean finish. Seems unlucky it only got a Bronze medal.
Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout – May 15 – Bronze  no cobwebs under cap**. aroma dry toast, cold coffee, burnt wood, burnt fruit toast.  taste cocoa, but needs a little more body, little acrid in the finish, more sweetness like the Porter.  (Drank the Epic Coffee & Fig afterwards totally changes the Epic beer, big hops and figs. Great beer match – try these two beers together).
Stonecutter – Mar 15 – Silver  sheep manure, agricultural, peaty, blue cheese, farmyard, smoked peat. Good medal. very balanced, and drinkable. Probably my favourite and most balanced out of the five we tried. I love Scotch Ales.
Tribute Barley Wine 2011 – No Best Before* – Silver – aroma biscuity and husky, grainy, burnt hazelnuts, rasiny, viscous, cloying sweetness, misses something in the mid palate. (* did you know you do not have to put a best before date on a beer bottle if the beer is going to be good beyond two years.)

Overall it seemed like a pretty solid range of tasty well made beers that medalled well. Congratulations to Andy and Brian at Renaissance for taking out another great award. Nothing like consistency to show people how great your range of beers are.

The next question that came to mind was what is the criteria that for winning this trophy?

Awarded to the international brewery with an annual production volume up to & including 5,000hL which has the highest average score from the four top scoring exhibits entered by the brewery.

Here is where I go off on to “How To Win The Beer Awards”

There are many beer awards competitions around the world, and after looking at them and their rules, there are ways you can improve your chances of winning an award.

Take the above for example “highest average score from the four top scoring exhibits entered by the brewery”. To me this reads “enter as many beers as you can” (it will cost you more money) but it increases your chances as it is your four highest scoring beers.

Other ways of increasing your chances

  • Plan your brewing schedule so that all your beers are super fresh and ready at time shipping to meet deadlines at the last possible moment.

  • What package type. If you can send kegs, do so as you are less likely to have issue with oxidation

  • Shipping conditions.  Ship the beer cold, and as fast as possible. Make sure you look after the beer the best you can, to give it the best chance. Time and temperature are working against you.

  • Play the numbers game. There are always classes where the number of entries is significantly lower than the popular ones like Pale Ale and IPA. AIBA as example, there were only three entries in the Scotch Ale class. This would be an obvious place to enter a beer next year.

  • Top end of style. Make sure your beer is at the top end of the style guidelines as it will stand out to the judges. If your beer is has the best aroma and greatest flavour, the highest IBU and ABV it is going to be marked better. Even though each beer is judged to the style guidelines and presented to the judge so they have no idea where the beer is from, after tasting a number of beers the same, the big ones are always going to do better.

  • Add enough hops. After judging both the World Beer Cup and the Australia International Beer Awards recently, the biggest thing that stood out was not enough hops for style. Judging Pale Ales, IPA’s and Imperial IPA’s the most common comment from the judges was “lacks hops for style”. So many of these beers just didn’t have enough hops. Maybe it is a reflection on how hard it is to get enough hops in this current market.

All of the above assumes that the brewer entering is making good beer that has no technical faults.

If any other judges and or brewers want to add to this list of ways to win the beer awards, please added your comments below.




Renaissance Cobwebs** we did notice mould under a number of the Renaissance caps, maybe the use of a water sprayer after the beer has been capped might solve this issue.

Confessions Of A World Beer Cup Judge

I was a judge at the 2014 World Beer Cup in Denver, CO, USA 7th-9th April.

It is a privilege to be selected to judge in this competition, as it is considered the Olympics of Beer. The World Beer Cup is held every two years, and I first started judging WBC in 2006.


219 judges from 31 countriesWorld Beer Cup 2014 Statistics

4,754 entries from 1403 breweries in 58 countries

2014 saw a record number of beer judges judging at the World Beer Cup. 219 judges from around the world. 166 judges (76%) were International, and 53 judges (24%) were US based.

Best quote from Chris Swersey, Competition Manager, as he addressed all of the World Beer Cup judges was..

“..this is a room of the most highly trained beer judges in the world.”

First day of judging. Have a good breakfast. Make sure you don’t use scented shampoo, after shave, or deodorant (anything that is highly scented is not allowed to be used by judges or stewards on days of judging, any scent could put a judge off). The bathrooms had special non-scented hand soap to use during the judging.

Judging starts at 9am, so people usually arrive at their table about 8.50am. A table will have 7 judges. Generally the judges represented seven different nations. One example of judges countries I experienced at the table was Japan, Norway, Poland, Germany, Brazil, UK, and New Zealand.

This diversity of judges, brings many different experiences relating to beer to the table.

This is one of my favourite parts of being an international judge. Meeting new people from around the world that have the same passion for beer. It is incredible that so many people from so many different countries, have the same level of intensity and passion for beer that I do.

World Beer Cup 2006
Sample glasses for judging at World Beer Cup (photo taken 2006)

The first round comes out. You potentially get up to 12 different beer samples for the category you are judging. You get plastic cups, branded Brewers Association, and a fill line at 1.5oz (approx. 44ml)

People have been surprised when I say they are served in plastic cups. When you start looking at the numbers you realise that it is logistically impossible to use glass, and get it washed and dried to re-use again in a reasonable time.

So nearly 5000 beers x a first round pour x 3 judges = 15,000 cups. Then there are multiple rounds for some styles and medal rounds include 7 judges, and occasionally repours. So lets say you need 30,000 cups. Plastic seems like the logical way of handling this huge number.

(Security and integrate has become a big part of the competition. You have to power down your phone during sessions. If you are caught using your phone in a session you are not allowed to return to the table to judge for the rest of the session).



The morning session of Judging runs from 9am to 12.30pm. Then there is an hour lunch break. The afternoon session runs from 1.30pm to 5pm. There were two sessions on Monday 7th and Tuesday 8th, with Wednesday 9th having a morning session only.

Sometimes session will run long if the job of judging the beers is not complete. Many times when it comes to a medal round, there can be extended debate to discuss which beers are worthy of what medals. (Monday my lunch hour was short as we over ran by 15 mins, and on Tuesday my afternoon session didn’t finish till 5.45pm, as we discussed what medals for which beers)

Judging World Beer Cup Sample CupThere can be a number of rounds for a style. For example American-Style IPA had 224 entries. It had four rounds to judge the entries. First round there would likely be 12 beers sent to the table. From this judges select three beers to put forward to the next round. The second round will be 12 beers, made up of the 3 best beers from four different tables. The third round will again take the three best from 4 different tables, and the final round could be 9 – 12 beers which are made up of the best from the previous round.

As a judge who is a brewer, who could enter beers, there are criteria for what you are and aren’t allowed to judge. If a judge enters beers, or is affiliated with a brewery that enters beers. That judge is excluded from judging the categories beers are entered into. So there is no possible influence the judge can have on the beer or category.

As a judge you are presented with all samples in the uniform BA plastic cup, which has a sample number on it. It could be “14909” for example. All you know is the category you are judging, and you use the style guidelines to judge it.  You are judging this beer blind. There is no indication of brand or country. It is just a beer in a cup with a number on it.

The fun part comes when you get judges that have differing interpretations of a style, or ranking of the three medal beers. This is when your skills of persuasion come to play. You sometimes have to explain and convince other judges of your point of view, with the backing of the style guidelines to highlight your argument.

The follow video gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like at a table of judges, judging beers. This is from the Great American Beer Festival, which uses the same judging format as the World Beer Cup. Both competitions are run by the Brewers Association.

The following video was filmed with some of the World Beer Cup 2014 judges and was played at the Awards Ceremony prior to the announcement of the awards. It really highlights the global nature of not only the entries but also the judges.  The list of Winners from the 2014 World Beer Cup

Here is another recent article about judging from Geoff Griggs, who also calls out the two Kiwi medal winners. Well done Garage Project and Speight’s. It ain’t easy getting one of these medals.

Mitch Steel from Stone Brewing Co. has also just written about judging at the World Beer Cup. He goes into way more detail.  – World Beer Cup Judging

P.S. As an International Beer Judge, I got to jump on a bus on the Sunday before judging with a bunch of other international beer judges and visit some breweries. More here…