Judging for the New World Beer and Cider Awards is taking place in New Zealand/Aotearoa this week, with more than 600 beers submitted from around 100 local and international breweries.

Beer writer and author Michael Donaldson, who’s chaired the judging since 2016, said that the competition entries often give an insight into current trends across beer and cider. Hazies continued to be the largest entry segment, followed by IPAs. Additionally, a small but growing proportion of low carb and no- and low-alcohol (NoLo) entries indicate a consumer interest in better-for-you options.

“The classic Kiwi beer chiller looks a lot different than it did just a few years ago and several of the trends we’ve seen emerge on the judging table over these past few years are now really taking off,” Donaldson said.

The hazy trend has remained strong, despite some beliefs to the contrary.

“We may have passed ‘peak hazy’, but it’s still a firm favourite and definitely not going anywhere anytime soon. Long-time beer fans, and new ones, have really taken to the fruitier, less bitter flavours of hazies and they’re now a core part of many beer fridges,” Donaldson said.

For example, in one North Island supermarket chain, hazy beers make up approximately a quarter of craft beer sales. Brewers are also still a fan of the style, entering twice as many hazy beers as any other style to this year’s awards. More than 120 hazy beers have been submitted, with IPA as the next largest class at around 70 beers.

Across Aotearoa, low carb beer has been a fast-moving segment, growing more than a third in the year to November 2022, according to the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research’s 2022 Brewing in New Zealand report for the Brewers Association of New Zealand. Its growth has continued at a similar pace since then, as consumers seek out lighter-tasting and better-for-you options.

“While it’s still a relatively small segment of the beer category, brewers are getting in behind it and increasing the range of products on offer.

“In response, the New World Beer and Cider Awards has set up a dedicated class for low carb beers, which has attracted almost five per cent of the field this year,” Donaldson said.

NoLo beers and ciders have also seen a boost in popularity due to the better-for-you trend. This year’s awards saw almost double the number of NoLo entries, surpassing low carb at seven per cent of all entries.

“Between the pre- and post-Covid period, roughly the start of 2019 to the end of 2022, there was a sevenfold increase in the amount of no- and low-alcohol beer being consumed nationally. That will only have increased further in the year or so since, as more and better examples of these beers have come on to the market.

“There has been a swell of really high quality low- and non-alcoholic beers and ciders lately, especially from local craft producers who’ve been working hard to perfect their techniques and achieve brews that taste like the real thing,” Donaldson said.

At the awards, the standards for NoLo drinks are the same as those for full-strength options.

“You want the same great taste without the booze, so we’re still looking for a depth of flavour, a sweet-bitter balance, great mouthfeel and a pleasant after-taste,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson and Deputy Chair Kelly Ryan are looking forward to leading the 28-person panel over the two-day judging period, with each judge ready to taste and score around 50 beers per day. Entries will be scored based on technical excellence, balance, mouthfeel and drinkability, with the best entries being compiled into the Top 30 winners list. A further 20 Highly Commended entries will be part of the Top 50 list, published on the New World website.

“We know standing in front of the chiller trying to a choose a beer or cider, or even an alcoholic kombucha or ginger beer, can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are keen to try something new.

“New World customers can choose a Top 30 winner with confidence, knowing only the best of the best make it through this process, with no outside influence,” Donaldson said.

Results will be announced in May.

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