I love Ceske Budejovice, in southern Bohemia.
The main reason I love it is because it's where Budvar is brewed.I first visited on 2003, when I was starting Three Sheets to the Wind. In fact, if I'm honest, and stripping away the white lies around order and timing you have to weave in order to create a coherent narrative, it's the trip that inspired Three Sheets - my first foreign beer trip. We had such a rollicking time on that trip I simply wrote down what happened, submitted it to my editor and he bought the book on the spot, saying, "If it's all as funny as that, we've got a winner".
It wasn't all as funny as that. The trip remains a highlight of my beery career.
Three Sheets nevertheless won the Guild of Beer Writers Budweiser Budvar Travel Bursary in 2006. The prize? Another trip to the brewery in Ceske Budejovice, which I duly took in 2008.
Once again, it was amazing. Drinking unpasteurised, unfiltered Budvar from the tanks in the cellar remains a standout beer drinking moment in my life. When it was time to move on I almost had to be dragged from that cellar, wedging my arms in the doorway, clinging to the door jamb with my fingernails until they broke. If you think you don't like lager, you only have to taste this nectar to become aware of your folly.
If you've read Hops & Glory, you'll know that winning the Bursary led directly to me writing that book. And last month, once again, it won the newly renamed Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary at the Guild awards. Prize? Another trip to the brewery.
This is all a long-winded prelude to saying that, while I love this place dearly, and while I certainly intend to drink the unpasteurised Budvar in the cellar again sometime soon, I feel that to go on a third press trip in seven years would not give me as much value as it could give someone else. It's amazing, it really is, but I've done it - twice.
So I've decided to give the trip away.
Working in conjunction with Budvar UK and The Publican, we're launching a mini-competition to encourage new beer writing talent.
This is open to anyone who is passionate about beer, wants to write about it, but has not yet had anything published in print media. We can't and don't want to exclude bloggers because most people who are keen to write about beer have started doing so electronically, but we want to offer someone the chance to break into being published offline for the first time.
It's simple. You need to write a thousand-word piece on the subject of 'Why Beer Matters', interpreted in whatever way you see fit. You need to send this to me at email@example.com by 29th January, remembering to include your real name, postal address and contact telephone number.
Judges will include me, and Publican editor Caroline Nodder. The winning entry will be published in The Publican, and the successful writer will be invited on a press trip to Ceske Budejovice, which also takes in a day trip to the stunning medieval town of Ceske Krumlov (below) some time in early spring.
Get writing. And good luck!
This is open to any writer, anywhere (though you'd have to get yourself to either London or Prague under your own steam if you live outside the UK.)
This is my idea, and sets no precedent in terms of what happens to future winners of the Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary. And it's only the trip - you can't have the cheque that constitutes the other part of the prize, or the traditional Budvar tankard. I need those. And if you submit an entry, and we then discover you've been previously published in a book or magazine, you'll not only be disqualified; we'll also send the boys round.