This June, a novel kind of beverage competition is adding an ingredient to Sydney’s cocktail shakers, and it’s set to disrupt awards programs as we know them. Launched to a select group of industry insiders on May 8, The Drink Easy Awards promised something new. And what we found was nothing short of game changing.
Drink Easy is a celebration of Australian drinks far and wide, and event organisers Mike Bennie, Tamrah Petruzzelli and Duncan Welgemoed, are leaving no stone unturned. The project’s purpose is to change the face of beverage competitions for good, by making the critique positive, the categories relevant and the judges current. The awards are rooted in notions of inclusivity, modernity and customer orientation, and will bring together libations of all creations, including beer, wine, spirits and non-alcoholic drinks.
The name Drink Easy comes from the idea of educating consumers on which beverages are enjoyable to drink, those that ‘drink easy.’ This replaces the archaic model of customers choosing a bottle solely due to the number of metallic stickers stuck on its label – prizes which place little value on what the everyday drinker likes the taste of. In an effort to stray from this model, Drink Easy will be accessible and useful for all, so both drinkers and distillers can learn and benefit from the information.
Duncan Welgemoed, head chef and co-owner of progressive Adelaide restaurant Africola, is one of the triumvirate of organisers of the awards. When asked about his motivations for bringing Drink Easy to life, he spoke of the reality of the dining experience. Typically drinks awards have no crossover with other categories, which is not indicative of how people truly consume on a night out or a daily basis.
“They don’t go in and just drink wine. It’s going to be a case of going in having a gin and tonic or a beer, then you might head onto a sparkling, maybe a white maybe a red, and then to finish maybe with an amaro, or a whisky,” said Welgemoed. “It’s giving everyone the platform and I think that’s really important.”
The outstandingly accomplished Tamrah Petruzzelli’s experience of the unreality of drinks competitions is similar, having led the Adelaide-based awards Hot 100 Wines in 2010. Petruzzelli’s articulation of the purpose is “simply to find and celebrate South Australia’s most drinkable wines.” This competition abandoned the existing framework of judging large categories while paying little attention to the nuance of each classification. This is fitting for a time where people’s drinking habits are changing, and customers are more likely to seek a “bright white,” and will trust their server’s recommendations, rather than pursuing a particular bottle and variety. Petruzzelli’s ambition for Drink Easy is similar: to kick-start a new era of competition, something that “people can relate to across all categories.”
A particularly unique aspect of Drink Easy is its feedback scheme, predominantly led by Mike Bennie. In an Australian first, all contestants will receive detailed feedback about their submissions, which will include both praise and suggestions on how to improve the product. When explaining this inclusion, Bennie spoke of his frustrations with technocratic judging panels, who make punitive decisions about the drinks they encounter.
“They look at product and talk about what’s wrong with it rather than what’s right,” said Bennie. “I always found this a very curious way of approaching things we drink because pleasure and visceral pleasure are so important when it comes to things in glasses.”
Bennie also went on to discuss the outdated nature of the judges of these competitions, who typically have very little interaction with the intended customers of the products, and who are instead immersed in a science-based understanding of the taste.
“For me, this tasting was much more about getting in [judges] who are relevant, interesting, dynamic and who have worked within their own community at the top of their game.”
The breadth of Petruzzelli, Bennie and Welgemoed’s networks has been an asset for the awards, and helped pick the perfect quartet to lead the judging in each category.
Headlining the judging for Beer and Cider is Liam Pereira, beer and cider judge and educator in NSW. This category will be critiqued on its personality, deliciousness, versatility, interest and a balance between drinkability and complexity.
Covering the Wine category is Emma Farrelly, wine director of State Buildings, the combined hotel, dining and drinking destination in Perth, WA. Farrelly will focus on elements such as drinkability, detail, and breadth and depth of varietal and style expressions. This category will champion the highest quality of wine, with consideration of the diversity and potential of fermented grapes.
Taking the Spirits category by the reins is Griffin Blumer, co-founder and distiller of Poor Tom’s Gin. Blumer aims to identify both the ‘best examples,’ and to reward those experimenting and ideating within the spirit category. Elements to be on the look out for are interest, finesse and complexity.
Caitlyn Rees, wine director for Mary’s Group, will be leading the judging for the Non-Alcoholic category, in an Australian first. In addition to zero per cent alcohol versions of alcoholic drinks (like beer, cider, and wine) are a plethora of products which have been alcohol-free from the get go. Increasingly important in a health-conscious society, Drink Easy is celebrating this category in its own right.
Submissions open June 3 and close August 2. Judging will commence in August and will span each state throughout September and October, with results released in early November. For more details on submissions, judges, and dates, visit Drink Easy https://www.drinkeasy.com.au/