International Beer Challenge 2013
Leading beer producers from across the globe are celebrating after dazzling a demanding
judging panel of industry legends and scooping medals in the world’s most prestigious beer
competition, the International Beer Challenge 2013.
This year’s challenge was the 17th annual event and saw a record number of entries and we
invited 40 judges to London to help us decide the medal winners.
Renowned writers such as Canada’s Stephen Beaumont, Italy’s Lorenzo Dabove and Czech
beer specialist Evan Rail flew in to complement a judging team that featured some of Britain’s
best-known beer journalists, including Tim Hampson, Melissa Cole, Pete Brown, Adrian
Tierny-Jones, Des De Moor and Ben McFarland.
Other sectors of the industry were represented by independent retailers, brewers with
decades of experience and importers who travel the world trawling for great beers.
Jeff Evans, chairman of the judges and former editor of the Good Beer Guide, said: “I’ve been
chairman of the judges for 11 years and this was by far the strongest judging panel we’ve
ever put together – indicative of the esteem in which the competition is held.”
Entries arrived from 33 countries, including such exotic nations as Zimbabwe, Vietnam,
Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda and South Korea.
They rubbed shoulders with beers from established brewing nations such as Belgium,
Germany and the US, and ensured there was plenty of debate around the tables when our
judging team convened in June.
They were presented with flights of unlabelled beer and tasked with agreeing – after detailed
consideration and a full discussion – the prize each entry should receive.
Evans said: “For the IBC, unlike in other competitions, there is no requirement for a beer to
match given style profiles. How well a beer fits the description of, say, a stout or a pilsner, is
not taken into account.
“This means judges can concentrate less on technicalities and more on the simple pleasures
of a beer – and good beers are never penalised for somehow falling foul of any set style
guidelines. That said, beers are always judged like with like in categories, to help avoid big
flavour swings and strength disparities.
“In around 200 cases, no medal was awarded at all, which testifies to the fact that this is by
no means an easy contest from which to walk away with an accolade.”
“A medal of any colour from the International Beer Challenge is cause for celebration. Those
that claimed golds are, therefore, in the judges’ opinion, exceptional beers that really deserve
to be sought out.”
Thirty-eight beers were awarded golds, among them some consistent award-winners such as
Harveys Imperial Extra Double Stout from the UK, Samuel Adams Utopias from the US and
Baltika No8 Wheat from Russia.
Equally enjoying the gold rush were established British brewing names such as Harviestoun,
Butcombe and Greene King, with smaller breweries – the likes of Salopian, Oakham, Purple
Moose and Arbor Ales – also in the mix.
Gold medal winners came in many styles, from McCashins Stoke Bomber Smoky Ale from
New Zealand to Cave Creek Chili Beer from Mexico. Marks & Spencer’s range impressed,
winning four golds, while Australia’s Redoak brewery claimed five. There were gold
representations, too, for Belgium, Greece, Italy, Germany and Ireland.
A further 89 silvers and 155 bronzes were awarded.
Nine trophies will be announced at a glittering London ceremony in September in the
following categories: Best Lager below 5%, Best Lager above 5%, Best Ale below 5%, Best
Ale above 5% Best Stout or Porter, Best Fruit beer, Best Speciality Beer, Best Wheat Beer
and Best NABLAB (no or low alcohol). The Supreme Champion will then be chosen from
Design and Packaging
There were also awards for the best design and packaging, with 87 entries resulting in 5
golds, 20 silvers and 30 bronzes.
Chairman of this section’s judges Paul Foulkes-Arellano, client services director at design
consultant Seymour Powell, said: “The overall standard was much higher than my last time as
a judge three years ago. Several brands had been given a complete overhaul so that the
brand presentation now befitted the beer inside. There were some standout bottles, but
mainly it was label design which had improved so dramatically.”
He singled out the Connoisseurs Choice range from Sharp’s Brewery and the Hooky range
from Hook Norton for special praise, arguing they had both learnt “real lessons about taste
appeal and range architecture from wine and other drinks categories”.
Foulkes-Arellano added: “There was lively debate about several brands. Some brands were
effortlessly stylish, others tried too hard to be trendy, but ended up looking garish and
immature. We noticed smaller brands could be just as creative as the big brands, even
without the big budgets.”
“Several flagship brands point the way and these are not big commercial brands. Great beers
find a bigger audience once they get the communication right, and the rise of craft beers in
the US is linked not just to superior taste, but to inventive and fun marketing, expressed
through bottles and labels.”
A supreme champion will also be revealed from this category in September