Thursday, 19 June 2008

Visit to beers of the world live

Last Saturday saw me and my fiancée Helen drive down to Birmingham for beers of the world live at the NEC. Upon arrival we were confronted by numerous small stands in a large hallway all selling cheese, wine, cider and other food and drink products with plenty of free samples available left right and centre. The beers of the world festival was actually a sectioned off area with numerous beer stands from both individual breweries and importers alike and I ensured that we managed to get near the front of the queue for the opening at mid day.
Dissimilar from the regular beer festival, drinkers are supplied with very small taster glasses which hold around 100-150ml of beer, enough for a review and small enough so that you could sample greater numbers of beers than with the traditional half pint glasses. Another difference is the stand up shows and master classes which were free to watch on the stage area so time was carefully balanced between beer sampling from the stands and watching the shows. The first show of the evening was conducted by two bearded northern blokes known as the hairy bikers. These guys took us on a world adventure matching beers from around the world with various food dishes going through one beer-food combination at a time whilst giving members of the audience free samples.

OK, admittedly these guys only knew the very basics of describing beer, and didn’t really tell us much information about processes, raw materials etc except for saying (for example) “its from Argentina, and its very light, but its not overly bland like some other lagers”. You get the picture. But the main point was it was a funny show and the crowd liked it which made the important massages they were trying to across more effective which was basically telling your average ‘Jo’ about the diversity and versatility of beer on the dining table.

After the hairy biker experience we decided to hit some more beer stands and I got some good reviews in such as Purity brewing gold, Grolsh Weizen and Destutes Mirror Pond Pale ale (from Oregon USA). And after awhile we decided to check when the next talk by Roger Protz was on and then it happened. “Is that him?” Said Helen. “It has to be” I replied. It appeared that someone who looked exactly like Roger Protz, famous beer writer, Journalist and beer god (remember that Roger Protz is the editor of the Beer Bible AKA Good Beer Guide which each year guided followers of the beer faith to the best quality pubs and hence cask ale selection in whichever area they are visiting).

Anyway there was Protz sat by the side of the stage with a mysterious clearance of people in his area. Maybe the beer force is so strong with this one that the regular humans are unworthy of being in his presence. “Go and get his autograph” Helen urged, and with much courage and hesitation I managed to make it to the beer writing being himself to introduce myself.

Me and Roger, note here that my eyes are closed in the picture due to being overwhelmed the sheer beer power of the force that Protz possesses.
He seemed a very pleasant chap, quietly spoken and polite. I showed him my beer diary and he signed it for me, I told him I had a good number of his books and we even shook hands.

The signature in my ale diary (volume 4).

My right hand, the actual hand that shook Roger Protz's hand.

Following this experience we decided to pay the £8 to participate and thus get front row seats in Roger and another bloke called Jeff Evan’s beer master class the only master class of the day specifically focussed on the beers of England. As many will know Mr Protz is often a very patriotic beer writer, in fact the bloke himself seems to be a 100% embodiment of CAMRA itself (

Most of the beers assessed were well known and those participating got served a sample of each beer analysed. Taking things one beer at a time Roger and Jeff unravelled the palate of each ale in great detail without being too elaborate. They talked about how Breakspear Triple had under-laying diactyl notes that added to the complexity of the palate, how Wynchwood Hobgobling used Cascade hops in part to give undertoned citrus hop resins adding to the already toffyish caramelised malty palate. We covered the simplicity of Coniston Bluebird bitter with its palate constructed from pale and crystal malt with challenger hops, as well as how the porter style beer by Oakham ales Haws Buckler, used (unusually) Amarillo hops for aroma, and how the layers of pale, crystal, wheat and black malt interplayed in the overall palate. In short this was professional stuff, taking each beer back to its raw ingredients and accurately pulling out flavour nuances that I had often overlooked in my personal reviews.

Alongside taste analysis Roger got onto some good history lecturing about the breweries themselves and the roots of India pale ale (at which point I was thinking ‘yeah I remember that’ but then thinking ‘ah but where did you learn it in the first place? Answer being from Mr Protz’s books, the bloke whose talking about it literally 3 meters in front of me’). All in all the most exiting 20 minutes of the day.

After the long day of sampling and watching Protz we decided to use the bible (good beer guide 2008) to tack down some good pubs an Birmingham and hopefully find food on the way but sadly our adventure never took us to anywhere too exiting, mostly Wetherspoons and wetherspoon-a-like pubs with the odd decent cask pint here and there. All in all great day tho.


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