Now here’s somewhere I’ve never been before: the Burton Unions at Marston’s, a system of fermentation that was once common throughout the brewing industry but is now all on its lonesome, here at Marston’s in dear old Burton. Here we are, at ease a massive hall, a warehouse space, walking along a gantry and down below there they are. Long stainless steel troughs filled with a landscape of creamy, rocky-headed foam. Beer drips steadily from swan neck pipes into these troughs, a steady, constant tap tap tap of beer; it drips with the same measured rhythm that I imagine blood has on its journey through the body, the action of fermentation the heart that drives the blood. Down below the troughs, in unison, grouped together, massive oak barrels from where the beer rises up, driven to despair by the act of fermentation (there are 264 of them); meanwhile fruity estery, slightly sulphury aromas hang in the air, scraps of paper twisting and turning as they rise from a bonfire. Down below I note a man, scurrying about, checking this, checking that. There’s another man on another gantry, checking, checking, checking. The sound of an air conditioner, the just about audible tap tap tap of beer, an amazing space that I’d never been to before, Burton’s last unions. A pint of Pedigree please.
And then out into the night into another space, more convivial, human, a beer dinner with the judges of the Brewing Industry International Awards, currently on show in Burton-upon-Trent, a competition 125 years old, a competition with over 800 beers being judged by judges from across the world — and at the end of the week you get a chance to try a lot of the beers at the International Festival of Beer being held at the National Brewing Centre. To observe, to watch, to see how they judge, that’s why I’m here, but to learn as well. Look there’s John Keeling from Fuller’s, James Clarke from Hook Norton and Doug Odell from Colorado. Stefano Cossi from Thornbridge is about somewhere as is Peter Eells (Tim Taylor), Geoff Larson (Alaska) and Dimitri Staelens (Moortgat). It’s a talent of judges and today is the second day of judging. I’m just off in a minute in the company of Pete Brown to see how they get on — I’ll be in touch.