Friday, 13 February 2009

Judge and jury for a day

To the judging for the SIBA national contest in the post-industrial surrounds of the Canalhouse in Nottingham, a spacious waterside former wharf house that is unique because it can boast of being the only pub in the country that has a footbridge. Upstairs is where the 50 odd beers are served to several dozen judges gathered from various branches of the business of beer — brewers, journalists, maltsters, CAMRA men and others. All the beers are dispensed by hand pump and served to the brewers’ specifications — a heartening way of doing things, as one hears stories of certain big fests where brewers’ requests for their beer to be served through a sparkler are ignored. There’s also a welcome dose of reality when SIBA Julian Grocock (yes that’s his real name) gives his pep talk as a woman from the local ITV station roves about: ‘we are an organisation of commercial brewers, so as well as judging what the beer tastes like, we want you to judge how it will sell.’ Am directed to judge two categories. First of all the Milds: all are dark (no golden milds), some darker than others, all have chestnut red tints when held up to the light, one has a bitter edge with hints of fruit, another is as thin as a shadow, while one has hints of ginger and is dusty in the mouth. Finally a couple get the thumbs up: one has liquorice, soot, and milky coffee on the palate while its grainy texture gives it a contemplative chewiness, while another one is an elegant supermodel of a mild, creamy and soothing in the mouth; this is our winner. The strong bitters are not so exciting, though one has the traditional tropical fruit edge from the use of US hops and does a sprightly dance on the tongue, while another possesses a dry and rasping personality courtesy of an excess (to my mind) of chocolate malt. I let the rest of the table take the lead in deciding the winner — maybe one should only judge a single category of beer. As ever, these events are a very useful exercise in seeing (and tasting) what is out there and meeting with likeminded souls in the industry. I heartily commend you to do the same, even if it’s only your local pub having a light-hearted competition.

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