The World Beer Cup is, for many brewers, the pinnacle of beer competitions. Held every two years in the US, it is dominated by American brewers and offers breweries from elsewhere a chance to test themselves in the land that has done more to drive the modern craft beer scene than any other.
The winners in this year's competition were announced at the weekend and saw just two Australian breweries win medals. Quite remarkably, considering medals were awarded in 96 categories, they were won in the same category: English style summer ale.
Gold went to James Squire for its most recent release, the Swindler summer ale, with Stone & Wood taking out a second World Beer Cup silver for its Pacific Ale. We contacted James Squire's spiritual leader Chuck Hahn and Brad Rogers and Jamie Cook from Stone & Wood, still on tour in the US, for their reaction and their thoughts on the beer scenes here and in the States.
What was the reaction in the Lion team to the World Beer Cup gold?
Chuck Hahn: [It is a] fantastic result for us to receive a Gold Medal for our fairly new release – Squires Swindler Summer Ale. This category – English-style summer ale – fits right in with the English heritage of Squires and our hot climate in Australia. To quote the copy in the category details: “the overall impression is refreshing and thirst quenching.”
Our Chancer Golden Ale received a Bronze in this category in 2008 and we have always described it as having the richness of an ale but with the refreshing character of a lager.
And to have the Silver go to Pacific Ale is fantastic. To be one of only two breweries receiving awards this year from Australia makes it mean even more so.
It was indeed a slim year for [Australia], and even slimmer for NZ. Competition was extremely keen, and breweries were allowed to only submit four entries from each brewery. Many of major winners from previous WBC did not even get awards – Stone Brewing Co, Firestone Walker among others. Just have a look at the list of winners.
Can you put this win in perspective for people who might not be aware of the competition?
CH: It's one of the largest and most prestigious competitions with 6,596 entries from 1,907 breweries in 55 countries. Seventy five percent of the judges were from outside the USA; 18 were from Australia out of the 250 odd judges.
Do you think such a trophy might encourage those Australian craft beer drinkers who have "moved on" from James Squire to take another look at what you're doing?
CH: Yes, definitely. I am so pleased as we have come from the original flavoursome tap beer from Malt Shovel Brewery, and after a lot of hard work by Tony Jones in Adelaide and others, we have achieved good flavours from the West End brewery. The only way we can keep up with the demands [for James Squire beer] has been to scale up and brew at our larger breweries.
The distinct but subtleness of the dry hop character in the Swindler is what brings people across to this refreshing ale. I think Pacific Ale is great but can be a bit challenging with extra, extra Galaxy hops after a couple glasses.
Do you come away from trips to the States excited about what is happening in Australia or are we still as far behind as ever?
CH: As I have mentioned to you before, most of the innovative ideas for Squires have come from my “research” in the USA at Great American Beer Festivals and World Beer Cups. Our team of brewers has developed over 30 distinct brews over the last 15 years.
We are not that far behind USA now.
We're seeing a growing interest in IPA in Australia; do you think it will ever reach the fever pitch of the States?
CH: Probably not with the high ABV IPAs which were created and driven by the craft brewers each trying to “MY BEER is bigger than YOURS”. The extra excise limits the extent that this will develop. The real interest – which we can do better with – is the lower ABV session IPAs, which are now the rage in the USA.
And are there any new trends you've seen there – in beer or the wider brewing industry – that you feel will catch on here in the future?
CH: We are well on our way now, but if I told you everything – I would have to shoot you. Fruit-infused beers, coffee and spiced beers and session beers with unique ingredients.
STONE & WOOD
How does it feel to take another medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup?
Jamie Cook: In a word, proud. We're very proud of the work the whole Stone & Wood team puts into the quality of our beer, and in particular the brewing crew who have had to deal with brewing beer amidst a large expansion project and also striving to meet our ever increasing quality standards. At the end of the day it is a team effort in the business to get good beer out the door, so for the team to be recognised in this way is fantastic, and we're very proud of their achievements.
In the scheme of things, we are still a small brewery from the bottom of the globe, so to do so well amongst much larger and more experienced competition is both amazing and humbling.
You don't tend to enter your beers in Australian beer competitions – why is this?
JC: We have entered our beers in both the AIBA and CBIA last year and will be this year as well. The competitions are evolving and so are we, so are more comfortable being part of them now. We treat the judges' feedback as another input into our approach to quality.
Do you feel on each subsequent trip to the States that the gap is closing between our beer industry and theirs?
JC: Yes, the gap is closing. Sure, the scale is different and maybe the approach to innovation is different, but it's those two things that allow the diversity in the market to prosper. There continues to be that push towards the extremes, but there is also a shift towards more approachable and better balanced beers. In some ways that's where Australia is probably ahead of the US.
Is there any real awareness of the Australian beer scene among American beer people?
JC: Not really. Sure, they are aware of it, and understand that it's rapidly changing like most other parts of the world. As production capacity continues to build in the US we will see more US brewers looking to grow their export business so we are going to see more of them look to markets like Australia as part of that growth.
Australian beers don't really have a presence in the US, so that certainly keeps us out of sight and out of mind.
Thanks, chaps. You can view the full results here.
The results of the Australian International Beer Awards will be announced next Thursday night in Melbourne as part of Good Beer Week. Look out for the winners and reaction on The Crafty Pint soon after they're announced.
Photo of Chuck on stage at the top by Jason E Kaplan.