Diversity milestone for Sydney Royal judging panel

Photo credit: Mahalia Hicks

Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Awards is celebrating a milestone for its judging panel, which featured a 50/50 male to female split for the first time.

Diversity in the brewing industry has been increasingly in the spotlight especially after allegations of sexism in the US brewing industry reverberated globally.

Now, Sydney Royal is celebrating an industry-leading achievement, having secured an equal gender split of judges. This was achieved with help from the Pathway to Judging program at women’s organisation Pink Boots Society Australia, which nominated two judges, MC Jarratt, brewer at Two Birds Brewing and Nemesia Dale-Cully, cellar door manager at Wildflower Brewing & Blending.

Sarah Turner, environmental impact coordinator and beer education at 4 Pines Brewing Co. is the administrator of Pink Boots Society Australia’s Pathway to Judging program, which provides extensive training and support for potential judges amongst the organisation’s members.

“Through this program and in collaboration with Chair of Judges across the Sydney Royal and the AIBA’s we have been able to advance seven Pink Boots Society members to don their ‘L plates’ and Associate Judge in the last two years,” she explained.

Judging for the Sydney Royal Awards took place last Tuesday (19th July), and Chief Judge Ian Kingham selected the panel of judges, which included not only an equal gender split, but a diverse array of judges from large and small breweries and different career backgrounds.

“When you’re putting panels together, you’re looking for senior judges, but you’re also looking for people who are coming through to help develop in the industry, as well as representation from large breweries and from small breweries. You want to have a diverse group of people,” Kingham explained.

“What you’re really looking for is people, first and foremost, [who] have a sensory understanding of what they’re tasting, an ability to articulate what they’re tasting and an understanding of techniques and flavours.”

Already close to having a 50/50 gender split with eight women judges and 12 male chosen, Kingham worked with Pink Boots to help nominate some additional judges to fill the vacant spots.

“I remember in the early days as a young man as a sales rep, we’d have one female rep to 40 male reps. The world is so different from that now. And the world is better for this change.

“I thought, ‘you know what, I’ve got an opportunity now to choose from a large pool of people to fill those last places, and I’m going to take this opportunity to fill this with suitable female judges, provided they’re available.’

“It’s very important that when people come to a table to judge that they recognise that they’ve been selected on merit, because you want people to judge with confidence, and you want people to be focused on what they do and what they love.”

Having judged every year at Sydney Royal since 2007 and recently taking on the Chief Judge role, Kingham said he had not seen any women on a judging panel in the first five years of the competition.

“So to see how far the industry has come, I think it’s fantastic. [The makeup of the panel is] more of a reflection of how we’ve got an industry that’s more diverse now.”

Kingham also highlighted that at a relatively small 24 judges, this was more achievable for the Sydney Royal than perhaps larger judging groups.

“We’re coming out of this competition, thinking [we managed] a really good, balanced and diverse judging base, and for that, I think you get more accurate and better results. That’s not taking anything away from any other competitions. If I was chief judge anywhere else I’d be looking for similar diversity, as best I could.

“It ensures that you’ve actually got a difference of opinions, difference of perspective, and difference in experience. And if managed properly, then you should get the richness of all of that.

“We’re just trying to make it the best that we can make it and I think that went a long way towards doing that,” he concluded.

Pathways to beer awards judging

Pivotal to helping Sydney Royal achieve gender parity with its judges was the Pink Boots Pathway to Judging program.

The program was developed last year to help women in the brewing industries develop the skills to become judges through educational opportunities, knowledge sharing, beer sensory experiences and mentoring, led by highly regarded beer industry leaders and beer judges.

“Our goal is to create a pool of qualified and experienced beer judges and continue to expand opportunities across other beer awards conducted throughout Australia,” explained Pathways coordinator Sarah Turner.

“We believe the integrity of beer awards and providing quality valuable feedback to brewers entering should not be compromised. Therefore, the Pathway to Judging program develops and upskills our members to ensure anyone who gets a seat at a judging table is equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to be there.”

In 2021, Pink Boots held an intensive online program with some of the most experienced beer judges in Australia to present, including CUB’s Tina Panoutsos, Briony Liebich of Flavour Logic, Alli McDonald at Malt Shovel and Clare Clouting from Gage Roads Brew Co., as well as 4 Pines’ Chris Willcock and Andrew Tweddell, Justin Fox of Bespoke Brewing Solutions, and Ben Holdstock, co-founder of Heaps Normal.

On completion of the 2021 Pathway to Judging online program, a mock beer judging session conducted by Sam Fuss, formerly of Philter Brewing, was held ahead of the 2021 Sydney Royal Beer Show.

Last year, two associate Judges, Lisa Truscott of Archie Rose and Julia Santos Muriel from Trust Brewing were nominated for Sydney Royal judging as a result of the program, and for this year’s AIBAs Lindsy Greig of Stomping Ground Brewing Co., Asahi Beverages’ Stephanie Johansson and Eden Pink, senior brewer at Prancing Pony Brewery in SA were also nominated.

“In recent years we have seen growth of women across all areas of the Australian beer industry working on the brewery floor, in labs, hospitality operations and more,” explained Turner.

But there is still a long way to go in addressing sexism in the industry, as well as lack of representation at all levels and roles within the industry, according to Turner.

“By balancing the scales and inviting more women to the table we are creating a community that embraces inclusion and diversity, increases representation and creates diverse examples of leadership,” Turner said.

“Ian Kingham, Chair of Judges at the Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show, should be commended, he made history selecting a diverse panel of beer and cider judges split 50/50 male to female, young and old, big brewery and independents.

“Ian acted and demonstrated true leadership, assembling an experienced, knowledgeable panel of judges that can provide valuable feedback to brewers. What a moment in history and certainly something worth celebrating, I am so proud to have been there myself.

“There are so many talented, passionate and experienced people within our industry – the best palate is not determined by gender.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Pathway to Judging program should contact info@pinkbootssociety.com.au.

Hear more from 4 Pines’ Sarah Turner on the Beer is a Conversation podcast.


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