Judging At The GBBF
The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia in London is CAMRA’s flagship event and is a massive undertaking by any measure. With nearly 60,000 visitors expected on site to help shift the some 900 beers, ciders and perries of offer, it naturally generates a lot of publicity. At the focus of all this activity is the announcement of the Champion Beer of Britain. This prestigious award not only generates publicity for the campaign but gives a visible boost to the winning brewery. Just ask some of the previous winners. Sometimes the award can appear baffling and often leads to head scratching in some quarters. For example, the award going to strong dark beers for the last two years led to mutterings about what CAMRA was playing at. The process is, theoretically at least, quite simple albeit little understood even by CAMRA members. A perceived lack of transparency coupled with a rather laboured category system has lent the process an aura of mystery. But that was to change this year.
|(Enjoying themselves while all the hard work goes on upstairs)|
Yes, thanks to the folk at Lettherebebeer, yours truly was invited to be a judge. Obviously they wanted to bring a touch of professionalism to the proceedings. So I duly turned up on the Tuesday to do my civic duty. Being the consummate professional, I had of course abstained from alcohol for weeks beforehand. Ok, I may have had a few in the Euston Tap the night before. Or several even. Well they did have a Czech beer tap takeover. Don’t worry about it, Tyson, I hear you say. Anyone would have done the same. Thanks, I appreciate that. I had, however, abstained from spicy foods and cleaned my teeth. So my palate was fresh even if my body was a little tired. I was to be judging on one of the semi-final panels and looking at the bigwigs and celebrities milling around, I realised I’d have to be at the top of my game. Luckily, of course, I always am.
Basically CAMRA has a number of categories for all beer types: Bitters, Speciality Beers, and Porters etc. Now some of these are plainly nonsensical; the Golden Ales category springs to mind as a category so vague you could drive a Russian aid convoy through it. CAMRA, it has to be said, are well aware of the shortcomings. However you can only work within the structure you have and so the beers that have arrived at GBBF through various channels compete in their selected category. The qualifying rounds see the best of each category selected and these eventually get to compete against each other in the semi-finals. These split all the categories into two groups and I was placed on the panel that was judging Porters, Stouts, Strong Milds, Barley Wines, Speciality Beers and…Golden Ales.
There were seven of us on the panel including our chairman, Phil. He’d been swapped at the last minute with Roger Protz. Obviously Protzy had sized me up and realised he’d met his match. Being the only first-timer I was a little nervous but my fellow judges were great and Phil was an excellent chair who kept nudging us along nicely. The idea is that you rate the 6 (unknown) beers out of 10 for appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste. You’re also presented with a copy of the CAMRA guidelines for beer styles to refer to. These actually came into play when the barley wine entry was judged to be more of an American IPA than a genuine barley wine. Technical analysis was on hand from Steve, the guy behind well-renowned American brewery Bear Republic and Deborah who was a Dr of Beerology. Well she has a Doctorate in Brewing Science, but If I were her, I’d put ‘Dr of Beerology’ on my business card. She certainly knew her C2H5OH from her C3H7OH, anyway.
|(The aftermath of all the judges' hard work)|
Eventually all the beers had been sampled with rough scoring and notes taken. Then it was time to revisit any that warranted a second look and then put in your final scores for the chair to collect. The sheets are then whisked away for processing and the winners go into the final. I’d say that three of our selection were discounted fairly early on and it emerged afterwards that everyone had boiled it down to two. The eventual winner-Oakham Citra-was the almost unanimous choice; with only one person putting it second. And that was that. Just time for a bit of schmoosing and then a lot of drinking. Well, beer judging is very thirsty work.
My thanks to my fellow judges and to Anne and Abbie for looking after me.