A weekend spent in Brussels, tasting beer as part of the jury for the inaugural Brussels Beer Challenge; 30 or so judges from the UK, Europe, China, the US and Canada; 35 beers on Friday morning, 37 on Saturday (the results are here). The massed ranks of ambers parading across Friday morning, a well-organised drill of warm toffee, lemon sherbet and — sign of the times indeed — US hops. Amber is a type of beer that has often eluded me with its commonplace reliance on malt and its anonymous fruitiness; but the tasting that I took through 20 of these beers on Friday morning produced a greater appreciation even if I scribbled notes such as ‘primitive’, ‘very safe’ and ‘uninspiring’ besides some of the beers. On the other hand, one of my favourites had warm toffee on the palate, while the nose of the table’s winner rang and chimed away with the light tones of US hops (it was our winner and can be revealed as Caldera Ashland Amber ). And one of the things that I learnt from this excellent competition was that it’s ok to spit. Even though I’ve been judging beer for years, I rarely use the spittoon, adhering to the old saw that to properly evaluate the beer you had to swallow. This time I was able to taste more of the beer, holding it in my mouth, swilling it about and then spitting. I loved the moment it spent in mouth as a variety of flavours ebbed and flowed and were recorded before the liquid was jettisoned. It’s just as well: Saturday morning saw our table being presented with a nefarious host of dark beers, including Baltic Porter and Imperial Stout. Sometimes it’s good to let go.