Epic achievement

IS this the best beer in New Zealand? Well, the judges of the New Zealand Beer Awards seem to think so. They awarded Epic Pale Ale Supreme Champion status ahead of 198 other beers at the competition in Nelson a fortnight ago. It was a bold choice. If any beer was going to jump out of the glass, it was Epic – it is extreme, almost explosive, and about as far from the mainstream as it is possible to go: the next step is to stick your head into a sackful of hops. Which is where most beer judges are happiest. So when you taste Epic you will understand what turns a beer judge on – an intense, almost kaleidoscopic spectrum of aromas from tropical fruit to caramelised onions with a paddockful of herbal highs in between, rich fruity and complex malt action from a big mouthful, and a finish as sweet as violets and as dry as a week in the desert. It is also a beer without a past. It wasn’t on the market when it was judged, though novelty value and a big gold gong wouldn’t have done its May 1 launch any harm. It must have stood out from the rest of the competitors like champagne at a shiraz tasting. With international standards in mind, the panel was meagre with gold medals. The beers which mad the grade comprise a list of iconic brews: Dux de Lux Queenstown’s Alpine Ale (New Zealand Draught), Speight’s Distinction Ale (American Style Schwarzbier), Rogue Ales’ Old Crustacean and Limburg’s Oude Reserve (Barley Wine) and the aforementioned Epic (New World and American Pale Ale). There were some notable absentees, including Emerson’s, Galbraith’s and the Shakespeare, but beer awards have a lumpy history in this country and the well qualified judging panel could only judge the beers on the table. Epic is flash beer alright, with a great backstory. Its brewer, Luke Nicholas, has taken this award twice before – with the roly poly Belgian strong ale Monk’s Habit, still brewed for the Cock & Bull chain of pubs up north. Nicholas goes long on hops – he’s promoting Epic on the claim that there are 15 hops crammed into each bottle, along with premium and specialty malts and an American ale yeast. And as soon as you begin to decant the beer into a glass (and you should), you can tell you’re dealing with something different – something bigger. In the New World and American Pale Ale category, silver medals went to Epic’s stablemate Monks Habit, and to two beers from Murray’s Craft Brewing, in New South Wales’ Pub with No Beer, brewed by another leading New Zealand brewer, Graeme Mahy. Mac’s had a bronze rush with six medals, and two silvers, for Sassy Red and Black. And the Queenstown outpost of the Christchurch craft brewing icon Dux de Lux took the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy, effectively runner-up to the supreme champion. By Cameron Williamson - Dominion Post

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