Punching above their weight

09 July, 2010

This year’s International Beer Challenge proved to be bigger and better than ever.

It was bigger because there were even more entries than in recent years, and also more judges – brewers, retailers, flavour analysts, specialist writers – on hand to put them to the test. It was better because judging was tougher than ever. We looked hard at every beer, considering the appearance, aroma, taste and finish.

Through a separate expert panel, we even considered the packaging. Prizes were not handed out generously – they really had to be earned.

As ever, there were some disappointments. The pale lager sector seems to be a consistent underperformer, and wheat beers failed to inspire once again.

In other areas – imperial stouts, for instance – the quality was superb. When the dust had settled on the heated debates, we found that this year, despite an increase in entries, fewer medals were actually awarded, so each of the prizes – be it bronze, silver or gold – really is something for recipients to shout about.

Entries and winners came from all parts of the globe. We know all about the quality of the leading British brewers, and craft brewing in the US has an outstanding reputation. Not surprisingly, both countries figure among the prizewinners.

But it really is time to turn the spotlight on two other countries where beer culture is hitting new heights. Both Australia and Italy punched above their weight in this year’s event, and I can only imagine they’ll be back for more next time.

The real winners, however, are the beer drinkers of the world. It’s evident brewers have gained confidence and ability, leading them to not just perfect existing styles but also to experiment and innovate. It’s no longer a question of ales and lagers, of bitters and pilsners. Among this year’s entries we enjoyed, for example, interpretations of saison, tripel, imperial stout and authentic India pale ale. Added to these was adventure in the form of wood-aged beer, imperial IPA and a whole variety of spiced, fruited and flavoured creations that stretch beyond the, now almost conventional, coffee, chocolate and honey beers.

As a barometer of how the world of bottled beer looks year on year, the awards do an excellent job. This time, when we tapped the glass, the beer forecast looked very fair indeed.

We await with great anticipation for what next year’s judging will bring.

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