One of the judges at this year's New World Beer & Cider Awards says the calibre of entries was outstanding.
Simon Henderson was one of 28 independent judges blind tasting the 650-strong field.
They worked in small teams, tasting around 40 to 50 beers or ciders each per day over two days of intensive judging.
They tasted each entry, debating in-depth and rating each one on technical excellence, balance, mouthfeel and most importantly, drinkability.
Simon was judging the cider and said there was a good diversity of dry modern ciders, some dark in colour while others were pretty and delicate.
"It's all about good balance just like food really. You have to have the combinations right, salty, sweet, sour, acidity, tannin — too much of any and you lose the balance. They have to be free of unintentional faults."
Simon, who has a background in winemaking and has been making cider for eight years, says while winemaking is more "squeaky clean", it's okay to have quirky flavours in cider.
"As a judge I would ask myself 'what was the intention of the cider maker? What were they trying to create and have they succeeded'."
He says judging at these events is invaluable to him.
"You learn so much — there are always big names at these events and to be in the same room as them and hear their thoughts is amazing."
He says making beer uses the same principles as cider making. "It's also a massive benefit to hang out with the brewers."
The ciders are tasted individually by a team.
"We make notes and score and then discuss our thoughts. We are all looking for the same things so we tend to agree. We know what we are looking for.
"I am super stoked with the standard of high entries this year."
The growing number of seltzers and fruit ciders entered reflects the ever-changing consumer tastes and makes 2021 the biggest year yet for the Awards, which put the top winners front and centre with shoppers in New World stores nationwide.
This year's awards also include 100 'hazy' beers which have been deliberately brewed to appear cloudy rather than clear.
Writer, author and chairman of judges for the New World Beer & Cider Awards Michael Donaldson says the new hazy class has proved to be a well-timed addition.
"Hazy IPAs and pale ales are capturing new beer fans every day with their unique look, tropical fruit characteristics, creamy mouthfeel and sweet profile," he said.
"For many New Zealanders, beer is synonymous with a crystal-clear lager or pilsner, but it's the exact opposite with the hazies that are capturing the attention and imagination of consumers and brewers alike."
Modern hazy IPAs and pale ales are often referred to as New England IPA, a reference to their creation in the American state of Vermont in the early 2000s.
Hazy beers are noticeably cloudy, and usually present bright orange in colour – and Michael says some can be mistaken for a glass of orange juice or even a tropical smoothie.
"Brewers keep pushing the boundaries in terms of how much flavour they can cram into these beers and you can get some quite impressive outcomes in terms of flavour and colour – some with almost iridescent qualities."
Only the beer or cider in the glass will be judged – brands are kept confidential and a stringent stewarding process ensures no judge tastes a product they may have been involved with making.
The resulting New World Beer & Cider Awards Top 30 – a 'must try' list of winners that will earn a place in New World beer chillers nationwide, will be announced later this year.