1. You see some clowns.
Hello. It is early ‘o’ clock outside Kensington Olympia. There are a lot of thirsty middle-aged men waiting outside and they are being pestered by some clowns. I’m not talking to them because I’m about to drink a whole load of beer at a time when I’d normally be eating Weetabix, and frankly I have more important things on my mind.
I am to be a judge in one of six categories – Milds, Bitters, Best Bitters, Strong Bitters, Golden Ales, and Speciality Beers. But which?
2. You hit the damn jackpot.
BOOM. Strong Bitters. According to the competition literature: “Strong bitters are full bodied and possess assertive hop qualities. They are typically brown, tawny, copper or amber but can be paler. They have medium to strong bitterness… [continues for a great many more words] Typical alcohol by volume: 4.6% or more.”
3. You realise this is serious business.
Meet my fellow judges. Battle-hardened beer drinkers who’ve supped more pints than you’ve had hot dinners. These people have refrained from eating spicy food for the last 24 hours, because that would blunt their finely honed sense of taste. They have a delicate judging sensibility that incorporates appearance, aroma, taste, and aftertaste.
Thus far I, on the other hand, have been contemplating only the implications of getting banjaxed by 12pm.
4. You go into action.
Here is a pint of extremely strong bitter. It tastes how you’d imagine liquidised tarmac to taste. “Nutty opening,” says the man to my left.
I’ve read that P.J. O’Rourke wine-tasting article about how you can fake expertise by just describing someone in the room.
“Rounded nose, long legs.”
Everyone looks at me.
5. You start to get choosy.
It’s amazing how quickly the false confidence engendered by alcohol consumption can make you think you’re a connoisseur all of a sudden.
6. Things start to get difficult.
We only get about a quarter-pint of each beer, but they just don’t stop coming.
I’ve discovered one of the other judges is an MP.
“Oh, we always get MPs,” says one of my fellow judges.
“And a celebrity or two.”
“Didn’t we have Madonna one year?”
“No, I don’t think it was Madonna.”
“Good, I can’t stand her.”
7. You get a little bit drunk.
It was always on the cards. “Once I was on a panel where we had to do about 30. It can get quite tricky,” says the lady opposite me.
I’m in beer hell right now. Beer mixes with beer mixes with beer. I’ve forgotten which ones I like, which one smelled of peaches, which one tasted of fish, which one nearly made me vomit on my shoes…
I’m also beginning to shout my opinions.
“I’M GETTING CINNAMON, AND IS THAT A HINT OF TOBACCO?”
“WATERMELON. ANYONE ELSE? WATERMELON? ANYONE?”
Fortunately, I’m not the only one in the room doing that.
8. You have to start trying your best.
In this Vine you can almost hear the whirring of my alcohol-addled brain as it tries to reduce the never-ending line of glasses to single words in order to rank them. Come on, I work for BuzzFeed. How hard can a simple Important and Definitive Ranking be?
The real problem is that I haven’t actually had a beer I really like yet.
9. Then – then – you find The One.
Oh, T7. T7. My love. My life. Like coming home. Where have you been, T7? You are a beer, that much is true, but a beer like no other. The table falls silent. We look at each other. A single tear falls from my eye.
I sip again. A slight tang of citrus. A mellow, slow aftertaste, like a hug from a loved one. I stare at the beautiful drink. It gives me a knowing wink. “This is the ONE,” it says on my notes.
Listen to the awe in my voice in the Vine above. T7 is buttery, yes. But it’s also so much more than that.
10. You realise everyone is finding it hard.
Yes, T7 is something else, but let’s not discount R7 and V7, both of which are putting in strong claims. Can we get some more? We can. And some more? No problem. Given that I’m now getting more and more drunk, it’s possible that getting more in isn’t actually helping proceedings.
11. You find your notes are making less and less sense by the second.
A few more drinks should help clear this up.
12. You come up with a shortlist.
On the left: R7. Very clear appearance. Hint of grapefruit in the aroma. American hops give it a decent if slightly acidic taste and aftertaste.
In the middle: our faithful friend T7. It’s not the perfect beer, it’s a little cloudy, but how can you hold that against a beer that does SO MUCH RIGHT, as I shout at the man on my right while spitting into his face.
On the right, the cheeky young pretender, V7. It’s T7 but a little less citrussy, and it’s got something else going on there. Is it honey? It’s honey.
Only one can survive.
Also, I think I’ve started dribbling.
13. We have a winner.
It was never in doubt. Not really. And so, as is later revealed, Church End Brewery’s Fallen Angel takes the crown.