I hate the Beer Writer of the Year awards.
It should be a special occasion where you just socialise with all your mates in the industry. Instead, if you’ve entered your work, you sit there with a snake writhing in your guts, desperately anxious that your work be recognised, and when somebody else wins you have to be happy for them and try to hide the self-doubt and jealousy that try to consume you.
The year I won Beer Writer of the Year for Hops & Glory was actually the worst, because I was so anxious about winning. I felt I’d given the awards my best shot, and if I didn’t win that year I would never win. So I could hardly eat anything, and when I was announced as the winner I’d managed to get myself into such a state that my only emotional response was relief.
What an idiotic way to live.
But I don’t think I’m the only person trying to make a living from writing who is an idiot, emotionally.
Last night was this year’s Guild of Beer Writers dinner and Beer Writer of the Year awards. And for the first time I managed to work out a more grown up approach to it. I didn’t have a book out (Shakey’s Local would fall into next year’s awards) and I’ve only ever won a category with a book before. There was a record number of entries. While I thought I’d written some good stuff, I was aware that there has been so much beer writing and communication this year that I was able to go to the dinner for the first time with no hopes, expectations or anxieties about winning, and just enjoy the night.
When I got runner-up in online communication for this blog, I was happy but knew that was it – the rules are you can only win one category, and only category winners go through for the final award.
So I was happily texting my wife when my name was read out as winner of the Trade Communications category for my column in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, and I was genuinely shocked when chairman of judges Ben McFarland started reading out one of my blog entries in the run-up to his announcement of Beer Writer of the Year 2012.
I’m very happy and proud to win this award for my journalism, because somehow it feels easier with a book – it creates a bigger splash.
And I’m gobsmacked given what else was in contention this year.
I hadn’t realised Tim Webb and Steve Beaumont’s World Atlas to Beer was being entered this time – I thought it would be next year. When it was announced as winner of the Travel Category, I texted the wife to say it was obvious now that it would win overall. I’ve been meaning to review it for ages. Michael Jackson’s World Guide to Beer set the bar for beer writing. It takes balls to try to measure up to that book. And at the same time, anyone trying to do so needs to make a case for why they should even bother trying. Do we really need another beer coffee table book, especially when the information at its core is precisely the kind of stuff that now fills beer blogs and websites? This book answers the call brilliantly. There’s easily enough knowledge and authority between the two writers to make it worthwhile. This sings through in the text, which acknowledges the changes that have happened since Michael was writing, updating this style of book for the twenty first century and the state of craft brewing today. It even acknowledges mainstream beer, with the brilliant term ‘convenience beers’. And it looks great. You should obviously have my new book on your Christmas list, but if you can stretch to two, you need this one as well.
Tim Hampson does a great deal of work behind the scenes as Chairman of the Guild of Beer Writers and rarely gets any credit publicly. His book on beery days out was runner up to Tim and Steve, and would have stormed the category any other year.
What a year for beer books though. On top of these two there was Roger Protz’s History of Burton which scooped Gold in the award for national writing (Roger was also runner up in trade for his PMA column) and Melissa Cole’s book Let Me Tell You About Beer – a book aimed at the beery novice rather than the geek – which would also have been a worthy winner.
Dan Saladino’s Food Programme is evidence that beer is being taken seriously on a wider scale and finally making inroads into mainstream media consciousness. And Will Hawkes’ Craft Beer London app, which deservedly beat this blog to the online/social media top prize, demonstrates the new possibilities open to beer writing.
Martyn Cornell showed he can write about matching beer with food as well as he can its history, and Alastair Gilmour, who has won the top gong about a zillion times for his regional journalism, won that award again for his own magazine about beer and pubs in the north east, which should make any other region jealous that it doesn’t have something similar. And props to Simon Jenkins for being runner up in that category, proving his triumph a couple of years ago was no one-off.
Ben McFarland says the final choice of Beer Writer of the Year was an incredibly difficult decision. From that line up, I’m not surprised.
So yeah, I’m well chuffed.
In explaining the decision, Ben mentioned my obituary to Dave Wickett and then, to the consternation of some in the room cos it’s weird), read out an extract from my review of the Guinness film on the excellent Roll Out the Barrel DVD.
I’m delighted that both these pieces gained recognition. I know I can sometimes be overbearing, facetious, irritating or just plain wrong. I know not everyone likes my style or the way I approach beer. But thanks for reading my stuff.
Check out the links to the rest of the work mentioned above too. I don’t think there’s ever been so much good stuff being written about beer by so many different people.