Thursday, 14 February 2013

International Brewing Awards

The world is here. There is Burton, spreading itself below me, a patient laid out upon a table, the turrets of Molson-Coors medieval in their dominance, church towers the pinprick of faith, the low mustn’t-grumble growl of traffic in the distance and the taste of beer in the wind. Brewers from all over the world sit, cloistered, content, judge and jury over a world of beers that have found themselves here in Burton, at the mercy of the International Brewing Awards. I like this event. I was here two years ago and was much impressed by the carmarderie on show between brewers, of which there are 40 of them tasting almost 800 beers and ciders. And I am here to watch and witness one of the most venerable beer contests in the world, which were first held in the Agricultural Hall in Islington in 1886 (ironically the site where Beer Exposed was on show in 2008) with only two classes of beer to be judged. The first was the best beer of any class or age with at least 15% of patent gelatinised rice malt or torrefied barley malt, while the second class offered prizes in three sections. The overall requirement was that beers be brewed with at least 10% of gelatinised rice malt and then they were split into three sections: beers with an original gravity of under 20 pounds (lbs 1055 OG), from 20-24 lbs, and 25lbs 1069 OG and upwards. Wonder if they had arguments over beer styles then… 

And one of the great advantages of being here, right now, is that you get to taste some excellent beers once the judges have come off duty. Last night Doug Odell presented Amuste, an Imperial porter made up of  20% grape must, a fabulous beer that married the sternness of porter and the love song of the wine. Then The Meddler, an old bruin ale, being at once fruity, musty, funky, sour, vinegar, sweetness and peach stone. After that Thwaites’ Ian Bearpark brought forth the twangy 13 Guns, a roustabout of a black IPA and a dark knight of a beer whose time well spent in an Islay barrel brought forth peaty, vanilla notes. 

And back at the National Brewing Centre the world of beer continues to mull and ponder on what is in the glass and late tomorrow the winners will learn what their peers thought of the beers they sent to Burton (and tomorrow just after the judges finish their work and disperse back to their own world the International Beer Festival begins, where you can taste some of the beers the judges will have made their own over these three days, why should they have all the fun?). 

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