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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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New events added including Stoke Newington Literary Festival
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Click here to hear me talking about craft beer on this week's radio 4 Food Programme!
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Friday, 28 February 2014

Brewers Dominate BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards

I wrote a few years ago that Thornbridge and BrewDog were like the Beatles and the Stones: rivals, both revolutionary, one more user friendly and respectable, the other edgier and more dangerous, but each profoundly changing the medium they work in.

Now, I've had to update my analogy by a few decades. Because over the next few weeks I am officiating in a rivalry that more resembles this:


In January, I appealed for drinks producers of all kinds to put themselves forward for the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. I am judging the category of Best Drinks Producer for the second time, along with Victoria Moore, the wine writer for the Daily Telegraph.

Clearly our appeal struck a chord. The total number of entries doubled to almost 200. Of that total, 113 were either brewers or cider makers. I especially enjoyed reading some of the nominations for micro-distillers and people making interesting, natural, adult-oriented soft drinks. But as Victoria and I hacked our way down to a long shortlist, almost half the names on it were brewers. Every single brewery that I am excited about in Britain today either put themselves forward or was nominated by a fan.

We had to take our longlist of eight or nine contenders to a meeting with the judges from all the other categories. Each shortlist, including categories like Best Farmer, Best Food Market and Best Takeaway Food, has to be approved by the entire judging panel.

Best Drinks Producer was kept until last, because we had samples from many of our shortlisted entrants to taste. After tasting our top three, people asked to taste some of the other beers too, just to make sure we'd chosen well. Things got quite raucous. A couple of our decisions were overturned, and finally it went to a vote, the result being that among three finalists, we have two breweries and a winemaker:

UK'S BEST DRINKS PRODUCER, FINALISTS
Someone across the table captured my reaction to this:


Shortlist agreed.
Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted that two of our three finalists are brewers. It reflects the momentum and creativity in brewing today. And I love both brewers, having known each pretty much since they started. But that's the problem. I might have to choose between them.

Of course the wine maker might impress us more - I've been keen to find out more about the revolution that's happening in British sparkling wine. It's a three-way fight.

But within that three-way, there's an epic struggle brewing for the craft beer crown. BrewDog's Martin Dickie began his brewing career at Thornbridge. Along with Stefano Cossi he created Jaipur, the beer that has won more prizes in British brewing competitions than any other in the last ten years. He began his experiments with wood ageing beer with Thornbridge's St Petersburg. And two years later he quit to go home and found BrewDog with his childhood friend James Watt.

Now both breweries are guiding lights of the UK craft beer movement. Both have achieved huge levels of success, and added chains of pubs or bars to their businesses that set superlative standards for serving beer as well as brewing it. Each brand is so strong it attracts keen, bright beer lovers who want to work with them and be part of the story. Both have taken the US craft beer influence and turned it on its head, exporting their beers back out round the world. Countless people have been inspired by them to set up breweries of their own.

So which is best?

There's only one way to find out... or maybe not.

We visited BrewDog last Monday, going around the new brewery, tasting the latest beer, Bourbon Baby, straight from the bottling line, going through the core range and finishing with another beer, as yet unnamed, drawn from a red wine barrel where it has another three months to go before bottling. At one point Victoria, who doesn't really drink beer, whispered "I think I've been converted to beer."

This coming Monday we visit Thornbridge. Every time I go there, there are new surprises, and they've promised us plenty more this time.

And then, in a couple of weeks, we head to Kent to visit Gusborne, who have been making sparkling wine since 2006 and are regularly cited as one of the most exciting wine makers in the country.

We have a crew with us capturing the whole thing, ready for it to be turned into at least one, and possibly two, editions of the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme. I'll post details of when you can catch up on our exploits. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in Bristol on May 1st.

In the meantime, who do you think you should win? Who should be celebrated as not just the best brewer (or winemaker), but the best producer of any drink in Britain? 

8 comments:

Jamie Goode said...

Who should win? The Kernel! Or Nyetimber!

Matt K said...

I think both BrewDog and Thornbridge have been complete game changers. I'd give BrewDog, by a nose - the difference for me is, Thornbridge have made a lot of dull beers (eg., Brother Rabbit), while I have genuinely never had a dull beer from BrewDog.

Cooking Lager said...

I love the cheeky metaphor of comparing it to a chart battle between a mockney pop act and a Beatles tribute act. I guess Brewdog are a Stone tribute act and Thornbridge the mock act in this?

Anyway, game on, make 'em shiiiiine.

Jordan said...

Simple. Thornbridge can make a Hardcode IPA, but I can't see BrewDog making Tzara.

Anonymous said...

A most sublime session beer (to rival Landlord) is Thornbridge's Wild Swan, and only £2.60 a pint in my local.

Leigh said...

yeah, really, really interesting. Despite my gut reaction saying 'thornbridge', both bring really compelling arguments to the table when it comes to furthering beer in the UK, Europe and beyond. Looking forward to the result.

rondema said...

Er yeah the Kernel should win. No, sorry, Brodies. Actually crown Weird Beard please. Or Wild Beer Co. Scratch that, Siren have done incredible work in a year. So call it Beavertown then.

Thanks.

Tim Williams said...

Thornbridge for me! But next year it could be Tiny Rebel. The best Welsh brewer by miles - Billabong Aussie Pale Ale my current favourite.

Tim Crimson