Saturday, 10 May 2014

Judge not, lest thee be (beer) judged.


I'm writing this whilst I've got an experience fresh in my memory, although not so fresh that I am still refreshed (although I reserve the right to refresh myself either during or immediately after I have finished this writing activity).   As is the fashion, I'm not going to write about process, it's more of a reflection, or maybe a musing.  Frankly I can't be arsed to do a Google: define thing.  This should not diminish any enjoyment you may draw from this post.

Yesterday, I went along to the Ludlow Beer and Food Festival in Ludlow Castle.  It's the third year that I've been invited to judge at this wonderful event run by the Society of Independent Brewers Association (SIBA) - for those who weren't paying attention to YouTube at the relevant moment, here is a link to my first appearance there in 2012 with the ever lovely Charlie and Cheryl who work with SIBA and Quantock Brewery respectively Ludlow 2012 ).

Clearly I was a bit tipsy that first go around, but judging was very new territory at that point for me. Having the discipline to get through thirty odd beers and retaining your wits as well as your palate is bloody hard going.

So anyway, back to the action.

It's 2014 and @realalein140 is making his way to Ludlow solo, no Real Ale Craft Beer to hold his hand this year (he was in Poland, brewing with a Pole), just a book, a camera and some diaoralite (for dealing with any potential hangover on the train home) - and it's this experience of flying solo that's given me inspiration for today's drivel.  You see, the SIBA events are great in terms of the panel of judges they assemble (as well as the beer they have).


Who did I meet?  I'm not going to name names (mostly because I'm awful at remembering names), but I am going to consider some of the 'types' that I have met in my three years of attending.

Type 1:  The Happy Brewer

These guys are the best.  They know their beer, they are enthusiastic about their beer, they also know their science and their sanitary conditions.  As long as you demonstrate some knowledge of what they do and an interest in how they do it, they'll be happy to talk malts and hops, yeasts, off-flavours and mash temperatures - for me, having taken up a little bit of wholegrain brewing as a hobby, this is brilliant.  These guys are a wealth of interesting stuff, they'll also generally make the best recommendations as to what is behind the bar in that happy window of an hour or so when the beer is still gratis (before the public enter).   They will be happy to get a little bit tipsy with you once the results are out.

Type 2:  The Miserable Brewer

Despite the title, I like these guys.  Often northern for some reason, maybe I'm mistaking northern-ness for miserableness.  I don't think so though - I did live in the north for some time, so I've got a handle on the difference.  Think Fred Dibnah, but interested in brewing rather than industrial history.  Once you've got the twinkle in their eye going, and not shown yourself up by being loud (in a southern way), or flashy (again in a southern way) and again shown some knowledge and interest, these guys are pretty good value.  There are some that I've found to be impenetrable though, and that's down to either me or them being an unsociable arse.  I couldn't possibly prejudice your thoughts on this.

Type 3:  Young-ish CAMRA bloke

The 'young' is slightly misleading, but I hesitate to use the word 'new' because it isn't quite right.  These are the CAMRA people that understand that maybe the CAMRA acknowledged definition of what is real ale was probably a reaction to a particular kind of culture and set of circumstances some time in the mid '70s. These are the people that will happily accept that a good beer is a good beer, regardless of the journey it has undertaken to get in their belly.  These are good people to drink and natter with, they'll have an open mind and understand what you are doing as a blogger, hell, they might even appreciate it - or even be doing it themselves.

Type 4:  Old-ish CAMRA bloke

The 'old' again is misleading, it relates to attitude.  I have undoubtedly cheesed off a number of these guys. When you enter into conversation with them, woe betide if you are a blogger or a 'product of the modern age' as I was referred to as once.  It's like you can't possibly compete with them unless you had a flat cap and remember Watney's Red Barrel when it was still nice (I don't know if it was ever nice - in a sense I don't care either - it's not been sold in my drinking lifetime).  These guys don't want you in their special club, no matter how big your beard.  If anyone can think of any sensible reasons for this, answers on a postcard (or in the comments box).  Maybe they just don't like anyone, maybe their prostate is playing them up, you can never tell.

Type 5:  Other bloggers

Pleasingly, I've yet to meet another blogger at a festival with whom I felt anything other than an immediate camaraderie.  These guys understand the struggle.  We have reputations to try and maintain, so doing these events is a serious business for us.  You've also got immediate common ground and probably some recommendations for each other.  A quick hello here to the Ormskirk Baron and Christopher R (whose excellent work can be found here .

Type 6:  Industry people

These people are sometimes very interesting.  They'll be selling scientific aids or peculiar widgets or things that go pop or bang (or stop things from going pop or bang), or an app or some-such.  Often they are in attendance as their company has sponsored an award.  Whatever they do, they'll probably have some insider information about who is buying what or who is doing things a particular way - information that will be recycled after an appropriate amount of time as knowledge - and bloggers like their knowledge.

Type 7:  General public

Only one minor difference between them and the bloggers really, these people are in this for the pure pleasure and hedonism of trying a dozen ales before lunchtime.  I've been to festivals in this guise - it's bloody great.


So there, a quick round-up of attendee categories.  I'd be interested if you've got any others to suggest.

Until next time.