A journey to beer nirvana

Wanaka’s Michael Seiler (centre) tries his hand at judging beer at the New Zealand Beer and ...
Wanaka’s Michael Seiler (centre) tries his hand at judging beer at the New Zealand Beer and Cider Awards. Photo: Peter Meecham
Wanaka’s Michael Seiler had never brewed a beer two years ago, now he is sitting at the judging table at one of New Zealand’s top beer competitions. Rebecca Fox talks to Seiler about his journey to beer nirvana.

After 25 years of sitting behind a desk Michael Seiler was ready for a change.

It took a push from his wife and the start of a new qualification for him to give up his day job and retrain.

So despite never having brewed a beer in is life, he enrolled in the Otago Polytechnic’s certificate in brewing course.

‘‘I love beer and I thought it would be a great opportunity to combine my previous experience.’’

Seiler, who moved to Wanaka six years ago so he and his wife could be closer to their Australian-based daughter, originally studied food technology back home in Germany.

‘‘Being German, I had plenty of experience with beer — just not brewing it.’’

He also liked the idea of trying his hand at something practical after sitting behind a desk for his previous jobs with food and mining companies and then property development here.

His beer experience was mainly with lagers and pilsners but his time in New Zealand had expanded his knowledge to pale ales and IPAs.

‘‘I came to learn this kind of beer.’’

Seiler really enjoyed his time on the course, finding the younger students more than helpful to the ‘‘old German guy’’with little practical experience.

Since the course came to an end he has been brewing under contract for Otago Brew School lager for Cromwell’s local pubs.

He was also awarded the inaugural New World Beer and Cider Awards scholarship allowing him to attend the award judging as an associate judge.

Chairman of judges Michael Donaldson says getting the chance to judge at this level is an amazing opportunity for someone starting out in brewing.

‘‘It’s a rare opportunity to put your sensory skills to such an intensive test, tasting and evaluating up to 60 beers per day over two days.’’

As the judging is collaborative, it’s a great environment for learning and expanding a brewer’s tasting vocabulary, he says.

Brewing lecturer Geoff Collie says the scholarship is a great fit with the polytechnic’s approach to the course, which is to provide practical learning opportunities in a commercial brewery.

‘‘We want to craft award-winning brewers of the future and the judging scholarship is another way to provide a pathway for students.’’

Seiler found the judging process to be a ‘‘great help’’ for learning about different beers.

‘‘It’s been very tiring. It’s been helpful to improving my abilities to classify beers and a great experience to see how judges judge beer, its characters and properties.’’

The biggest problem for him is his lack of experience with stouts, porters or sour beers.

‘‘I don’t drink these beers very often and I’ve never brewed one.’’

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