Success certainly breeds success when it comes to Sydney Brewery as the multi-award winners have now added the 2022 Sydney Royal Beer & Cider Show’s Champion Draught Beer and Best NSW Beer trophies to their long list of accomplishments.
Usually it’s been the domain of the Dr Jerry Schwartz-founded brewery’s lagers to serially win major Australian beer awards, but this time it was their Speak Easy Black IPA doing the talking for them. The 6.0% beer was unveiled as a seasonal release in the middle of last year but they’ve been brewing it the same, albeit with a different name, for some time. Their Black IPA, that featured the same “big dry hop of Citra, Amarillo and Chinook… (and) subtle dark malt characters and notes of caramel and toffee” as Speak Easy, had been a taproom favourite before getting its first run in cans in May 2020 (like so many other draught-only beers did around that same time due to COVID restrictions).
Today’s announcement of the Sydney Royal trophy winners and medalists at the Grape, Grain & Graze Festival also saw a few other high achievers back on the podium.
Wayward Brewing‘s Raspberry Berliner Weisse won the Champion Packaged Beer trophy – a repeat of the beer’s success at the 2019 competition and in addition to its Best European Style Ale win at the 2017 AIBAs – while the Barossa Cider Co‘s Squashed Pear Cider was crowned Champion Perry which follows its Squashed Apple Cider winning the inaugural Champion Cider award at the 2014 Sydney Royal. The 2022 competition’s other major beer trophy went to Australian Brewery‘s Reign of Darkness Imperial Stout which snared the Champion Experimental or Specialty Beer. At last year’s Sydney Royal the Australian Brewery won Champion Draught Beer with their Old Cattle Dog Dark Ale. The standout brewery in terms of medals earned was Sydney’s Philter Brewing whose haul included five golds (all for different pale ale styles) and eight silvers.
Speak Easy’s trophies continue a phenomenal awards run for Sydney Brewery which has (to name just some) seen their Lovedale Lager win Best European Style Lager at the 2014 and 2016 AIBAs and Best Draught Beer at the 2015 Sydney Royal while their Pilsner (formerly known as Surry Hills Pils) won Champion Lager at both the 2019 and 2021 Indies and Grand Champion Beer at the 2021 Royal Queensland awards.
It’s a run of achievements Ian Kingham, Sydney Royal’s Chair of Judges (pictured above on the left with Neal Cameron), said most likely began with a fairly simple, but highly skilled, approach.
“If they’re winning trophies they’re putting good beer in, that’s the first, but hardest, secret,” Ian told Beer & Brewer. “And they’re probably making sure that the beers they’re submitting are the freshest samples and they’re making sure they’re entering the right classes with the right descriptions. If you make good beer, and take the time to enter it properly and that it’s at its freshest, then you’re giving yourself the best chance.
“I remember Speak Easy on the day (of judging) well. It was a real standout.”
In a press statement Ian added: “(Speak Easy had) excellent use of malt and hops, lovely balance and a beer packed with flavour that is readily drinkable.
“Sydney has a reputation as Australia’s toughest beer and cider competition. Medals are only awarded on merit and the judging process is meticulous. As with all Royal Sydney shows, the medals are a stamp of approval of quality. The show has deep and rich history and consumers recognise the authenticity and respect that the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW garners. Medals are a symbol of quality, hard work and consistency, they are not just reliable they are dependable.”
No and low alcohol beers rate highly
Ian said this year’s competition saw a lower proportion of non-medalists than previous years and that there was a good spread of medals across the classes. He said he was particularly impressed by the no and reduced alcohol beer classes which were added to the Sydney Royal’s schedule for the first time this year.
In the 0.5% or less beer category, a sole gold medal went to Bridge Road’s Free Time Pale Ale while silvers went to Heaps Normal’s Quiet XPA and WA’s first dedicated non-alcoholic beer brand Lightning Minds and their Pale Ale.
“It’s a pretty dangerous category to open up, because if a submission doesn’t show beer character then it has to be struck from competition. But what we found was the spread of medals (in the no and low category) was pretty consistent with other categories and other competitions.
“Normally we see, in a certain class, a spread of 10% gold, 20% silver, 30% bronze and 40% no medal – in very broad terms, that’s kind of how it works out. The reduced and no alcohol section played out pretty much true to that.”
This year’s Sydney Royal was also memorable for the fact it was the first time the judging panel featured an even gender split, something that hasn’t occurred before in a major Australian beer awards.
“My view on any judging panel is you want to have a couple of things in play: you want diversity of palate, diversity of (a judge’s) background and diversity of experience. There’s always that need for diversity,” Ian said.
“So taking all of that in, the irony was that when I looked at putting 24 people together I already had 12 male and eight female (judges) that were basically self-selected from last year or people I wanted to come on board….I knew four more great female judges could pick themselves.”
Chief Cider Judge Briony Liebich, a sensory consultant who previously ran West End’s sensory program for a decade, told Beer & Brewer the panel’s diversity was no better illustrated than by her own cider table of judges.
“It was a 50/50 gender split, but it also had a winemaker and two brewers who have both made spirits and ciders. It was great to see new and up-and-coming faces across the panel.
“The Pink Boots Pathway to Judging program has been a big factor in seeing more women graduate to these positions. It has tried to host sensory sessions in every major city to help recommend people forward, based on seeing their practical experience.
“(Pink Boots President) Tif (Waldron, pictured above with IBA chair Richard Adamson) is a big believer in these pathways. It took her years to get into judging and she’s now helping to speed that process up for others.
“We also have to thank Ian, who is a big believer in diversity (in a judging panel). You can’t just have brewers judging and he knows that. And I think the fact the panel reflected the whole drinks industry, in terms of backgrounds and experience, came from him.”
Cider classes see variety also
Diversity carried over into the cider classes also, with Briony (pictured above) saying this year’s competition delivered a wide variety of styles and “exploration” within the traditional categories.
“We were impressed with the diversity and with people pushing the boundaries of getting complexities in their ciders. With all cider competitions lately, I’ve noticed the experimental classes growing, whether that’s via different fruits or oaks et cetera.”
In regards to Barossa Cider Co’s trophy win, Briony, who hails from that South Australian Valley herself, said their success at competition was an exercise in “cleanliness and consistency”.
“For cider, consistent, quality supply of fruit is so important and there is such a cleanliness and consistency about their products. With cider, you’re not getting the same faults as you do in beer, so it’s a question of sweetness and acidity balance.”
2022 Sydney Royal trophy winners
CHAMPION PACKAGED BEER
Wayward Brewing Raspberry Berliner Weisse
CHAMPION DRAUGHT BEER
Sydney Brewery Speak Easy Black IPA
CHAMPION EXPERIMENTAL OR SPECIALTY BEER
Australian Brewery Reign of Darkness Imperial Stout
BEST NSW BEER
Sydney Brewery Speak Easy Black IPA
Barossa Cider Co Squashed Pear Cider
(Due to no gold medals being awarded in the Cider and Bottle Conditioned Perry or Cider classes, no trophies were awarded in these categories.)