As the nation voted…

The contenders line up

The contenders line up

Democracy is a wonderful thing – the opportunity to express our preferences through our vote is something I never take for granted.   So when I was offered the chance to be a judge in the SIBA Wales and West Region Beer competition I was delighted.   The chance to try lots of different beers and reward the efforts of our hard working brewers in the lovely backdrop of Ludlow Castle before the Ludlow Spring Food festival was just too good to pass up.

So on election day I headed off on a Virgin train amid polite chaos as the on-board computer had crashed eeeeek!!  The coach and seat numbers were up the swanny so seat reservations were null and void but no one seemed too bothered and we left London without any fisticuffs.   A quick change at Crewe and as the train reached Church Stretton the landscape was beautiful – rolling hills and lush greenery.   As the train pulled into Ludlow the barrels behind the Ludlow Brewing Company caught my eye- whoopee!

Easy to find - nest to the railway

Easy to find – Next to the railway

The judging was due to start around 10am so I opted to stay over the night before.  I booked into the Bull which is aptly described as a ‘no frills boozer’ on CAMRA’s WhatPub. After a quick pint of Jennings Cumberland and Ludlow Sausage and chips in the Bull I took a wander around Ludlow and popped into the Church Inn.

The Church is a lovely pub where I felt quite at home sitting in a corner reading my paper with a half of Ludlow Brewing Company’s Gold.   There was a good selection of local beers on offer and tasting bats of three thirds available which unfortunately I didn’t notice until after I had got my half.   I had however decided not to overdo it as a day of voting on beers approached.   I therefore retired to my room to watch the nation’s voting unfold….

I woke to find we appeared to have a Conservative majority government and over my full English wondered if the beer voting would be so unanimous.

As Ludlow geared up for it’s Spring Food Festival in the grounds of the castle we took our seats at the judging tables.

Now all the judging is blind with the beers given codes so I had absolutely no idea what I was drinking.

Undercover Beer

Undercover Beer

First up for my table Standard Bitters and Pale Ales.  We tried seven different beers. Some good, some not so good but my favourite by a mile was known simply as XBP53 followed closely by the cheekily named XBP60.

Round two and its Stouts and Porters – great!   Generally these are my favourite beers.

It’s was a cold and raining day and as we were in a cold marquee some of the beers struggled to give much aroma but beer drinkers are persistent and we went back for a second pouring hoping the beers would give a bit more. Nine beers later and again I had my favourites but no idea of their true identity.

Follow the signs

Follow the signs

Next up Milds and Brown Ales.   An interesting round including a pale Mild.   Last of the day  was the Final Table where we were given a array of beer styles ranging from Lager to a Specialty Beer in which we were advised we should find coconut and vanilla!

This was the first time I had judged for SIBA and as a beer geek it was a really good day.  I met lots of like minded people and it was great to try so many good UK beers.

The candidates hoping for our votes

The candidates hoping for our votes

The winners were announced later in the day with the title of  Overall Gold Champion awarded to Cotswold Spring Brewery’s Old Sodbury Mild (OSM) which also won Gold in the Standard Mild Ales and Brown Ales and Bronze in Small Pack Standard Mild Ales and Brown Ales categories.   Cotswold Spring Brewery also won Silver in the Small Pack Strong Bitters and Pale Ales with Trooper and interestingly Gold in the Small Pack Premium Lager and Pilsners category with Aviator.  Any brewery that can produce such a good standard of beers across the different styles should be commended so well done Cotswold Spring Brewery!

Also featuring frequently in the winning line up are Salopian Brewery winning both Gold and Silver in Strong Bitters and Pale Ales.   For a full list of winners check out SIBA’s website.

I probably judged somewhere in the region of thirty beers during the day but before heading back to Kent, in a bit of beer tourism I decided to check out the Ludlow Brewing Company.

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens – Ludlow Brewing Company

I had emailed ahead and owner Gary and his team were fantastic making me feel really welcome. I was given a tour of the brewery which is set in an old railway goods shed. There is also a fantastic tap room and event space which is a really nice environment to enjoy a beer or five.  I say five as I was very kindly given samples of the entire range.  From the easy drinking session Ludlow Best 3.7%, the popular Gold 4.2%, Boiling Well Premium Ale 4.7%, Stairway – a lovely 5% gold beer using Lager hops and Black Knight Stout 4.5% – gorgeous.

Tap Room

Tap Room – Ludlow Brewing Company

I’m already looking forward to going back next year!

Worth the journey

Ludlow – Worth the journey

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