Gage Roads continued a fine run of form in recent years as it took out Best In Show at the 2017 Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show. At the awards dinner last night in Sydney, the WA brewery – which is plotting a path back to independence – took out the top gong for its Red Rye IPA, one of three beers for which it earned gold medals.
Gage Roads’ Chief Operating Officer and Head Brewer Aaron Heary was ecstatic with the result.
“This is a fantastic result and I’m extremely proud of the guys at the brewery and the team effort that led to this,” he said.
“The Sydney Royal Beer and Cider Competition is one of the toughest in the country. This level of success is a ringing endorsement of the quality of beer we are producing."
Having won the top trophy at the 2016 awards, Bridge Road backed up with four golds this year for its Little Bling and Bling IPAs, Chevalier Saison and Robust Porter.
Bridge Road founder Ben Kraus told The Crafty Pint: "We don't enter as many beers in as many competitions these days. However, Sydney is a tough market to be part of. We decided to enter last year in the hope of some solid results to help our marketing efforts in the Sydney market.
"Last year, we received best bottled beer and best beer in show, for a bottled beer, which is rare.
This year, Little Bling won best bottled beer in show. We love Little Bling and have given its recipe a lot of attention.
"All our entries were in bottle so the results are a credit to not only the brewers but also the hard working packaging team."
Also taking home four golds was The Australian Brewery for its Pale Ale, All Star Session IPA and Seis Hermanos Lager, the latter in both packaged and draught form.
The result rounds out a glittering year for the Rouse Hill brewery during which it has picked up medals at beer competitions across the world, which in turn has helped further its global exports and prepare for another significant brewery expansion to meet growing demand.
Reflecting on the latest medal haul, head brewer Dan Shaw told The Crafty Pint: "We learn more and more from each show and medal. To have a group of our brewing peers rating ours beers up there domestically and internationally gives us a great lift and their comments also give us something to focus in on and work to improve for the next show. It's a great way to drive conversation and learning in the brewery.
"Being a family owned company we have a great relationship with the owners who trust us as brewers to evolve the products.
"We've always had a close brew team from the very beginning, even with people coming and going over the years, which has helped us grow as brewers and always strive to improve our beers even in small ways. Our team now has members representing years in the industry; chemical engineering, qualified Cicerone and traditional German training. With such experience, an open view and total control over what we do I hope we see this medal tally climb and climb."
In all, a record 25 gold medals were handed out across the 2017 competition, a result which Chair of Judges Neal Cameron describes as "extraordinary".
"Not only did we see 24 gold medals [for beer], the most notable fact was that we got very, very few really poor beers," he says.
"If a beer gets less than, or around, 10 points, it means it's essentially undrinkable. We usually get a few, but this year we had almost none [which is] a real indication that there’s no room out there for bad beer any more."
Over the past ten years Sydney Royal has forged a reputation as one of the toughest at which to earn a gold medal, due in part to a 100 point scoring system as opposed to a 20 point scale used at most other competitions. With 2017 being the first year that Sydney Royal came in line with the others and moved to the more common 20 point system, we asked Neal whether that did in fact have any reflection on the number of awards given out.
"Each medal has its own standard and whether we judge it out of 20 or 100 makes no difference to the amount of medals we award," he says.
"We changed cider this year as well and we only got one gold medal and a similar amount of silvers and bronzes to the last few years, reinforcing the fact that the way we add the points up makes no difference.
"Beer judges are used to scoring out of 20 points and the 100 point system is conventionally used for wine, which is why it's historically been used at the Sydney Royal. But we’ve forged our own identity more in the past few years so it's right that we go more in line with the beer world rather than wine."
The show has been adapting in other ways too, with 2017 also being the first time experimental beer was given its own category and it duly received a large number of entries. Reflecting on this, Neal says: "One of the roles of the Chief Judge is to understand what’s happening out there in the beer world. Brewers extending the bounds of what we consider a beer and relegating the concept of ‘styles’ to the back drawer is something we need to respond to.
"It's a difficult category to judge; [for example] a piña colada style beer is probably not something the average judge would run to, but it was judged on its merits and did ok."
The winner of the Champion Experimental Beer trophy was Hope Brewhouse for its Barrel Aged Export Stout, one of three golds picked up by the Hunter Valley brewery. Their near neighbours fared well too, with Hunter Beer Co. picking up two golds of its own for the Lager and Bock.
Aside from perennial award winner Feral which won three golds for its Watermelon Warhead, Barrel Fermented Hog and Boris Imperial Stout, all the remaining gold medals handed out in beer categories went to Sydney breweries; Modus Operandi for its Former Tenant Red IPA (which was also awarded Best NSW Beer), Stockade for its 8bit IPA and Odin's Raven Juniper Witbier, Redoak for its Chateau Sour and a first competition gold for Stave's, the oatmeal stout being the judges' standout amongst four medals given to the tiny Glebe brewpub.
In the cider competition the only gold, and therefore also Best In Show, went to one of the big boys: Carlton & United Breweries for Bonamy's Apple Cider.
Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show 2017 Winners
Best In Show
Gage Roads – Red Rye IPA
Champion Bottled Beer
Bridge Road – Little Bling IPA
Champion Draught Beer
Gage Roads – Red Rye IPA
Champion Experimental Beer
Hope Brewhouse – Barrel Aged Extra Stout
Best NSW Beer
Modus Operandi – Former Tenant Red IPA
Champion Cider / Best In Show
Carlton & United Breweries – Bonamy's Apple Cider