Duncan Welgemoed (Africola), Tamrah Petruzzelli (Super Assembly) and Mike Bennie (P&V Merchants) launched the Drink Easy awards on 8 May at Restaurant Hubert in the Sydney CBD. The trio has combined their diverse backgrounds to build an innovative approach to drinks judging.

Drink Easy aims to shake up the existing framework for drinks judging while celebrating the culture that surrounds brewing, distilling and fermenting. All streams of beverage creation in Australia will be brought together, with an egalitarian attitude underpinning the judging process.

Drink Easy will cover four categories: beer & cider, wine, spirits and non-alcoholic. Judges will come from a range of sectors within and tangential to the hospitality industry including farmers, producers, providores and chefs. The Drink Easy judges will take part in ‘local cultural programs’, which will be curated by Welgemoed.

Four head judges have been announced. Liam Pereira (Batch Brewing Co) will lead the beer & cider category, Emma Farrelly (State Buildings) the wine, Griffin Blumer (Poor Tom’s Gin) the spirits and Caitlyn Rees (Mary’s Group) the non-alcoholic.

Petruzzelli has been working with web developers to build technology that will allow for the creation of a matrix of results, including top 10 lists of almost any combination imaginable, such as a Top 10 Beers in Australia or Top 10 Beers in any particular region.

Eschewing the traditional bestowal of ‘medals’ and endorsements, the team will instead create a permanent guide in partnership with Broadsheet, which consumers and trade professionals can use to learn about drinks producers who are at the apex of their category — whether it’s a mainstream beer brand or boutique winemaker.

“My dream for this award is that I’d love to see Carlton Draught sitting next to Young Henrys or a Commune of Buttons sitting next to a bottle of Grange,” says Welgemoed. “It’s all very well to go ‘this is a natural wine awards’ or ‘this is craft beer only’ but that pigeon-holes you and alienates you from the rest of the market.”

Instead, Welgemoed hopes to appeal to drinkers far and wide. “It gives an opportunity for a XXXX to be judged by the best palates in Australia with full transparance and without any bullshit or agenda.

“Then XXXX drinkers might go, ‘Oh my beer is on there’ and [the list] might recommend a smaller producer and then they’ll go check them out as well because they can relate to the list.”

All producers entering the awards will be given full, edited notes on the products they enter.

“All judges take notes,” says Petruzzelli. “We just want to elevate the standards of those notes … we want it to be palatable to everyone who reads it.”

Bennie also echoes the sentiment. “If you’re paying good money [to enter awards] as a producer who labours over a product … it doesn’t matter if it’s kind of shitty or moderate or really good; you don’t get any feedback,” says Bennie. “For me and the team at Drink Easy, we thought the most important thing to do is to give people feedback.”

While shaking up the established categories, the awards will also provide a basis for judging the ever-growing range of non-alcoholic beverages. “I don’t think there’s anybody that can say they’re an expert in non-alcoholic Australian beverages,” says Rees, the category’s head judge.

Rees has worked at Momofuku Seiobo and Copenhagen’s Relae, both of which she points to as leading the charge when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks. While the Mary’s Group sommelier has experience judging wine, the non-alcoholic category presents an exciting challenge.

“Normally with wine judging there’s a specific language you use and a paradigm of exactly what you’re looking for in the wine,” says Rees. “With non-alcoholic, it’s not even a category — it’s a lot of categories. Kombucha will fall into it, shrubs will fall into it, and non-alcoholic beers will fall into it. You can’t have one way of looking at each drink; it has to be a little more open-minded and creative. Going into next year and the year after, we’ll have more of a language.”

Submissions open on 3 June and close on 2 August. Judging will take place in each state until October,with a number of awards ceremonies to take place throughout Australia in November. The Drink Easy awards will also include a series of national events, tastings and educational gatherings.

Image credit: Andre Castellucci

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