After working in various roles over the years, 55-year-old German businessman Michael Seiler has recently moved to New Zealand to discover a new career in beer, but the recent brewing graduate has already secured a big job – helping judge at the 2020 New World Beer & Cider Awards.

An inaugural graduate of Otago Polytech’s new brewing certificate programme, Seiler impressed his tutors with his passion for brewing and aptitude for tasting to secure the opportunity offered as part of the first annual New World Beer & Cider Awards scholarship.

This week he put his palate to the test as an Associate Judge at the awards, working alongside 25 of the country’s most accomplished beer and cider experts as they worked to determine the highly anticipated Top 30 winners.

Chair of Judges for the awards Michael Donaldson said the judging team welcomed Seiler to the table and along for the busy ride that is beer judging.

“Getting the chance to judge at this level is an amazing opportunity for someone starting out in brewing and we are really pleased to be able to support those entering the industry," said Donaldson.

“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. Beer judging is also collaborative – pooling feedback from your table of judges, so it’s the perfect environment for learning and expanding your tasting vocabulary."

While the Associate Judges’ scores do not count towards the final results as ‘judges in training’, they are a critical part of the table, contributing to the discussion and keeping notes.

The senior judges included talents from some of the country’s most respected breweries including Behemoth, Garage Project, Good George, Liberty, Parrotdog, Sawmill and many more. Seven other Associate Judges also joined as part of an existing programme for New World employees, helping upskill their beer and cider knowledge to share with customers and staff back in-store.

Brewing Lecturer Geoff Collie said the scholarship is a great fit with the Polytechnic’s approach to the course, which provide many practical learning opportunities in a commercial brewery operating under the Otago Brew School brand.

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

Michael moved with his wife from Germany – the home of beer, to Wanaka in 2014. The former Masters of food technology graduate come businessman had previously held roles in many industries including mining and property.

Looking for a change in direction in his 50s, he decided to pair his original interest and strong background in food technology with another personal favourite – beer. It proved a “great match” said Michael, who excelled in his studies as part of Otago Polytech’s first intake of students for the New Zealand Certificate in Brewing (Level 4).

“Being German, I had plenty experience with beer – just not making it. It’s been great to build on my previous studies, and I’ve had to expand my typically-German taste for beer beyond lagers and pilsners!”

Michael, who even sourced his own yeast to brew a Kolsch beer that proved extremely popular of the recent Dunedin Beer Fest, said the opportunity to brew on full-scale commercial equipment is a real strength of the course. “The practicalities are so important - even just gaining the physical know-how of connecting such large equipment has been invaluable.”

Since graduating, Michael has helped keep the Otago Brew School brewery humming over summer and is looking forward working with the school and local brewers in future. In the meantime, he’s continuing to put himself through the paces of blind tastings at home to prepare for the judging experience.