The judging took place at The White Horse, in Parson’s Green, South West London about three stops on the London Underground from Wimbledon, where British tennis players were valiantly losing their matches against international opponents.
The White Horse is a wonderful pub, it’s light, airy, has a great food menu and a pretty awesome array of beers. It also has knowledgeable bar staff, so I can recommend a visit if you ever find yourselves in South West London. It’s only a few ‘tube’ stops from Earl’s Court and well worth the trip.
The International Beer Challenge took place upstairs, and around thirty beer aficionados were split into teams of five or six. Each team had an appointed ‘captain’ – who was responsible for collating the team’s scores.
My team comprised:
- Tim Hampson (Captain), a well respected Beer Writer and chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers
- Leigh Norwood, who recently started his own beer shop in Cheltenham
- Howard Winn, who is an independent drinks consultant, who worked for many years at a senior level in the drinks department at Sainsburys – a major UK supermarket
- Dale Tomlinson – a graphic designer who has designed a number of books about beer
I’d never attended an organised tasting, so excuse the detail if you have, but each team was presented with ‘flights’ of beers – each ‘flight’ comprising six, seven (or in one case twelve) different numbered beers in a given category. About one or two ‘inches’ of each beer were provided, along with spittoons, but I didn’t see any evidence of them being used.
- ‘No Alcohol/Low Alcohol’ beers (known in ‘the trade’ as NABLABS)
- Pale Lager Above 5%
- Vienna/Marzen Beers
- Golden Ales above 5%
- Milds & Strong Milds
- Fruit Beers
Other teams had other ‘flights’ and I’m sure that other teams covered the flights that we enjoyed, to give a balanced view.
Some things that struck me:
- We enjoyed a NABLAB Weizen (German style Wheat Beer) that I could quite easily enjoy, although it split the team in terms of opinions. It worked for me though.
- As an occasional lager drinker, I was shocked by how bland and tasteless the ‘premium’ 5% lagers tasted.
- ‘Strong Milds’ (the brewers decided which category they wished to enter their brews into) was a very ‘broad church’ ranging from strong English Ales through to a Belgian ‘red’ that I suspect I recognised as an old friend – we’ll see when the results are announced.
- The fruit beers ranged from cherry, raspberry, strawberry, through lemon, elderflower, an almond/peach brew and a couple where we, as a team, struggled to identify what the fruit was!
All in all it was a long, but fascinating day, we started at nine thirty and finished just before five – with a break for sandwiches and a pint at lunchtime!
It was also an interesting day, I met some old friends, made some new friends (both liquid and human), and I look forward to the awards ceremony, to actually find out which beers were which – and to see if I was right about the Belgian red!