Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Suspending Judgement

Blogger Martin Craig became a folk hero to many earlier this week when he revealed that he had secretly entered a commercial beer (Ranfurly Station Pale Ale) into the SOBA National Homebrew Champs and... it bombed. It scored 11/50 and was slated by the judges for various faults.

Since then there has been a little reflection amongst those close to the incident with respect to, shall we say, the ethics of entering someone's beer without their knowledge and in doing so breaking the rules of the competition.

Then today Martin's post disappeared. Fortunately for the curious, google has a cache.

It's tempting to jump to the conclusion that corporate and legal forces have been brought to bear on Martin. Or maybe he's taken pity on Ranfurly.

So should those of us who greeted the news of this guerrilla beer judging with glee also pause for a moment? Perhaps yes. I was reminded of the spat that broke out about a year ago when local brewer Stu McKinley harshly commented on a bottle of Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard on realbeer.co.nz. That beer had been imported to New Zealand under circumstances that Stone's President Greg Koch expressly disapproves of and tries to stop. It was "grey market" and had been shipped without refrigeration.

Greg vented on the realbeer forum. Other participants generally disregarded Greg's assertion of brewer's rights, but anyone who has tasted Oaked Arrogant Bastard in peak condition would probably side with Greg.

As an importer and retailer trying to avoid the grey market, and as a fan of Stone Brewing, I naturally took Greg's side in that spat. So to be consistent I guess I have to concede that the brewers of Ranfurly Pale Ale were not treated fairly on this occasion. But in my book brewing bland beer is a far bigger crime.

Now I wouldn't bother with a spiel like this unless it was somehow self-serving, so here goes. Hashigo Zake is about to strike a blow for brewers against the use and transportation of beer in ways that they don't approve of. But the real winners will be our customers. We'll make an announcement at the Hophead's Picnic tonight.


  1. I can't speak for Martin, but he did advise me of the reason, and it's not corporate or legal forces. It was just his personal decision. He can elaborate here if he wants to. I think it had the makings of an excellent debate though.

  2. Hmmmm... there is a bit of hint of an intersection in these topics (around doing something that was not intended with a beer) but it is a bit of a stretch. My concern on the Ranfurly issue was about the fact that someone is guessing which specific style a beer is being entetred into (and, hence, being judged against). That has little to do with parallel importing!

    As to the topic on realbeer... Who said the beer I drunk there was a grey market import? Others admitted it but I didn't.

    To tell you the truth, that one in that question was... but I've had a fair few Stone beers that have been air-freighted to NZ, direct from the brewery, for international beer awards... I've not thought much of them either and, if you go back through the list of awards for the last few BrewNZ's, you'll see that there is a fair bit of agreement from a lot of well-qualified people (i.e. judges) who were not being blasted with the sizzle behind the sausage.

    I love these guys attitude and marketing, and especially what Greg has done in regards to driving craft beer ahead. But, in my opinion, their beers (or bottled beers, at least) just aren't that great. If your announcement is that you'll be bringing them in, I'd love to have been able to suggest a dozen US breweries ahead of them.


    ps. there's still a lot of Stone around... check out the local supermarkets with good beer selections.

  3. Stu, of course it's a stretch. We've all got an agenda. But it's all about giving producers a certain amount of control when their beer is being subjected to public criticism. Obviously that's pretty hard in an age of ratebeer and realbeer. So critics have to temper their comments.

    But seriously I had an Oaked Arrogant Bastard that I know was brought in by LCL at about the same time that you made your critique and it was poor. I had the same beer on tap in Tokyo (shipped by reefer) a few months ago and it was exceptional.

  4. It's easy to guess what category Ranfurly should be entered in - it says right there on the label ;-)

  5. @ hefevice - so which one should it be entered as? ;-)

    @ Dominic:

    I look forward to trying a great beer from Stone one day... As I say, I've tried them from "grey" ("gray"?) sources, air-freighted for competition (which you'd assume was the best) and from the suitcase of people who have flown in from San Diego.

    As you probably know, I'm not a believer in the "fresh is best" mantra that's blindly espoused by too many people. So when is their beer best? I'm being facetious, as you've been, but they're not doing it much for me at any age.

    I've had loads of success with plenty of other "grey-market" imports... I loved Pliny and Blind Pig, absolutely adore Jolly Pumpkin ales, really liked all the Goose Island beers I've tried and saw loads of potential in Bear Republic... Green Flash, Anchor, Sierra Nevada all do it for me in a big way. Rogue are probably the most consistently excellent brewery I've come across.

    I'm glad the debate is continuing here, even if it is on another tangent... I'll step back for a while and watch with interest. I hope other people have things to say.

    ps. unfortunately the cache link above doesn't have my last post or Grieg's (he emailed his to me but I don't have a copy of mine)... perhaps Martin will restore his post. I hope he does. Open debate is good for the beer industry... and it is very sadly lacking. there are far too many whispers and not enough real debate.

    lots of love, slainte mhath
    Stu xyxyxy

  6. I'm just little bit concerned that we're enjoying a wee giggle that Ranfurly placed so poorly but quite complacent that the Champion Brewer in the NZHBC won the Major Award for a Lager with an Lite American Lager.

    Now I'm not affiliated with anyone corporate but this is a style that is described as (according to BJCP - the style guidelines for NZBC) "A low gravity and low calorie beer characteristic of mainstream America. Often sold as the "light" version. No strong flavors."
    The style guidelines go on to say "Very light, with little or no malt aroma. Some low levels of grainy or corn-like sweetness. Low bitterness and hop aroma. Color is pale to golden. No diacetyl. Highly carbonated."

    So, lets reflect.The Ranfurly scored badly but whats to say the Champion Lager would have scored any better as an NZPA. We can all tweak the facts to suit our agenda and I don't think this small minded behavior does anything for the craft scene in NZ.

    Whats the moral of the story? Celebrating how BAD a beer is doesn't do anyone any favours.
    Secondly, if we're going to consider ourselves the bastion of good taste in beer in NZ, how do we accept the Champion Lager at NZHBC is brewed to a fairly anonymous style.
    Lets not live in glass houses and throw stones

  7. "whats to say the Champion Lager would have scored any better as an NZPA"

    ....the score sheet and comments.

    you can be sure that the champion beer would not have had "Diacetyl, DMS, oxidised" or "Diacetyl overpowers anything in the beer" written on it's score sheet no matter what catogory it was entered into. Going by the notes there is not style that the ranfuly would have excelled in. If the comments and score reflected that it was a well brewed beer but sadly placed in the wrong catogory then you might have had a point.

    Also, as a brewer I want to be able to brew everything (I can't yet but I'm working on it) that means all the styles. That is the reason I will at some point start making light largers etc because they are hard to make and I want to know that I can make them. and after I have made them I wont offer them to people and say, "here mate try some of my Imperial IPA" then give them my NZ draught

  8. @ Anonymous

    - your second to last paragraph (how the champion lager could have scored as badly in the same category) was exactly my point in opposition to this whole thing.

    - i disagree with your last point though... we must, as an organisation, celebrate well made beers of any style (whether we like them or not). Styles are built up, over an extended period of time, because many people/breweries make a beer in a certain way. If we decide to only celebrate the styles that we like personally, we'll end up arguing about which styles to clebrate and forget to just relax and have a homebrew. As an example, most people I know wouldn't celebrate mild ale but I'd struggle to find any better beer experience than a perfect mild in the right situation (in fact, my best beer drinking experience of 2009 was 20L of mild ale through a handpump with my extended family at a late summer BBQ). Others might not celebrate Lite American Lager but if we, as an organisation, choose to discredit a particular style of beer then we are discrediting someone's taste. Obviously, the brewer of that beer likes that style as he's made it... who are we, to tell him what he should and shouldn't like.

  9. Anonymous - it's polite to use a name. :)

    If you tasted said Lite American Lager, I'm sure you'd agree that it was an almost perfectly made beer. All the NHC does is rate beers against the stated style definition, and score them to that style out of 50 points. There are no value judgements on the style, just comparisons to it. It's nothing to do with a beer the judges *liked* most. In this regard, I agree with Stu 100%. It's unfair not to let the brewer select the style, regardless of what is written on the bottle.

    However. As Jared stated above, the fact remains that said commercial beer, regardless of style, was riddled with faults. The beer was supplied to Martin by the brewery (I believe) so the only excuses for that could be age and travelling. I don't really buy either of those when the fault is diacetyl. I obtained a fresh bottle from the supermarket after Martin told me what he'd done, and sure enough, it was a pretty faulty beer. Choosing a different style for it wouldn't have helped this in the slightest.

    I spoke to Geoff Griggs, and he said that when he originally reviewed the beer, it was bland but clean. Something then has changed. It's a poor beer in the form it presented in on the day, and it was a poor beer in the form obtained off the shelf. What more is there to say?