AIBA – behind the awards

The entries have been judged, the medals and trophies awarded and the feedback forwarded to the brewers. The Australian International Beer Awards are complete for another year and now Australian Brews News takes you on an exclusive, Access-All-Areas, behind the scenes tour of the world’s largest annual beer awards.

Damian Nieuwesteeg, the Beverage Event Manager for the Royal Agricultural Society

Damian Nieuwesteeg, the Beverage Event Manager for the Royal Agricultural Society

Our Tour Guide is Damian Nieuwesteeg, the Beverage Event Manager for the Royal Agricultural Society and the man responsible for ensuring the AIBAs maintain their international prestige. With over 20 years front-of-house experience in boutique hotels (Chateau Yering, Adelphi), bars (Gin Palace, Gypsy, The Crimean) and hat-awarded restaurants like Eleonore’s, La Luna and The Courthouse Hotel, Damian is well-schooled in the finer arts of ‘cat herding’ required to manage the numbers, the deliveries, the volunteers and the judges that make the AIBAs. Taking over the role in December 2014, Damian is also responsible for the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards (ADSA) and the Royal Melbourne Wine Awards (RMWA).

Brews News began by asking Damian to take us through the raw numbers. “This year we received 1699 entries from 311 exhibitors, 97 of whom were first-time entrants. The total number of entries represents a [roughly] 9% increase on 2014.”

“Of the total, 917 entries came from 154 Australian brewers with 782 entries from 158 exhibitors from 35 countries as close as New Zealand and Vietnam and from as far away as Brazil, South Africa, Malta, Chile and China. 1080 were packaged beers with 514 in draught form and 76 beers were entered in the Packaging Award. 29 entries were also received in the Media Award.”

Brews News: In recent years, the RASV has worked hard to revamp and update its processes so as to better reflect the changing face of beer worldwide. How does the RASV (Events) work alongside the Judges to develop the AIBAs and keep ‘up to date’ with changing styles, guidelines and brewing techniques?

Damain Nieuwesteeg: “In consultation with our Industry Advisory Group, and with feedback from our Judges, the awards are reviewed and refreshed each year to reflect emerging trends and changes in the brewing industry. Categories and awards continue to be added to the programme, with 30 Champion (11) and Major Trophies (19) on offer in 2015, reflecting the burgeoning industry and evolving changes in production techniques, flavour profiles and popular beer styles.”

The Industry Advisory Group representatives come from a broad interest base including small and large breweries, education, hospitality and distribution. The members of the Group in 2015 are:

Warren Pawsey – Little Creatures Brewery (Head Judge)

Chris Badenoch – Boneyard Brewing

Leif Ryan – Phoenix Beers

Peter Aldred – Federation University Australia

Tina Panoutsos – Sensory Manager at Carlton United Breweries

Brendan Varis – Feral Brewing Company and CBIA Representative

BN: How is any feedback provided to the brewers?

DN: “Written feedback, along with attribute results (see below), is provided to participating brewers via email for every Exhibit entered into the competition at the completion of judging. Exhibitors are also provided with a copy of the full Catalogue of Results. In addition to their certificates, medal winners receive AIBA artwork; a seal of quality and market differentiation, that they can use to promote their achievements. This artwork can be incorporated into existing packaging designs or printed onto stickers to apply directly to the medal-winning product. Along with the medals, RASV have provided a new offering for 2015 with the introduction of additional marketing support. In the form of email signatures, coasters, table talkers and social media images, these elements were created to maximise potential marketing opportunities across various platforms.”aiba_048_1280x200px_fa1

Appearance (colour, carbonation, foam characteristics) Max 3 points

Aroma (positive characteristics, aroma faults) max 5 points

Style (appropriate for class) max 3 points

Technical quality (balance, drinkability, absence of major faults) max 3 points

Flavour (general flavour characteristics, bitterness, fermentation products, flavour faults) max 6 points

Total maximum 20 points

BN: In what ways are the AIBAs important to the beer industry in general?

DN: “As the largest annual beer competition in the world judging both packaged and draught beer, the awards give brewers an unparalleled opportunity to benchmark their beers against international industry standards, receive invaluable feedback from an independent panel of international and local industry experts and promote their award-winning products using the AIBA’s seal of excellence.

Winning an award can help with growing the profile of, and demand for a particular beer, or the brewery itself. The AIBAs provide a great opportunity to showcase the continual improvement of the industry and really drive consumer education in regards to changes in production, quality and styles, in turn increasing their interest and investment in the associated breweries.”

BN: The RASV has worked hard to engage the consumer/public and trade in the awards in recent years. What is the importance of this engagement to the AIBAs and to the consumers?

DN: “There are a number of reasons why an exhibitor might take part in the awards such as the prestige associated and the valuable feedback received from industry experts, but we also believe the AIBAs play an important role in generating genuine commercial outcomes for participants.

To quote some of our Trophy winners:

“Our business has used our success at the AIBA to help open up new markets and bring on new investors. In the year since winning, our brewery has doubled in size.” Andrew Deuchars, Renaissance Brewing, New Zealand

“Winning at AIBA has done huge things for Mash. This past summer was so very busy, most tanks, not just trophy winners, being sold out the day they are kegged or packed.” Charlie Hodgson, Mash Brewing, Western Australia

“It’s always an honour to win any award but especially to be recognized as the best of the best, as was the case in 2014 with Obsidian Stout winning The AIBA Bargo Events Trophy for Champion International Beer.” Jason Randles, Deschutes Brewery, U.S.

BN: And the consumer?

DN: “Through events like the consumer-focused ‘Hop Off’ dinner, the medal tasting, and the Royal Melbourne Show, consumers and trade are directly connected to brewers through their products. This helps to expand awareness of the awards and what a medal or trophy really stands for, to build consumer confidence in products they see that carry the seal, and to provide real value to brewers who take part.”

The RASV, in conjunction with its Industry Advisory Group hopes to continue the development of the AIBAs to ensure the awards maintain their stature within the beer community worldwide and so that the consumer (who, after all, is why brewers craft great beer) is left with a better understanding of the beer in their glass – whatever style that might be.

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