The International Beer Challenge in London has once again proved to be a happy hunting ground for Australian brewers. Last night saw both Supreme Champion trophies awarded to local brewers. Supreme Champion Beer went to Prancing Pony's India Red Ale while Hawkers Beer was named Supreme Champion Brewery.
The competition, which focuses solely on packaged beer, is one of the largest in the world, this year attracting entries from 30 countries. The list of medallists was announced last month, with Edge Brewing and the Australian Brewery also among the silverware. Indeed, the former added to previous International Beer Challenge success with yet another trophy for its Cool Hops lager.
Hawkers CEO Mazen Hajjar (above right) was in London for the awards, where trophies were decided just hours before the awards ceremony. And, while none of the five beers the Reservoir brewery entered won trophies, their average score was the highest in the competition – confirmation of the brewery's consistency since starting out 18 months ago; the IPA and Imperial Stout both won golds and the Pilsner, Pale and Saison silver.
"It's really quite humbling," he said from his hotel room (where he pointed out the beer choice was Camden Town, Kernel and Crate – all London craft breweries and another sign of the changing landscape). "There were breweries from 30 countries and it's quite Eurocentric, with a lot of European and US breweries.
"The one consistent thing that we've done at Hawkers is that we've produced a variety of styles of beer that, when we've entered them at an awards, they've medalled. It's really a testament to the brewery team and goes to show what happens when you put a great brewer [former Bright head brewer Jon Seltin] with great tools to make great beer.
"Jon had no experience doing what he's doing today. He's a remarkable individual who stepped up from a small system, learned and embraced the challenge. He's absolutely a genius, but it's not just about him, it's the whole team [who] make magic happen."
The success for Australian breweries continues an impressive run in recent years. Prior to Edge's trophies last year (see linked story above), Redoak won Supreme Champion Beer in both 2013 and 2014, when Hawthorn won Supreme Champion Brewery too.
Adam Betts, who originally launched Edge as a collaborative venture with Beer Here's Christian Skovdal Andersen, said it was a nice surprise to win the same trophy two years running – Best Lager under 5 percent ABV – for his flagship beer. And he said people in his hometown of Melbourne could expect to see more Edge beers, including collaborations, in the not-too-distant future.
"I was in Scandinavia recently and did a couple of small batches for their market with Omnipollo and Amager Brygghus," he said. "I'm looking to set up an Edge cellar door somewhere near the city and will re-brew all of these overseas collaborations that never made it to Australia."
Before then, look out for a barrel-aged version of his Stagger Lee imperial stout.
Prancing Pony's India Red Ale was the first of its beers to really make beer lovers take notice and has remained a cult favourite ever since. The business was founded by a German couple and their business partners and they recently installed a 30 hectolitre German BrauKon system – quite a statement of intent and one that this latest win – following a trophy at the Royal Adelaide Beer & Cider Awards for their new lager – should only help. They are already exporting to the UK too (indeed, we were surprised to chance upon their India Red Ale in a tiny bar in Tunbridge Wells last December), with their rep on hand to collect their trophies last night.
"We are totally surprised," said co-founder Corinna Steeb. "It's amazing. Just bloody amazing!
"I woke up this morning, and the first thing I do each day is check to see whether there's anything that needs urgent attention. I thought, 'Why are all these people contacting me? Oh!'."
The brewery sent just two beers to the awards, with the Black Ale also collecting a silver, and Corinna says they are now looking to expand their distribution outside London and across the UK – possibly further. The India Red Ale has tasted glory before and has become such a popular beer with their fans that they've set up a travel page for photos of the beer taken overseas.
"We thought [these awards] would give us a good indication of how our beers travel as we ship our beer refrigerated to the UK," she added. It's extra cost and kerfuffle for us but it's worthwhile as you want punters who walk into a pub to have an absolutely amazing experience – that's what it's all about."
Mazen said the results showed that the quality of beer from many Australian breweries is on the rise.
"People are raising their game," he said. "People have had to get their shit together and start behaving more like a business. This isn't taking away from their passion – there's no selling out. It just means that now we can go to the 95 percent of the market that don't drink craft beer and properly convert them.
"If you just make serious beer and price it correctly, there's no need to worry about the big guys."
We'll update this article with the full rundown of results once they're received from the competition organisers.