This year looks different for plenty of reasons but for the team at The West Australian Good Food Guide – and the state’s wider hospitality industry – there’s a positive reason for that point of difference. The Guide's annual awards, which launched in 2011, is judging the state's beers for the first time.
The Beer of the Year Award will crown the state's best beers, with a judging criteria that looks beyond style guidelines and awards marks for innovation and drinkability. The top gong will head a ranked list of 25 beers, all of which must have been released this calendar year.
Those judges are set to meet in October with the panel led by The Crafty Pint’s own Guy Southern, joined by Pia Poynton from Nowhereman, Elliot Moore from Besk and Mane Liquor, and long-standing beer judge and Feral’s former head brewer Will Irving. Mike Bennie, the drinks writer and co-founder of the Drink Easy Awards – which launched last year and also eschewed traditional style guidelines often the focus of drinks competitions – is involved too as WAGFG Director of Drinks.
The guide’s director, Georgia Moore (pictured below), says they had discussed adding beer along with wine last year but wanted to avoid biting off more than they could chew.
“To be honest, we’re a tad pedantic about delivering things to a particular standard, so we decided to establish the wine awards in 2019 and get that 100 percent right,” Georgia says.
WA brewers have long been able to have their beers judged locally in the Perth Royal Beer Awards, as well as in national competitions such as the Australian International Beer Awards and The Indies. One of the points of difference here is that the focus – whether it's on beer or bars – is purely on WA.
“We are a bit like an island here in WA – COVID has proven that,” Georgia says.
"I get consistent feedback from venue owners, chefs, sommeliers, vineyards and brewers that they often feel left out of the national awards programs – or simply don’t get the recognition they feel they deserve."
Considering it’s the original home of Matilda Bay, Little Creatures and Feral, all of which have played key roles in the development of beer in Australia, WA has a strong as the birthplace of craft beer. Today, the local beer scene is busier than it’s ever been and Georgia says she hopes the awards will give it a chance to shine and showcase its diversity.
“WA has produced some of Australia's most recognised and awarded beers, and our scene is thriving now, despite this year's challenges,” she says.
“Last year, the inaugural awards uncovered many great wines, and I'm personally keen to see what WA beers we find and feature this year, as I'm sure our audience is.”
As The Crafty Pint’s man out west says, there are now close to one hundred breweries in the state, ranging from large production breweries to small brewpubs and those without stainless of their own.
“Despite the challenges of this year,” Guy says, “WA beer is in the strongest, most diverse place it has been in the past twenty years.
“There’s over 20 between the two Margaret River capes, plus at least one in every major regional town in WA. Pair that thought with the sheer diversity of beer styles available, and West Australian’s should be very proud – and thirsty.”
Guy (pictured above) adds that beer drinkers, particularly younger drinkers, are embracing new styles like never before, while the ecosystem around brewing, from bars to graphic designers, is employing a lot of locals.
“Seeing younger drinkers purchasing sour beers, hazy beers and pastry stouts, as well as pale ales, seems almost commonplace now,” he says. “Likewise, there’s more interest from all beer drinkers at the opportunity for beer as an experience, more than a just refreshment."
As for what beers he’s hoping will be brought to the table at the inaugural WAGFG Beer Awards judging, he's looking forward to a collision of beers from worlds apart.
“I fully expect to find a barrel-aged beer going up against a crisp lager or dialled in XPA in the shortlist,” Guy says.
“That’s perfect because the majority of drinkers rarely spend a weekend with 24 different bourbon barrel-aged barleywines, as much as they might like to.”
Western Australian brewers have until August 28 to enter the awards, with details here.