The New World Beer & Cider Awards were judged last week. Judges rated 79 ciders and more than 440 beers over two days – the results will be declared in April.
Chief cider judge Justin Oliver was responsible for leading the judging team through a broad range of drinks, ranging from fruit-flavoured and fizzy through to traditional ciders made from heritage apple varieties.
The NWB&CA takes a different approach to New Zealand’s other two national cider competitions, the New Zealand Cider Awards, and the Brewers Guild of New Zealand Awards. The New World competition judges its ciders (and beers) in broad categories, rather than using the narrow and sometimes limiting style definitions from the Brewer’s Association or Beer Judging Certification Program. The goal of the NWB&CA is to find beers and ciders you and I would like to buy at New World, so the emphasis is always on drinkability rather than technical skill.
Justin is a winemaker and owner at Te Rata Free Range Wine and says judging cider is very similar to judging wine.
“Cider is very similar to a fruit wine – in fact, that’s what it’s classed as legally – so the way you look at a cider in a competition is based on how you assess a fruit wine. We’re looking at the same kind of faults you could get in a wine to a certain extent. Where cider differs is that we’re also assessing ciders that have had other ingredients apart from apples and pears used in their making, so that’s another layer of looking at how well those flavours integrate with the base cider.
“The other thing with cider is the traditional category. Some traditional ciders would be rejected as faulty in a wine competition – they might have Brettanomyces, or be oxidised a fair bit. These are faults in a wine but those things add complexity to cider. So experienced wine judges need to have some cider experience, because if you don’t, you could find traditional cider offensive at the worst, or think it’s faulty. But cider lovers from the UK would think it’s great – they think New Zealand cider is sweet and straightforward.
“It would be nice if we could taste all the traditional ciders together, but traditional cider is so new in New Zealand sometimes it isn’t even mentioned on the label. ‘You’ve made a traditional cider but you don’t even know it’. So it’s an evolving thing and it’s evolving real quick.
“And on that note too, people are getting real good at making New World cider out of eating apples. You don’t need cider apples to make a New World style – in fact, you don’t want too many cider apples, because then you just lose the freshness of the style.
“I think New World ciders started because people couldn’t get enough cider apples, and it was looked on as an inferior product, but it’s past that now. It’s got its own life from New Zealand and Australia. California has a lot of good New World ciders coming out made with eating apples. Rather than focusing on tannin and complexity, you’re focusing on freshness and juiciness and preserving the apple flavour.
“Like craft beer didn’t exist a few years ago, cider is changing. We’re getting more and more traditional style ciders entering the competitions and they’re getting better and better, and some of the New World style entries are spectacular too.”