Day 4: Category 13 starting early

We made it, to the final competition session, despite a power cut on the underground. There’s a mist over the water: dimma, in Swedish. There’s a saying ‘in i dimman’: into the mist. Almost, “unto the breach”. Beginning at 9 AM, yes, that’s NINE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!!! with the category I traditionally think of as Best After-breakfast Whisky, but which in reality, is Deluxe Blends.

Once you get your head around the concept of putting-whisky-in-your-mouth-at-09.00-hours-is-OK-because-I’m-only-tasting, you discover, your senses of taste and smell are better earlier in the day. Still, it feels a very weird thing to do.

Day 3: Killer flights

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m taking part in some kind of Japanese game show; this is much more fun than it is endurance. Tonight’s categories included Mild Malts, of which 48 different whiskies were entered. It took some time to sort that lot out, and although it was tought, it was obvious that even tasted blind, there was remarkable agreement among the judges as to what was outstanding.

One bourbon, one scotch, one beer… and the rest. Stockholm Whisky Competition Day 2

Borrowing words from the old John Lee Hooker song. On Day 2 of the Whisky Competition at the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival, I’m talking about categories, not single drinks. Except for the beer, that wasn’t in the competition, just a gift from a fellow judge.

In fact, as well as the Bourbon-style category (17 whiskies) and the scotch, Mild Blends (13) and Malts 9-12 year-old (36), there was the Irish (18). Getting close to 90 samples again – this is no walk in the park.John Lee got nuthin’ on me.

Session 3 beckons… Meanwhile, here’s Angela D’Orazio, the competition head judge.

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Whisky competition begins

First session of the whisky competition with a mind-boggling 353 whiskies to try in 18 different categorieis over four days. This is no easy task. I’ll be updating later, but I’m sworn to silence, so can’t give too much away. So far, we think the quality is higher than last year.

Forget the Munich beer festival – Stockholm is where you need to be

Don’t take my word for it; Michael Jackson said that the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival was the most important beer festival in Europe. That’s Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter, Whisky Stalker, not the self-proclaimed King of Pop, who never went to either the Stockholm festival or Oktoberfest, as far as I know. Or, maybe he went there with Elvis under cover.

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This post comes as I’m about to pack my bags for Stockholm and to spend four evenings as a whisky judge in the whisky competition associated with the festival. It is very definitely whisky and beer, and whisky was the reason Michael Jackson was in Stockholm to proclaim. I’m very proud to say I was on the judging panel with MJ twice and this is the 13th straight year I’ve been a jury member.

Is it a bit weird that Stockholm should have a prestigious beer and whisky festival? How did that come about? And why beer AND whisky? Sweden is all vodka and snaps and light lager, right? On top of that, Isn’t it all wincingly expensive?

Answers to these questions and more over the course of the festival. I will be tweeting and posting all the while.

Meanwhile, to get you in the mood, here is the phlog form the  Stocholm Beer and Whisky Festival 2009.

The Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival takes place 30 September to 2 October and 7 – 9 October. http://www.stockholmbeer.se/en

Welsh Micro-brews Missing in Beacons. Dastardly Carlsberg Plot Uncovered?

Nobody ever leaves their pint, do they? Not in real life. It annoys me when I watch TV and there’s a scene in the pub and the characters go to the bar, order a couple of beers, take a gulp and then leave. That actors are probably drinking cold, stewed tea is no excuse; it’s just not realistic, is it? In the real world, it doesn’t matter if the last train is about to leave, or the taxi arrives, you drink the rest of your pint – or at least, everybody I know does. Until last night.

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I’m on the annual weekend away with five mates from school, but it’s not meant as a boozy few days away from families. We choose places where there’s good hill walking and occasionally, we cycle. Beer is always involved; no mistaking that it is a social weekend, and five out of the six of us like a properly-kept pint of cask ale. So this year’s trip to the Brecon Beacons promised a good deal of beery delights, given the upsurge in craft brewing in Wales, along with scaling its highest point: Pen y Fan. What it delivered was also the lowest point in the Beacons: probably the worst beer in the World.

No, it wasn’t Carlsberg lager, although it was brewed by that brewing conglomerate. In Taybarns, the restaurant associated with Premier Inn where we were staying, I wasn’t expecting to find anything from a Welsh micro. I plumped for a Stella, which was OK: refreshing and certainly drinkable after an early start, a quick hike up the Sugarloaf Mountain, followed by the beautiful, wooded valley of the Pontneddfechan Falls, and a yomp across marshy heathland after failing to agree which was the best way back to the car.

I didn’t even see the Tetley’s Smooth on the first round, and I might not have chosen it anyway, but it’s a manageable ABV at 4-something per cent, compared to the 5% ABV Stella Artois. Perhaps wise to change down on an empty stomach. I took one sip of my shaving foam-capped pint and scowled. Was there something wrong with it? Two sips and no sourness or other off flavours. It tasted fresh but horrible. To paraphrase Douglas Adams: almost, but not quite, exactly unlike beer.

I felt a strange and uncomfortable feeling rise up. “I’m not going to finish this”, I thought. Worryingly, I was in danger of turning into soap-opera pub man. I was going to leave my pint! Quite why I didn’t think of taking it back to the bar, I’m not sure. The Tayburns staff certainly proved to be very friendly and helpful, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have begrudged my request. Perhaps I was afraid they’d think I was a real ale snob. I don’t remember why I didn’t – I was in shock.

I used to drink Tetley’s in Sheffield as a cask ale, years ago, and enjoying it. What had they done? Was it a ploy by Carlsberg to make deliberately bad beer to trick youngsters into thinking all ale was like that? Then the taxi arrived to whisk us off to the nearest pub recommended by the Good Beer Guide. All other pints were swiftly demolished by my former school buddies, including the Tetley’s. Reality restored.

Award-winning Welsh Beers

Here’s a list of the winners from the last Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival. Even the website address looks like it’s in Welsh: www.gwbcf.org.uk. Sadly, I didn’t find any of the medal cwrw all weekend.

Top Three Beers:

  • Gold – Otley, O-Garden (Pontypridd)
  • Silver – Bragdy’r Nant, Mwnci Nel (Llanwrst)
  • Bronze – Rhymney, Export (Merthyr Tydfil)

Category winners:

  • Mild – Bryncelyn, Buddy Marvellous (Ystradgynlais)
  • Bitter – Bryncelyn, Holly Hop (Ystradgynlais)
  • Best Bitter – Breconshire, Cribyn (Brecon)
  • Strong Bitter – Rhymney, Export (Merthyr Tydfil)
  • Golden Ale – Great Orme, Celtica (Colwyn Bay)
  • Speciality – Otley, O-Garden (Pontypridd)

    Oxwich Bay. The Gower


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    Pen y Fan from Fan y Big. (I’m not making this up!)


    Sent using a Sony Ericsson mobile phone

    Top of Pen y Fan, highest point in Brecon Beacons


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