Belfast Telegraph

You want me to spend the day judging at a beer festival? Pull the other one

Telegraph reporter John enjoys task of helping to pick the best brew

By John Mulgrew

Sometimes it’s a hard life working as a journalist.

But yesterday was not one of those days and, with my beer geek cap firmly in place, I was given the wholly satisfying task of being one of the lucky few to choose this year’s champion beer in Belfast — at the province’s largest, and often most entertaining, beer festival.

Walking into the Ulster Hall for the Belfast Beer and Cider Festival you are immediately greeted with the almost immeasurable quantity of some of finest beers from across the UK and Ireland.

Aside from the raft of slightly eccentric and often cheekily titled creations, many of the ales and lagers on offer hail from Ulster — including those of the region’s biggest ‘microbrewery’, Kilkeel’s Whitewater.

Organised by the UK-wide Campaign for Real ale (CAMRA), beers are served by hand-pump without the aid of the normal pressurised kegs, normally found in the bulk of pubs across Northern Ireland.

But details aside – alongside nine others — this reporter was tasked with choosing the best of the bunch at this year’s event.

What may initially seem an insurmountable feat, the job is made simpler as several veterans of the real ale scene have already chosen a selection of the six top performing beers.

The next step is to present the choices to the 10 judges who then ultimately decide which brew ranks above all others.

Sitting around a large round table the willing judges were presented with the chosen few, one by one, as part of the blind tasting.

Although for some the idea of knocking back a beer or two may be rather elementary and simplistic action — with beer judging it’s a rather more in-depth and intricate affair. And while for many the raft of beer styles from dark to light, hoppy to malty, may seem baffling — it’s all a matter of personal preference.

First — the clarity of the beer is rigorously analysed before the smell and ‘nose’ of the beer is also rated — each given a score, then the flavour and finish is comprehensively examined.

With six down and after some deliberation and point totalling — the winner is selected.

This year’s best? Kilkeel-based Whitewater’s newly launched ale — Hoppelhammer, narrowly fending off the stiff competition from breweries across the water.

The new champion — now likely to be a favourite at the event thanks to its latest moniker — joins a variety of others, certain to keep the thousands happy during this year’s festival.

The Belfast Beer and Cider Festival continues today and is open for business at the Ulster Hall from 11am to 11pm

Pulling power: John's top 5 festival picks:

1. Whitewater Brewery, Kilkeel – Hoppelhammer IPA – Champ beer 2012

2. Coniston,Cumbria –Infinity IPA

3. Hilden Brewery, Lisburn – Twisted Hop

4. Titanic Brewery, Stokeon- Trent – Plum Porter

5. Trouble Brewing, Co Kildare – Dark Arts

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