An email seemingly out of the blue arrived a few weeks ago asking me if I would be available to join the judging panel for the World Beer Awards. Now, I love beer, I enjoy tasting different beers, I know a lot about beer, I even occasionally get paid to write about beer, but I had never had the opportunity to officially judge beer, so I was flattered to have been asked, and a touch nervous about what to expect. I would be joining a star-studded panel of experienced beer judges, from Beer Writers Guild members, to CAMRA authors and journalists. I had to give myself a little pinch to make sure the invite to sit alongside these industry professionals who I regard in very high esteem was actually real.
I spent some time researching beer styles to make sure I’d be up to the job, and I even tried to sharpen my palate drinking many different styles of beer in the days leading up to judging (it’s a tough job I know). Then finally the day arrived, round one of the judging, European Beers. Strolling through the redeveloped site of the old Norwich Brewery seemed quite apt. I arrived at Paragraph Publishing and the World Beer Awards Head Office, my fiance Sarah’s encouraging and supportive words finally sank in and I managed to put my nerves to one side.
‘Cup of Tea’ I was offered ‘I’d love a coffee’ was my instinctive retort, schoolboy error. The seasoned judges consume nothing but tea, water and Jacobs crackers for fear of jeopardising the palate. I politely declined the tea and dutifully tucked in to a jug of water with my tail between my legs.
Looking through day one’s beers for our group I was understandably disappointed to see we started with Alcohol Free and Low Carb beers, still later we’d be trying Helles Lagers and Wheat beers, and lots of them! The beers were slowly distributed on to our numbered placements by our friendly waitresses for the day, this was to be a completely unbiased tasting for each style, we tasted them blind knowing little apart from what style they had been entered for.
As my beers were being carefully transferred from the tray to my numbered mat, something wobbled, the tray slipped, the glasses toppled and I was drenched in alcohol free beer. Not quite a baptism of fire, but it broke the ice. Oddly I was now completely calm although the exceptionally apologetic girl who spilled the beer was less so!
After a quick wash and a costume change in to a freebie ‘Whisky Live‘ shirt it was back to work and the two days of judging ahead. I was very pleased with the way my palette performed, on the whole I was in agreement with the rest of the panel. Taste is such a personal thing it would be impossible, and quite dull, to agree all of the time, but I think we were all happy with general consensus over the two days.
We still have rounds 2, 3 and 4 to go, so I won’t divulge anymore for now, in any case I still don’t know what the 130+ beers that I tasted were. I do know I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am far more confident in anticipation of the next few stages where we’ll be tasting the winning beers from the rest of the world alongside our chosen European champions.
The rest of the panel:
(More information on most of the judges can be seen on the Guild website)
Adrian Tierney-Jones: (who kindly put my name forward): Journalist, Author & Secretary of the Guild
Roger Protz: Journalist, Author & Editor of the Good Beer Guide
Tim Hampson: Journalist, Author & Chair of the Guild
Steve Williams: Secretary of London Brewers Alliance
Glenn Payne: Previously Beer Buyer for Safeway & Marketing Director at Meantime
Des de Moor: Journalist and Author of CAMRA’s Guide to London’s Best Beer Pubs & Bars
Jeff Evans: Author of the Good Bottled Beer Guide, The Book of Beer Knowledge and more
Jeff Pickthall: Ex publican and beer writer
Phil Cutter: Landlord at one of Norwich’s finest beer houses The Murderers
(I later found out to my comfort, also a novice beer judge)