SIBA award winners raise the bar

SIBA’s National Beer Awards 2016 winners were announced recently at the BeerX exhibition in Sheffield. Seen by many craft brewers as the pinnacle of brewing excellence, we find out more about some of this year’s winners and what the entries tell us about the sector. Suzanne Callander reports.

The overall winner of the 2016 Awards went to Loch Lomond Brewery for its Southern Summit golden ale, while The Waen Brewery in Wales took home a Silver award with its Lemon Drizzle, and Harbour Brewing Co, from the South West, got a bronze for its Pale Ale.

Siba award winners“Loch Lomond are deserving winners,” said Guy Sheppard, SIBA chairman. “The beer was a huge hit with the judges.”  Husband and wife team Euan and Fiona MacEacherern from Loch Lomond Brewery were overwhelmed. “We are absolutely lost for words, you have no idea how much this means to us. It is the pinnacle, after years of growing and growing,” said Fiona.

Southern Summit is a 4% golden coloured ale. It also won Gold in the Best Bitters & Pale Ales category before taking the Supreme Champion crown too, in the final round of judging. The light golden ale is hopped with American summit and city hops for a citrus aroma and flavour.

The Silver award went to the Waen Brewery’s Lemon Drizzle. As the name might suggest, the 3.7% ABV beer has a zesty lemon flavour. Harbour Brewing’s Bronze winner is a British take on an American style pale ale. At 6% ABV its Pale Ale shows the huge diversity of flavours and strengths being created by craft brewers in the UK today.

The quality of entries this year was staggering, said Neil Walker of SIBA, one of the judges: “The judges had a very difficult task separating the entries and deciding on the most deserving winners. The winning breweries and businesses this year really had to show something very special to put them ahead of the pack.”

Explaining why he feels the bar has been raised so high, Neil said: “Breweries are becoming increasingly aware of the wider world of beer and retail when looking at their business and while the quality of beer will always be the focus for an independent craft brewer, aspects such as design, marketing, community support and social media are also becoming central to being a good business in 2016 – something which was clearly reflected in the quality of entries in this year’s awards.”

Based in the Orkney Islands, Swannay Brewery won Gold in the Premium Bitters & Pale Ales group

Based in the Orkney Islands, Swannay Brewery won Gold in the Premium Bitters & Pale Ales group. “Our Pale Ale is an Orcadian nod to the pale ales of America’s west coast,” said Swannay’s Lewis Hill. “A pale and crystal malt base provides the platform to showcase fruity Citra and Simcoe hops, both from the USA.” The beer is available in cask and bottle format and is distributed via independent wholesalers, mostly in Scotland but some in the North and South East of England too.

“The brewing industry is booming in Scotland and our brewery has mastered a core range of classic, traditional styles with a range of more modern, innovative beers too. We are finding that today’s drinkers are demanding more and more diverse flavours in their beer but do also still enjoy a well-made refreshing classic,” said Lewis.

Norfolk-based Grain Brewery won Gold in the Specialty Beer group. Grain’s Phil Halls explained more about it: “I brewed Blonde Ash for the first time after spending a hazy weekend in Munich and falling in love with the wheat beer style. With a 50% malt bill dedicated to wheat, it can be tricky to brew due to the sticky wheat and the fine mash plates. A bit of patience and an early start helps! Breaking with the Munich style of wheat beer, we also add cracked coriander seeds and orange peel to Blonde Ash to give an extra fruitiness to its clove-like aromas.”

Phil attributes the success of Blonde Ash to the fact that the brewery has the best brewing barley and wheat grown on its doorstep in East Anglia. “Having a wheat beer in our range also breaks from the usual tradition of bitters and stouts, which our local hard water particularly lends itself. Offering something different makes for good business too.”

The Keg Competition Supreme Gold winner was Sambrook’s Russian Imperial Stout

As well as the cask competition, SIBA also ran a keg and ‘small pack’, or can and bottle, competitions at the event. The Keg Competition Supreme Gold winner was Sambrook’s Russian Imperial Stout. At 10.4%ABV the dark, rich and full-bodied Imperial Stout packs punch, but is deceptively smooth and easy to drink. Chocolate, toasted and coffee flavours from the roasted malts balance well with its ripe fruity aromas.

“We think it’s the balance that makes it an award winner,” said Sambrook’s Adrian  Lugg. “It’s difficult to create a beer with such high ABV that still has the moreish quality of this beer. It’s also a lovely rich flavour and great showcase of the style.

“Brewing has changed a lot since we opened the doors in 2008,” continued Adrian. “Back then London only had a handful of breweries. Now there are in excess of 80 and this number is growing at a steady rate. South London is still considered to be the poor brother to the rest of the city… in brewing terms, people still consider that East London sets the pace for the new craft brewing movement. However, there have been some great breweries in the South and especially the South West with a proud brewing heritage, most notably Youngs, which was just down the road from where we are today.

“There is a more grounded, traditional flavour to the breweries in the South. That being said Sambrook’s has continued to re-invent itself and is now showing that it can mix it with the best when it comes to craft beer and brewing interesting, innovative styles. Indeed, it is something that sets us apart from a lot of other regions, the ability to brew great beer in a number of different formats to cater to both traditional and evolving palates.”

SIBA award winnersThe small pack (bottle and can) Supreme Gold winner was Kent-based Old Dairy Brewery’s Dark Side of the Moo. Commenting on the win, Old Diary’s brewer, Sean Calnan, said: “This is my favourite beer that we brew. It’s full bodied and full flavoured and is a nice cross over between a strong porter and a black IPA. We take a rich dark beer and hop it really heavily like an IPA.”

We’ve only been able to look at a small selection of the winners here, from over 80 awards across more than 25 categories. But if you’d like to see the full list of winners they are available at www.siba.co.uk/events/

SIBA’s awards were not limited to breweries. The business awards included several categories for craft beer retailers which asked the judges to consider a number of factors, including the range of independent craft beers stocked and the quality of the beer offering as a whole.

Consumers are increasingly expecting a range of quality independent craft beers and the business awards aim to shine a light on the retailers providing beers from SIBA’s membership of truly independent craft brewers. The SIBA award results demonstrate that quality is very much as important as quality.

Bundobust, which took home the UK’s Best Independent Craft Beer Restaurant, does not have a huge range of beers on offer by today’s standards. However the quality of the beers they offer, the commitment to pairing the beers with food, and the real dedication to offering an interesting selection of independent beers, that are not available elsewhere, set them apart from the competition.

we are working on a new initiative to help profile our country’s amazing breweries and their beers

The quality of this competition and its winners once again demonstrate the excellent range of beers available to pubs and bars across the UK. Some nationally recognised and some harder to track down. At The Host we strongly believe that the independent sector should have a profile and be accessible, so we are working on a new initiative to help profile our country’s amazing breweries and their beers. So watch this space.

 

Author: The Host

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