Sunday, 18 October 2009

International Beer Challenge

More beer, this time last Wednesday. I think I'm starting to catch up with myself at last. The International Beer Challenge 2009 had it's presentation of awards in the Royal Society of the Arts Vaults. An interesting location two floors underground. Rather prevents any twittering, which is a shame as my BlackBerry had been fully charged. OK, I'll take some pictures instead. Would you believe it my camera battery was flat. Luckily I managed to find a socket and get some life back into it.

I wasn't sure what the awards were about. I'd not even had a chance to swat up before I went, but I was keen to find out whilst I was there. Of course these gatherings are always useful for networking anyway, and learning as much as I can about how the beer world works. There is the completely incidental issue of getting to taste a few beers, not that that had any influence on my desire to attend.

It's about bottled beers, if you haven't already done what I should have done two weeks ago and checked the web site. "The world's largest packaged beer competition" it says. I wonder if that's true. Surely we can't do something bigger than the yanks? Well whatever, there was probably as many different bottles of beers as I've ever seen in one room, or dungeon. Although having been to Delirium Café in Brussels I guess that's a lie. However, I got to try a few more than I'd normally try in one session.

As for the awards themselves? Well here are the winners of each section

NABLAB - Bill Brewer, Harvey and Son
Ales - Highlander, Fyne Ales
Stouts and Porters - Prince of Denmark, Harvey and Son
Lagers - Samuel Adams Traditional Bock, The Boston Beer Company
Wheat Beers - Hefeweissbier, Weihenstephan
Fruit Beers - Redoak Framboise Froment, Redoak Boutique Beer
Speciality - Bracia, Thornbridge

The overall winner was - Hefeweissbier, Weihenstephan

Interesting, I didn't rate it very highly, I'm sure I've had better Weissbier. But there, just my opinion.

Now what I thought was interesting was the section on branding. The point being made was that most bottled beers need to sell themselves on the shelves of supermarkets. A good brand needs to stand out amongst other brands and be recognisable and look desirable. It's not good enough just to make quality beer. Pete Brown gave another interesting talk on the subject1 of why it is important to look at how beer is sold. I'm going to start believing him before long and do something about my own image.

I was intrigued by one category in the Design and Packaging section which seemed to be awarded for not dicking around with an existing brand. Don't fix what ain't broke - Somebody should tell Microsoft that, eh Pete? Ahem...anyway, I was quite pleased that Robinson's lack of progressive thinking actually won this for them. Old Tom won because they had the good sense to maintain a branding that stood up as an icon of enduring quality whilst not looking out of place alongside contemporary designs. At least that was something like what was said.

I did try Old Tom and can say I did quite like it, so there you go.

There were two other awards in the branding bit;

Repackaged - Clouded Yellow, St Austell Brewery
New - Ola Dubh 40, Harviestoun Brewery

I had a nice chat with the Green King head brewer, my notes say he's called Ed Kentishbarnes, I do hope I've got that right. It surprised me just how similar their brewing process was to Fullers. Blending probably at different stages of the process but still using two different streams to control the parameters of the finished product. Moreover I am reminded of one thing - brewers have no secrets, we all like to chat about brewing. From that we can again be reminded that beer is a social drink.

The full list of results are here, if you're really interested. Actually, if you're not interested they are still in exactly the same place, sorry but your disinterest will not make them go away.


1None of us believed it was that big, but a good story teller... well.... tells a good story.


Brewers Union Local 180 said...

My oh my, but you're prolific these last few days.

Interesting to me was the award to Weihenstephan, which is the one beer that we sell here in a bottle.

Erlangernick said...

Weihenstephan is like the American Budweiser of Weizenbier! Jeebus, what were the competitors?

Wot--every beer that's entered must get a medal of some kind?

Tandleman said...

That'sthe problem with these things. Weihanstephan isn't even the best weizen in Freising, never mind the world!

Unknown said...

Nick, I think the view of the judges was that anything that was of a sufficient quality got a medal. For instance Harvey and Son only got a bronze for there low alcohol Bill Brewer. They still won the section on the basis of it being the only beer in that section.

There were a few that didn't even make the bronze and simply got "commended"

Erlangernick said...

That's just lame. The best should win gold, second best silver, and third best bronze. Honourable mentions are also nice.

Jeff Pickthall said...


The winner has got to be selected from the entrants. If the better beers from Freising were entered, they may have won. You can't make them enter.

@Woolly Dave

It was the view of the organisers, not the judges. You've got to think of the use of Gold/Silver/Bronze like exam results A/B/C or 1st/2.1/2.2. This criticism has been raised with them.

I judged industrial lager, stout & porter, wood aged beers and packaging/design.

Tandleman said...

@ Pickhall
Indeed, but it still shows the weakness of these sort of competitions.