|This is what judging beer looked like in the Brewers Exhibition |
back in 1937; the bowler hats are probably in the cloakroom
However, there is a serious side to things. There are 26 categories of beers, including golden ales, IPAs (both English and American influenced), beers made with wine must, sour beers, a variety of Belgian, German and British influenced beers and the one beer style that is uniquely Italian chestnut beer (though it has to be said it’s not the most popular category). We received a press pack with a thorough dissection of what to expect from the variety of beers, the colours, the taste specs, the clarity (or not), the persistence of the foam and whether or not some diacetyl could be allowed. I’m relatively relaxed when it comes to style perimeters, but I found the existence of these rules intriguing and thought-provoking, it was a challenge to be faced, it made for stimulating conversation and it made me think about the beer I was dealing with.
The styles our table dealt with were golden ales, honey beers (a collective groan from the table when we saw this, though there was a stunning one made with chestnut honey), the final of Italian lagers, double IPAs (not as impressive as the ones I judged last year) and the final of Belgian-influenced dubbels. The latter was incredibly impressive and for once we didn’t discover any DMS, diacetyl or solvent notes. However, there were two beers we knocked out, which was when I held a light amber glass to the light, then sniffed the crystalline, slightly dessert wine nose that reminded me of a tripel and uttered the words: this is not to style.
So what I have learned about Italian beer? BrewFist’s Galaxy saison is a superb beer, but I couldn’t pick out any saison character (the Galaxy gives it a big fat character that for me swamps the pleasing austerity of saison); the same brewery’s Too Late double IPA is incredibly drinkable, even at 9.4% and HopFelia’s Foglie d’Erbe is a ringing, chiming assemblage of Northern Brewer, Tettang, Centennial, Citra and Amarillo that all comes together to form a bright, brilliant, zestful, cheerful IPA. I have learned that not all honey beers are bad; I have learned that some Italian brewers make what they call a double IPA but during brewing it seems that they get to the hop precipice, look over and turn back; I have learned that not all Italian beer people swoon over Le Baladin anymore; I have learned that there are some superb lagered beers being made (Bruton’s floral, crisp and bittersweet Eva for instance); and I have learned that dry-hopping roast potatoes is a brave and bold move but doesn’t necessarily work. After all, spuds and hops, er, this is not to style.