“Imagination breeds innovation,” says Liam Pereira, the head beer and cider judge at the Drink Easy Awards. “Imagination is playing with new ideas and new ingredients.”

Pereira and his fellow judges will be assessing entrants in the beer and cider category at this year’s Drink Easy Awards not just for technique and style, but also for the more elusive quality of imagination.

“It’s that magical alchemy,” says Pereira. The question for judges, he says, is “How does that transfer into the glass?”

Pereira is part of the team at Batch Brewing Co, where imagination – staying fresh and current – informs much of what they do. “We produce a lot of different beers – we don’t want to produce the same beers over and over again,” says Pereira. “We do smaller batches and have lots of different things coming out. Over the course of the five and a half years we’ve been open, we’ve averaged a new beer every week and a half.”

Batch has recently opened a second small-batch brewery at Public House Petersham. “[It] is our research and development brewery … where we can really go wild,” says Pereira. “At the moment we have 20 beers on tap that are all unique.”

Batch’s inner-west neighbourhood is the first place the brewing team looks for new sources of inspiration. In 2016, Batch released the Marrickville Pork Roll, a Vietnamese banh mi reimagined as a wheat ale.

“It was very out there,” says Pereira. “A pickled sour beer is another one where we used cucumbers and hops to replicate the briny aspect of pickles.” The result was In A Pickle! Cucumber and Sorachi Ace Sour, one of Batch’s most ambitious beers to date.

New styles can be polarising, but palates are always changing, says Pereira. “The pickle beer was first done three or four years ago, and it was very divisive at the time, but we brought it back early this year, and it was a raving hit.”

The knowledge and skills that are gained during the development of a new beer like In A Pickle! can be applied in other settings. It’s this kind of experimentation that breeds expertise, he says.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of creativity on display among Australia’s craft brewers. “I always think of Wille Smith in Tasmania’s Huon Valley – they’re a great leader in innovation,” says Pereira. “They’re even distilling and making calvados out of their cider.”

Then there is Melbourne’s Moondog Brewery, which is renowned for its “really crazy beers”, such as the Apple Crumble Dessert Sour or Ogden Nash’s Pash Rash Imperial Redskin Stout. It’s a sense of fancy that extends to Moondog’s memorable nomenclature, from the mouthful that is Peter Piper’s Pickled Pepper Purple Peated Pale Ale to the pun-tastic David Boysenbowie, a Boysenberry Sour Ale.

But, Pereira says, imagination doesn’t always mean wacky. “There are other breweries doing it in a more classic way but finding really unique ingredients or processes,” says Pereira. “It could be that you find a new way to make the hops and the malts sing out in the glass.”

A good example is Sydney’s Wayward Brewery’s Raspberry Berliner Weisse, “a very classical European-style of beer, but it’s a great modern interpretation of the style,” says Pereira.

The Drink Easy Awards are not just an opportunity to reward brewers and producers for their achievements; the event is also a chance for people in the industry to come together to share ideas, he says.

“That’s when something new happens. Beer and cider have been around for thousands of years, and we’re still coming up with new ways of doing things and new styles.”

For more details, including submission details, visit Drink Easy.