Yesterday was the 2017 London And South East Craft Brewing Competition, one of the three major homebrewing events on the UK calendar. For the second year running I was there as a judge, and as an entrant.
This competition is an early starter, they want the judges there for 8:30 AM so they are ready to sit down and start judging at 9. As I live in South Wales this meant either spending a lot of money to stop overnight in London, or a very early start. I opted for the early start. I was planning on being out the door around 4:40 AM to get there in plenty of time, but I ended up dragging my heels a bit, due to being too early and not drinking enough coffee, so I didn’t leave until the far more reasonable sounding, but still too early 5 AM. I pounded down the, mostly empty, motorway listening to some brewing seminars from last years AHA Homebrew Con, before pulling up and parking at one of the few tube stations in London which is close to the M4 and has a huge car park that is free on Saturdays. With parking sorted, station traversed and ticket in hand, I was on the tube platform at Hounslow West station just before 7:20, which is just as well as they said this leg of the journey was going to take around 1 and 1/4 hours so I was cutting it a little fine.
After 2 tube trains, two interchanges, a bus and a short walk I was at the venue just about bang on 8:30, where I was greeted with a lovely choice of fresh pastries and a chance to have a chat with some fellow judges whilst the competition staff were just sorting out the last couple of bits n bobs. I’m assigned to table 3 where there are 3 pairs of judges who will be doing bitters and brown ales.
It gets to around 9 and all is set, so in we go, get ourselves set up and find what specific beers we are going to be judging. There were rows of bottles along 3 sides of the judging area, so we knew we had plenty of beer to get through, however with loads of judges there, it was a very easy and relaxed judging session. Most judges had to do less than 10 beers and just a single flight, compared to the 25+ you can expect on a 2 flight judging day at the National. Each of the judges grabs a clipboard with the flight list of the beers they will be judging and we get 9 bitters to judge. 2 Ordinary bitters, 3 Best bitters and 4 Strong bitters. If you are interested in the distinction between each of these styles, we were judging using the 2015 BJCP style guidelines. Each beer is judged against the relevent style in the guidelines and scores out of 50 are awarded based on how well the beer has been brewed, if there are any faults or issues with it and how well it matches the style. This example scoresheet will show you how detailed the judging sheets are, and the score break down.
By around 9:30, judging is well under way, we have warmed up and are getting into our stride. Each of the pairs of judges have calibrated themselves pretty well and the scores being given are very close, however with 3 different pairs of judges scoring the same table, we will need to perform a mini best of show, or Mini BOS to decide which beers get the awards and which beer goes through to the Best of Show to decide the overall winner. The other 2 pairs of judges on our table only had 6 or 7 beers to our 9, so they finished judging quite a while before us. By the time we finish judging, they were nowhere to be seen. With the help of our steward we went on to do the mini BOS by ourselves. We took the best 2 scoring beers from each pair of judges and had 6 beers to decide the top 3 places for Bitters and Browns. We immediately agreed which 3 were best and as we both had first and second in a different order, we pulled in a third judge to cast the deciding vote on which got first and second. I believe it worked out, completely by accident, that one beer from each pair of judges won a medal.
With judging of our flight over and mini BOS done, we were free to move on. Other tables were wrapping up, and didn’t need any help, so it was time for a break, a chance to catch up with friends over lunch and a beer from the Four Pure bar down the road. Around 13:30 they opened the room to the public, who could come in and sample all the beer, whilst talks and a tutored tasting were given. I was just thinking of heading home around 14:30, when I was invited to take part in the best of show judging, where the top beer from every table is put head to head to decide the overall winner. Often this falls to the more experienced or senior judges and as a relatively new judge, it was lovely to get asked. We put 13 beers side by side, and eliminated 5 in fairly quick succession, then another 3, and we got down to the last 5 at which point the decision was much harder. Is this Imperial Stout as good as this Kölsch, or this Rye IPA? We settled on the last 3 and then the discussion started in earnest about placings. We placed a Kölsch in third, a Doppelbock in second and a very original Pineapple Gose as the overall winner of the competition.
One of the judges who did BOS with me lived in Bristol and was going to have a long wait for a bus home, so I agreed to drop him off on the way past. We both set off on our trek across London and back along the M4, listening to more beer talks and putting the world to rights on the journey. When I got home, I checked my results and found two of my beers did rather disappointingly, but I have to agree with the judges scores on them as I made sure to sample a bottle of each of my entries whilst I was there, and beer that was lovely, crisp, clean and refreshing in bottles fresh from my garage here, were dull, lifeless and muddled there, I guess those 2 beers just didn’t travel very well, the Vienna Lager, however did pretty well. Perhaps if I bottle directly from keg instead of conditioning in the bottle, that will help prevent this in future. I’m looking forward to getting the judges feedback on the beers and seeing how I can improve them next time.
Thanks very much to the organisers of “The London” for a great event, which went very smoothly from a judges point of view. I look forward to coming back again next year. You can find out more about the London and the full results on the London And South East Craft Brewing Competition website. The next major competition on the UK homebrew circuit is “The Welsh” on the 1st of July which I organise, then in September we have “The National“.
For more information about upcoming competitions here in the UK you can visit UK homebrew competitions