Wednesday 11 February 2015

The International Brewing Awards

Beer judges back in the 1920s, they’ve changed a bit since
Like cardinals in a conclave, coming together to elect a new pope, the brewers gather, pens poised, whispers rising to the rafters with the assurance of curls of smoke, their concentration all too evident as another sip of beer is taken and tasted and adjudged as to whether it might be classed a champion. It’s the International Brewing Awards once more, here in bleak but beloved Burton, a competition that stretches back three centuries, all the way to 1888 when the 10th Annual Brewers, Maltsters, Distillers, Mineral Water Manufacturers, Licensed Victuallers, Caterers and Allied Trades National Exhibition and Market (snappy title indeed) was the venue for what an unknown scribe in the Brewers’ Journal wrote: ‘A very happy idea was that of Messers Gillman Spencer Limited, who had a competitive exhibition of beers brewed with their patent rice and torrified barley malts. Over 100 brewers responded to the invitation with the prospects of substantial prizes apparently having proved an incentive not to be neglected. The awards gave general satisfaction and were fully appreciated by the fortunate winners.’ 

And now as it ever was, the brewers remain in the judging chair (though beer writers have occasionally dipped in and helped out including Michael Jackson, Roger Protz and Mark Dorber), men and women from all over the world, including Portland, Patagonia, Bavaria and Cornwall; and in a room at the National Brewing Centre they sit, their faces a collective mask of concentration, noting this, noting that, the eternal patience of the beer judge, carrying on a tradition and securing and anchoring a competition that began when Victoria was on the throne. For three days these week, the brewing world is in Burton and the town is all the better for it.

I’m here keeping an eye on things, a guest of the competition’s organisers, but there’s another aspect to my visit — I have written a history of this competition, Brewing Champions, which should be out in the next few weeks, I’m rather pleased with it. And when the judges go home, the hundreds of beers in bottles, cans, casks and kegs will be thrown open and shown to the public at the International Festival of Beer, which starts on Friday. Roger Protz and I are there talking and tasting on Saturday, followed by Stephen Beaumont. It should be great fun, do come.

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