It’s not every day you’re asked to judge lots of beer
ABOUT half a second.
That’s how long it took to answer the question: “Do you want to be a judge in the Yorkshire Beer Of The Year Competition?”
Half a second may be an exaggeration, it probably wasn’t that long.
Along with finding that, yes you actually ARE related to Donald Trump as you secretly suspected, drinking free beer for a living will be at the top of most blokes’ (and a few women’s) wish list.
So being asked to help choose Yorkshire’s best beer at the Rotherham Beer Festival - this year called the White Rose Festival - was received like a call from Fabio Capello to join the England squad.
The four-day festival at Magna will attract more than 12,000 people and will raise upwards of £50,000 for charity between now and Saturday.
And it will make a lot of beer-heads very happy.
The 217 hand-pulled beers including 60 from South Yorkshire - plus ciders and perrys - make this the biggest beer festival of its type in the country.
Row after row of pump handles waiting to be pulled in county-themed rooms within the cavernous Magna building at Templeborough where in the old days steel workers would drink a gallon of beer a day to quench their thirst in the intense heat.
A far cry from Oakwood School, Rotherham, where the festival began to raise funds for the school 19 years ago.
This year the invitation has been sent to beers from outside of Yorkshire to include every county with a white rose in its crest – which includes the four Yorkshires, Cumbria, Hampshire and Derbyshire.
“It got too big to stay at the school – there were bars in classrooms and a marquee in the playground,” said festival official Matt Ridsdale.
“There is a full four-day programme with live music as well so we’re optimistic for a decent crowd. It was 12,000 last year and we’re hoping to get more this time.”
But there is no time for idle chatter. There’s beer to be drunk.
In one of the many rooms in the labyrinthine bowels of the former steelworks, tables are set up for tasters.
There are eight categories of beer – Mild, Bitter, Best Bitter, Strong Bitter, Golden, Porter, Stout and Speciality beers.
Our first round tasting was for the bitter category.
Some were gorgeous, most were good but there were a few face-twisters.
One was a recognisable version of 1970s flat and poisonous nightclub beer and a couple of others tasted like they’d been created from the devil’s own bile, such was their intense bitterness.
Not something you’d want with Match Of The Day of a Saturday night.
“That’s an interesting one, nice and bright, very bitter but hardly any aroma,” says fellow judge Neil Reading as we get into the first four bitter samples.
Neil was the drummer for Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in the 1970s.
It’s amazing who you can bump into over a beer.
“Jim Charters, who used to run the festival at Oakwood School, got us in to taste training and we tried all types of tasting, sours and bitters, and we learned to recognise the flavours as they come through.
“There’s not just one taste in a beer. Learning to taste is concentrating on what’s going on in your mouth. Is it a biscuity flavour? Is it fruity? The more beers you try and the more you do it, the better you become.”
We can all drink to that.
On to the second phase of tasting and it’s six golden beers, those yellowy pale types that are so popular now – although some do look like they’ve been drunk once already.
We’re only having a swallow or three of each beer sample, but it’s starting to add up.
Then more great news arrives – we’ve made the final panel where the winners of each category are tasted again to choose the overall Champion Beer.
Fabio’s only gone and put us in his first eleven...
The rest of the team are serious beer men – brewers, CAMRA stalwarts and a Mindbender (fleeces and facial hair optional).
We set about our task, studying the tasting notes and rating the beers out of ten but it’s getting hard to tell whether I have my glasses on or not.
The eventual winner, Abbeydale Brewery’s Absolution shone through from the early rounds and gets heads nodding and chops smacking again all round the judges’ table.
But the beers keep coming, dark, light and bitter.
The last two beers have quite a kick – a combination of liquorice and the way your grandma’s cellar used to smell.
Another tastes like chocolate mothballs.
“Is this one a stort or a pouter?”
Someone giggles, it might have been me.
I resist a fleeting urge to sing Danny Boy.
Taxi for Mr Smith?
Festival is just what the doctor ordered
BEER Is good for you - the doctor says so.
Rotherham GP Steve Burns has organised this year’s Rotherham Beer Festival and is full of praise for the properties of real ale.
“There is no cholesterol in beer, it’s fat-free, natural and live and, in moderation, it’s good for you,” said Steve who retires as senior partner at the Stag Medical Centre next month.
“Real ale helps reduce the chances of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis. It’s not just the alcohol it’s full of anti-oxidants and good ingredients.
“The average person at a beer festival drinks three pints and we promote healthy, responsible drinking. You don’t see people go out and drink 10 pints of this stuff. Pubs are social places, centres of the community, and we support pubs, breweries and landlords.
“This year I was due to shadow Jim Charters, who founded the festival 19 years ago, but he resigned in January so I was in at the deep end.
“CAMRA promotes responsible drinking. If you go into a pub two or three nights a week and have two or three pints of beer, that’s perfectly healthy and I would contend that there is no such thing as a real ale lout.
“I think any pub tied to a big company should be able to promote and sell one real ale at least. It promotes the local economy, uses local labour and doesn’t have far to travel. We support local industry.
“Beer consumption is down generally but real ale sales go up and up and micro breweries are opening everywhere.
“I’m retiring soon but I will be organising the next beer festival, I hope, and working on my allotment.
“This is all for charity and raises £50,000 every year. It’s been hard work and you have to learn fast and you pick up a lot of things as you go along.
“There are still things I don’t know but I’m glad I did it. I love to organise things - I was a tutor as a GP.
“I just like to see things come together and raising money for charity.”
Festival times and prices: Thursday 6pm to 11pm ticket price £7.50 on-the-door £9; Friday 6pm to 11pm (£9.50, £11) and Saturday noon to 11pm (£7.50, £9). Cost includes live entertainment.