Champion Brewery: "It's not a popularity contest"

By BeertownNZ Wed, 23 Sep 2015 National

And as the Lion taketh the Crown, the people shall wail and gnash their teeth. Curses will they Tweet, beards will they shave, and beer will they disdain.

To some beer fans, a major brewer winning Champion Brewery 2015 seemed like the end of the world. How could it happen? Competition organiser Craig Bowen tells Beertown.NZ how the Champion is decided:

"It’s an open process

Since we announced Lion as Champion Brewery, there’s been lots of social media and other discussion about how the award is determined.

We publish our style criteria and judging processes every year – this year’s Entry Guide can be downloaded from here. If you have any questions or opinions about our process, go to the Entry Guide before you go to Twitter.

It’s not a popularity contest

The judges are not subject to the anticipation, advertising or peer pressure that you experience at the pub when you choose a beer and discuss it with friends. The beer has to stand on its own merits.

All medals are awarded through blind tasting. Our judges can only judge the beer before them, in comparison to the style guide criteria. Medals are determined by a collective discussion of the six judges at that table. Each judge gets a say and more often than not the result is unanimous.

A common public misconception is 'The judges are wrong because I had that beer once and it was bad’. Remember, beer is a batched brewed, it can be made every day. Simplistically, all wine competitions held in a year should have similar results as wine is made once a year. Two beer competitions could be held a month apart and have totally different results, because they are tasting different batches. And that’s not including all the variations caused to retail beer through transport, storage and serving conditions.

How to win a Gold medal

Every entry is judged against a specific style description. The 2015 Entry Guide lists 156 descriptions for beers and ciders. The brewer determines which description will be used to judge their entry – the organisers cannot change the style entered. So understanding your beer and entering it into the most suitable style is crucial.

Each Gold Medal winning entry 'is a World Class example that accurately exemplifies the style while displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance.'

Every entry stands on its own merits and judges can award as many medals as they want in each style. This year we had 858 entries and awarded 461 medals, a 53% success rate. Last year we had 670 entries with a 52% success rate.

How to win Champion Brewer

The medal count determines the Champion Brewer.

We start with their top three medals. A Gold is worth 3 points; Silver 2 points; Bronze 1 point. If there is a tie, then we look at each contender’s fourth medal, then fifth, and so on until we have a winner. See the Entry Guide for the full details.

This year we had three brewers with four Golds – Lion, Panhead and Moa. Lion won 10 Silvers against Panhead’s three and Moa’s one, so Lion is our 2015 Champion.

Since blind tasting determines the medals, and medals determine the Champion, this award is also unaffected by outside influences like advertising or popularity, just by the beer itself.

Does a bigger brewer have a better chance?

Not necessarily. Plenty of brewers entered five or more beers this year. If they had won five Golds they would be Champion. Last year Lion entered four more beers than the Champion, Townshend. It didn’t work in Lion’s favour. The simple fact is that every year the Champion Brewery has been awarded, it has been won by someone new. No-one has won it twice so in my view it favours no one.

What about Emersons and Black Dog?

Lion’s medal count does not include Emersons Brewery and DB Brewery’s does not include Black Dog.

These are separate entities using their own premises and equipment. Other Lion brands, eg, Speights, can be produced at more than one site but are sold nationally as a uniform product. The same for DB’s major brands.

Yes, our catalogue of results does show Black Dog’s results against DB Breweries. This is how the beer names printed out of our database (just as Tuatara’s printed out in capitals). It is confusing, and to set the record straight, Black Dog’s medals did not influence our Champion Brewer calculations.

How to win a Trophy

While medals are judged against styles, families of related styles are grouped together into classes and a Trophy is awarded to the class winner. There are 14 Trophy classes this year.

Trophies are not a part of the Champion Brewer calculations. The Entry Guide explains our Trophy classes and award criteria.


It’s great that the results are discussed, but I think anyone who criticises a winner shows poor form. The judges, stewards and competition organisers have no agenda and no bias. Nor can they sway any result.

This is our annual celebration of our entire brewing industry. No brewer is excluded because they’ve been around too long, or because they make too much beer, or because someone doesn’t like them. No brewery that I know of brews specifically to win trophies. They brew the best beer they possibly can and enter that come awards time.

I made special mention at the awards of the success of both Liberty and Bach Brewing winning a medal for all their entries. I’m reviewing whether this 'clean-sweep’ has been done before but it certainly wasn’t last year. 

I congratulate Lion for the success. Quite simply, they earnt it best."

The full list of results can be downloaded from the Brewers Guild here. The Entry Guide can be downloaded here.

By BeertownNZ Wed, 23 Sep 2015 National