Media: Sprig and Fern's Banner flies high at national brewing awards

TIM O'CONNELL
Last updated 16:42, September 16 2018
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 Colin Mallon, left, and Sprig and Fern's Tracy Banner at the Brewers Guild Awards held at Trafalgar Centre, Nelson. Image taken by Virginia Woolf.

Colin Mallon, left, and Sprig and Fern's Tracy Banner at the Brewers Guild Awards held at Trafalgar Centre, Nelson. Image taken by Virginia Woolf.

Thirty-five years of mastering the perfect drop has seen Nelson master brewer Tracy Banner's cup runneth over at this year's Brewers Guild of NZ Awards.

Banner received the Morton Coutts Trophy at the gala dinner event, held at Nelson's Trafalgar Centre on Saturday evening.

Named after the New Zealand inventor who revolutionised the science of brewing beer through the continuous fermentation method, the award recognised innovation and/or outstanding achievement in the brewing industry.

For Banner, a life's work began as a teenager in the UK, starting her apprenticeship with brewing giant Greenalls, Bass and Cains on September 21, 1983.

Arriving in New Zealand in 1994, her career has allowed her access to all areas of the industry, from the first female brewery manager of Speight's in 2005, brewing for Lion and Mac's before buying into Sprig & Fern in 2009. 

The chain of neighbourhood pubs has now reached double figures around the Nelson region as well as Wellington and Christchurch.

Banner has also offered her time to mentor fellow brewers or provide feedback to Crop and Food Research on new hop varieties. 

In 2013, Banner was also named a top 10 finalist in the NZ Women of Influence Awards.

"It's such a prestigious award, I've been pinching myself today just blown away, but I am a grafter and I work really hard, so it's nice to be rewarded like that."

Banner was pleased to receive the award in her home city and expressed optimism for the future of brewing in New Zealand.

"It's definitely in a good space and it's still growing."

Banner's acknowledgement was one of two awards bestowed on the Richmond-based brewery this year, having also received a trophy award for their 2017 packaging rebrand.

Marlborough's Moa Brewing Company was named Champion New Zealand Beer as well as receiving the best US Ale trophy for their Southern Alps White IPA.

Among the other overall winners were Speight's Triple Hop Pilsner in the International Lager category, Bach Brewing Company in the champion NZ exhibitor category and Parrotdog and Fork were named champion NZ medium and small breweries, respectively.

 The team from Double Vision Brewing Mario Lanz, left, Evarn Flaunty, Warren Drahota, and Harry Henriksen at the Brewers Guild Awards held at Trafalgar Centre, Nelson. Image by Virginia Woolf.

The team from Double Vision Brewing Mario Lanz, left, Evarn Flaunty, Warren Drahota, and Harry Henriksen at the Brewers Guild Awards held at Trafalgar Centre, Nelson. Image by Virginia Woolf.

Steam Brewing was named Champion New Zealand Manufacturer, while the award for Specialty, Experimental, Aged, Barrel, Wood-Aged went to 8 Wired Brewing for Lokomotiv Merlot.

The annual NZ Beer Awards is a competition organised by the Brewers' Guild to celebrate excellence in the brewing industry, which includes beer, innovation, achievement and beer writing.

Over 900 entries were judged anonymously over three days by a closed panel of 30 national and internationally qualified judges and trainee judges.

The judging process is blind and sees a panel of judges assess each beer individually against the style guide for each category for aroma, colour, bitterness, flavour and presentation as well as for overall balance.

Guild executive director Sabrina Kunz said the awards' return to Nelson after 20 years was culmination of what had been a big year for the brewing industry, which was highlighted by the diverse range of champions across all the trophies.

"We've been tracking around that 900 entry mark for the last couple of years and if you talk to the brewers, they don't enter all of their beers each year, so what that means for consumers is there is some amazing choice out there."

"We wanted to get back to Nelson, in part because it's where craft brewing took off in NZ but also to honour some of our folks who've been participating in the Brewers Guild - Emma McCashin is our outgoing president and of course Tracy Banner has been instrumental in the industry, as well as NZ Hops."

Kunz said the Strong Pale Ale category continued to grow every year and was beginning to reflect in consumer demand, while an increasing range of low or non-alcoholic beers which was an area the Guild would watch with interest. 

The full list of winners can be found here

Lou Draper