Tag: awards

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Announcement: The Beer Marketing Awards

Older readers will know I came into beer writing via a somewhat unlikely route.

My favourite of all the ads I helped create.  (No, I didn’t write it.)

I used to work in advertising, and one day I was appointed to work on the campaigns for Stella Artois and Heineken.  I was responsible for strategy, and this entailed looking at trends and deeper dynamics in society and culture to establish the motivations behind the brand choices people made.  When I had to do this with beer it completely captivated me and ignited an interest that went much deeper than what I had to do for the latest Stella ad.  It ultimately led to me writing my first book, which in turn led to me developing a much broader love for and interest in beer.

When I tell this story at events or readings, it usually gets a good-natured chorus of booing and hissing. There’s a suspicion among many beer fans about marketing – in its purest form, the belief is that advertising brainwashes people to drink shit, bland commercial beer instead of interesting, quality beer produced by nice people.  At best, there is at least a suspicion that many people choose beers for style over substance.

And to be fair, there is some truth in that.  Back in the day we used to tell each other that people ‘drink the advertising’ – but only when the beers themselves were interchangeable and pretty much identical.  Advertising can’t really persuade someone to drink standard lager instead of a microbrewed IPA if the standard lager doesn’t appeal to their tastebuds, but it can sure make you drink one standard lager instead of another.

Beer ads were the ads that made me want to in advertising in the first place.  The ad below is the one that I talked about in all my interviews, and I still think that it’s a pretty perfect beer ad:

Great gags, plays to the obsession of its target audience, brand name in the punchline. Perfect.

But if beer marketing was ever just about TV ads, it isn’t now, and won’t ever be again.  Back when ‘Dambusters’ played there were only two commercial TV channels and you could be sure pretty much everyone in the target audience saw it.  And regulations meant you could get away with outlandish claims so long as you were obviously joking about hose claims.  One casualty of our binge drinking paranoia is that advertising regulatory authorities have lost their sense of humour.

Marketing in its broadest sense is, at worst, a necessary evil, and at best a great, positive addition to the experience of choosing and drinking beer.  Whether we like it or not, we are a brand-literate, marketing savvy world these days.  I regularly see great beers stymied by awful label designs.  Branded, shaped glassware is at least as much about marketing as it is about enhancing the flavour of beer.  And with more beers than ever before to choose from, we’ve got to find out information about them somehow.  If a brewer chooses to impart some of this information themselves rather than rely entirely on crowd-sourced web reviews, that’s marketing.  When a brewer chooses a bottle shape, designs a label, launches a website, hosts a meet the brewer event, issues a press release, tweets or blogs or sends a punk dwarf to petition parliament, that’s all marketing.

Beer marketers now have to be much smarter.  The tightening regulation and the explosion of different media channels, not least social media, means it’s a much more complex game – but the playing field for that game is more level than it was.  Simply having the biggest budget is not enough (if it ever was – remember Watney’s Red Barrel?)

This is why I was very excited indeed when two industry acquaintances approached me and asked if I would like to be involved in organising the inaugural Beer Marketing Awards.  We have so, so many awards that celebrate the beer itself – and rightly so.  But marketing should not and canot be ignored, and the best stuff deserves to be equally celebrated.  If it takes off, it might even help raise the standard of the shit stuff.

And the joy of it is, it’s about the whole industry.  If you’re AB-Inbev, we want to hear about the best TV ad you’ve made this year.  If you’re Heineken, we want to know how proud you are of sponsoring the Olympics.  If you’re Brew Dog we want to hear how successful your best PR stunt was.  If you’re Magic Rock we want to hear about your Twitter presence.  And if you’re Wye Valley, tell us about your label redesign.  Huge or tiny, established or new, every brewer does marketing of some form or another, and there’s a category for everyone.  Here’s the full list:

Best Advertising Campaign – Print

This category rewards outstanding marketing activity in print media. Designed a standout campaign for national newspapers? Publicised your brand to great effect in glossy magazines? This category’s for you.

Best Advertising Campaign – Broadcast

If you’ve implemented a TV ad campaign that’s really caught the attention of the viewing public, or a series of radio slots that stop people in their tracks, you’ll want to enter this category.

Best use of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or whatever other social media channel floats your boat – if you’ve devised a campaign that has provoked thousands of comments, likes and follows, get your entry written.

Best Public Relations Campaign

If you’ve generated column inches by the score, captivated journalists with your creative approach, or devised an industry focused thought leadership campaign, use your most persuasive talents to tell us why you should win this category.

Best Branding / Design

Making sure your product stands out on the shelves or behind the bar requires a well-designed and consistent brand. You’ll have a good chance of winning this category if you can demonstrate success in this area.

Best use of Competitions

If you’re into competitions, you’ll no doubt have noted that these awards are a fine example of the genre.  If you’ve created a competition or promotion that has gained a high profile for your brand, submit your entry here.

Best Integrated Campaign

Jack of all trades? Accomplished all rounder? If you’ve created a high quality multi-platform campaign that hits print, broadcast, social media and anything else, add it all together and submit it for this category.

Best Stunt / Guerrilla Marketing

If, like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, your chief weapon is surprise, try and catch us unawares with your specialism for stunts or your gift for guerrilla marketing.

Best Business to Business Campaign

Targeting the trade can be as exciting and innovative as targeting the consumer, so if you’ve concocted a campaign that persuades landlords to serve your beer, or masterminded an approach to the off-trade, here’s your category.

Best Website

HTML, CSS, jQuery, JavaScript, PHP – if these terms make sense to you, think about developing (geddit?) an entry for this category. You’ll need to have created a site that is creative and compelling as well as technically brilliant, mind.

Best use of Sponsorship

Sporting events, celebrities, TV programmes – if you’ve created a sponsorship package that has complemented and benefited from a partnership with any of these, you know what to do.

Best use of Merchandise

From beermats to t-shirts, branded glassware to bottle openers – and beyond. If you’ve branded up complementary merchandise to add to your marketing campaigns, let us know how and why you did it.

Overall Winner

No need to enter this one – we’ll choose the most impressive, innovative and successful campaign from all the above categories and give it a special award. You can bet it will deserve it.

Outstanding Individual Achievement

Again, no need to enter this – if you’ve overachieved, chances are we’ll have heard about you anyway. You’ll need to have created a stunning body of work, either this year or throughout your career. We’ll make sure everyone hears all about it.

We’re recruiting a panel of judges from the brewing, pub and creative marketing industries, as well as prominent beer writers and other industry figures.  (Some brewers will doubtless be encouraged to hear that I won’t be judging myself – it’s incompatible with helping organise the event and encouraging entries.)

There will be a media launch at Craft Beer Co in London on 12th September.  The competition is now open for entries, and you can enter here.  Entries will close on 10th December, and the awards event will take place at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane, on March 13th 2013.  More details will be on the BMA website, which will now be updated on a regular basis with chat about beer marketing as well as details about the competition.  If you’d like to sponsor one of the above awards, we’d love to hear from you.

I’m proud to be associated with this great idea.  Whether you’re a brewer or drinker, we hope you’ll be as excited by it as we are.

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A bit of an update

I’d like to apologise to anyone out there who actually reads this blog for pleasure – if you exist, I’ve been letting you down of late, with whole months passing between posts.

Thing is, I’ve been massively busy with stuff, including a lot of other writing – the old-fashioned kind that (just about) pays the mortgage.  At one point a few weeks ago I did my To Do list on Monday morning and realised I had thirteen deadlines all theoretically due that week.

Anyway, I’ve cleared them all now, so I thought I might do a catch-up post to fill in any remaining readers on the bits of busy-ness you might be interested in.


My new book, Shakespeare’s Local, is all done bar the shouting.  It’s coming out on 8th November as a selfless, humanitarian gesture to help you or those close to you make some tricky Christmas gift decisions much easier.  With a hardback cover featuring a silver embossed design it certainly looks like a proper present.  I’ve been trying out a few readings from it at the Latitude and Port Eliot festivals, and I’ll be working this into an audio-visual one hour talk that I’ll be doing at the Ilkley Literary festival on October 9th, and then a residency at the George Inn in Southwark, with one event a week from launch date till Christmas.  Hopefully there will be many more events around the country too – several are currently in the planning stages.


I wrote here a few weeks ago about how I’ve been judging beer and cider in broader food and drink competitions, where it sits alongside everything else and is evaluated by people from across the spectrum of food and drink rather than just beer people.

I think there is room for both kinds of competitions – you want to be judged by your peers to establish and reward technical excellence and superior brewing craftsmanship, but these broader competitions allow beer to play on a wider stage and be recognised more broadly.

First up were the Great Taste Awards, which had categories for both bottled beer and bottled cider.  Great Taste was set up as an antidote to supermarket ‘Finest’ and ‘Taste the Difference’ ranges, as an independent hallmark of great quality.  Some great beers were recognised in these awards – so much so that the Great Taste people invited me and food writer (and ardent beer fan) Charles Campion to put together a showcase menu at London’s swanky Cadogan Hotel. The info on this website is in imminent need of updating, but on Tuesday 14th August our menu using an award-winning beer in every course, created with chef Oliver Lesnik, goes live for a media launch.  I’ve matched beers with each dish, and there’s also going to be a beer and cheese matching menu in the afternoons.  The menu will run in the Cadogan’s restaurant, at a very reasonable £28 for three courses, for a couple of months.  I’ll write about how the press launch goes – if it goes well…  

Next up is the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards.  I’ve been asked to judge the drinks category along with wine writer Victoria Moore.  The Beeb want to inject a bit of drama this year by pitching beer and cider against wine.  Interestingly, a brewery has won the drinks category for the last two years, but this year English wine has finally started getting the international recognition it deserves – is it time for wine to strike back?  I’ve seen the first lot of nominations and the brewers are certainly the most enthusiastic again – if there’s a drinks maker of any description you’d like to see entered, find out more at the link above.  But hurry – nominations close on 12th August.  


One of Bill’s best cider images

I’ve been hinting at various adventures in cider over the last year or so, and things have finally come to fruition (sorry) on that score.  The whole Magner’s thing has led to revived interest in quality cider, and craft cider around the world at the moment is in a similar place to craft beer twenty years ago.  I’m working on cider with Bill Bradshaw – ace photographer and cider fanatic.  His beautifully shot cider blog is here.  Together, Bill and I are currently hard at work on the Guide to Welsh Perry and Cider, for the Welsh Perry and Cider Society.  This guidebook is going to be published in spring 2013 and maps for the first time the unsung hero of British cider (after Somerset and Herefordshire).  It is ridiculously good fun to research.

Mad Asturian bloke ‘throwing’ cider

At the same time, we’ve just signed the deal on the first ever world guide to cider – provisionally entitled World’s Best Ciders.  Hugh Johnson did it for wine, then Michel Jackson did it for beer.  We’re enormously proud to be doing a smilar job for cider, from the established classic regions like Somerset and Normandy, to the explosion that’s now happening in the US, to the ice wines of Canada, the eccentricity and tradition in Asturiàs, northern Spain, and emerging scenes such as Australia and Japan.  Sadly budget doesn’t allow us to travel to every single country, but we’ve already had various adventures, some of which will be in the book, some of which will emerge elsewhere.

Quite a few people have asked me if there’s going to be another Cask Report this year.  The answer is yes, sort of, but not quite.  We’re doing something called ‘Cask Matters’ instead this year, which is a monthly section in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser aiming to give more practical hands-on advice to publicans, and allow the flexibility to be topical.  There have been three so far, that can all be downloaded as PDFs from the PMA’s website:

We will also be producing a much shorter annual summary report which will detail how cask is doing, who’s drinking it, why you should stock it and so on.  This will be launched to coincide with Cask Ale Week at the end of September.

I’ve also been writing tons of columns and a few pieces for national press.  You can see my regular Publican’s Morning Advertiser columns here; my stuff for London Loves Business here, and my stuff for Just Drinks (you  may need a password) here.  And here is a nice piece I got to do for Shortlist Magazine about the rise of craft beer.

Sorry this is such a busy, listy post – I’ve been meaning to write properly about all these things individually and ended up with a huge pile-up, which this post has now hopefully cleared.  From now on I’ll try to post a bit more regularly again.  On top of all the above I’ve been doing loads of travelling, and have some great stories about getting drunk in Ukraine, visiting hop farms in Slovenia, learning more about lager in Ceske Budejovice, and stacks more, so there’s so much to write about if I can find the time!

Thanks for reading.

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Calling all beer writers: major new beer writing competition announced

Oxford Brookes University and Wells and Young’s have come together to offer £2000 Bombardier Beer prize for writing on “the joys and jolliness of beer”

Bombardier Beer and Oxford Brookes University today announce the launch of a new competition with a £2000 cash prize offered for the best piece of writing about beer and its role in society.

The competition is open to anyone who writes about beer – or aspires to do so – from mainstream journalists and the top names of the beer-writing world, to young bloggers and as-yet-unpublished enthusiasts.

The judges are asking for a piece of up to 1500 words on the subject of beer’s role in society, or as writer, food critic and competition judge Charles Campion puts it, “the joys and jolliness of beer”, and beer’s role as a social lubricant.

“We’re not looking for technical writing, campaigning tracts or extracts form guidebooks,” continues Campion, “beer is the most sociable drink in the world and doesn’t get fair recognition. This prize is an attempt to help change that.”

As well as Campion, judges will include Paul Wells from Wells and Young’s who are sponsoring the prize, Donald Sloan, the Chair of Oxford Gastronomica at Oxford Brookes University, and Pete Brown, writer and winner of the Michael Jackson Gold Tankard Award for Beer Writer of the Year in 2009.

The closing date for entries will be Friday 1st April 2011. The winner will then be announced at the 2011 Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on the evening of Friday 8th April, during a dinner and reception at the Oxford Malmaison Hotel

For full details on format of entries and submission process contact Razia Nabi (rnabi@brookes.ac.uk)

I was very honoured to be asked to be one of the judges – until I found out about the size of the prize and realised I couldn’t enter.  Good luck!

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I love the smell of hot Sarsons at lunchtime.

The best advert in the world, ever. I’m serious.

So I’m Beer Writer of the Year, and now Christmas is out of the way this has started to bring in a few invites that I wasn’t getting this time last year. Yesterday saw me joining the nice chaps from Marston’s at the 22nd Annual Fish and Chip Shop of the Year Competition, described by the man who introduced proceedings – with a straight face – as the “Oscars of the frying industry” (fellow beer scribe Nigel Huddlestone was also there). This was a particularly special year for the awards, because 2010 is the 150th birthday of fish and chips, with the general consensus being that the first chippie opened in 1860. As IPA – in its Burtonised incarnation – is almost 190 years old, Old Empire was the official beer of the event. I love fish and chips. The aroma of malt vinegar evaporating off chips is second only to the bouquet of hoppy IPA in terms of olfactory delight. My dad actually used to own a chip shop, and while my mum worked in it, we never actually ran it – dad just rented it out to Greasy Graham, a massive Barry Sheen fan who had posters of motorbikes around the chippie, always seemed to wrap my chips in page three of The Sun, and made the best proper fishcakes (two slabs of potato sandwiching fish off-cuts, battered and deep-fried) in the entire world. In all these respects, he had a profound influence on an 8-year-old future beer writer. Apart from the stuff about bikes. Fish and chips have a dirty, decadent, delicious shiny-fingered guilt that rivals any junk food you can think of. And yet – it says here – as a meal it contains less salt, a third less calories and over 40 per cent less fat than other takeaways. Truly, this is the food of the gods. So it was a profound honour to be at the Frying Oscars, even if it spelled disaster for the January detox – or so I thought. I missed the champagne reception, where beer-battered goujons of fish and prawns were matched with Old Empire, and discussions were had about future plans to explore the merits of different types of beer batter and different matches of IPA with battered fish. I didn’t mean to, but by doing so I kind of missed the bit that made it relevant to this blog. But I thought you’d like to hear about the rest anyway. Into lunch then, and first, a profound shock. What kind of meal do you think they would serve at the Annual Fish and Chip Awards, in the year of the fish and chip shop’s 150th anniversary? Go on, have a guess. Yes, that’s right: scallops wrapped in pancetta, followed by pan-fried cod fillet with a red pesto sauce, served on a bed of asparagus with some potatoes and carrots. It was like going to a beer festival and being told they only served wine. Christ, this was actually detox-friendly! Shaken, confused, traumatised, I sat down to hear what everyone had to say. The main sponsor of the awards was Seafish – “the authority on seafood”. Their chairman Charles Howeson welcomed us all and told us that despite the recession chippies were having a good year. He clearly had a chip on his shoulder about the health lobby (God, I’m so sorry about that one) but assured us that in 2009 sales of fish and chips were up 15%. He then handed over to celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, who told us that the English had nicked fish and chips from Italy, before going on to gently insult most of the regional awards winners and pull funny faces behind the backs of the sponsor’s representatives who presented the awards. My attention began to wander and I scrutinized the programme. I was disappointed to see that in 22 years, only once has the Fish and Chip Shop of the Year been awarded to an establishment with a crap pun in the name: ‘Our Plaice’ in West Hagley, West Midlands in 2004, and it’s not even that good. No ‘In Cod we Trust’. No ‘A Fish called Rhondda’. No ‘A Salt and Battered’. If these kinds of plaices – sorry, places – don’t make good enough fish and chips, it’s high time there was a new category that’s just about the best name. Further on in the programme, I was less enchanted by some of the sponsors, and their descriptions of what they do. Blakemans describes itself as ‘The Supreme Sausage’, and goes on to claim it is “one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of sausage and meat products.” Not “sausages and meat”. But “sausage and meat products.” Amazing how one word can change the appetite appeal so much. Duncrue Food Processors – strapline, “Irish beef dripping” – is a company that makes – you guessed it – beef dripping from ‘caul, kidney and body fat from E.C. and Department of Agriculture approved plants’, and according to their website they recently invested in a deodourising plant. There are some things about fish and chips we just don’t need to know I guess, but it’s fascinating to get a brief, deeper glimpse into any industry you don’t normally have that much to do with. There were 10,000 entries for the ‘Favourite Frier’ category (Sponsored by Sun Talk, the online Currant Bun radio station) and a hundred of Britain’s 10,500 chippies were shortlisted for the overall prize of Britain’s best fish and chip shop 2009. The eventual winner was The Atlantic Fast Food chippy in Coatbridge, Glasgow, which had entered for the first time. Congratulations to them. It’s nice to see that everyone else takes what they do as seriously as we beer writers, and it was pleasantly strange to be able to sit through an awards ceremony with a complete absence of anxiety, jealousy and self-doubt. I’m sure that by the time December 2010 is approaching, I’ll be willing to trade my place as Chairman of the Beer Writing Awards this year for a chance to be one of the people who helps get that shortlist of 100 chippies down to one.

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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 petebrown@stormlantern.co.uk 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.

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Not an overnight success

While I was the happiest person in the room on Thursday night, a few people will have gone home disappointed.

I know how they feel.
Three years ago I hoped I was going to be successful with Three Sheets to the Wind. I won the travel bursary and hoped I was going to win the overall thing. I didn’t.
But this proved to be the crucible from which Hops and Glory emerged, so I got there in the end. This is referenced briefly in the opening chapter to H&G. But in the first draft, there was a much longer account of the Beer Writers Awards 2006. This was one of the first things my editor cut, and he was right to do so. It was too self-indulgent and prevented us from getting to the real start of Hops and Glory as quickly as we needed to. It didn’t belong in the book, but it couldn’t go anywhere else either.
Now, I think I can offer it here as another deleted scene DVD extra. It is self-indulgent and will only really be of interest to other writers, but I hope it raises a smile and conveys that this is a game of agony as well as ecstasy:
It was the beer’s fault. It usually is. Although, when you consider that beer is the most popular drink in the world, consumed by billions on a daily basis, and not a single person among those billions has attempted to do what I was about to do in the name of beer, I have to shoulder at least some of the blame myself. I don’t mean that I got drunk and did something I regretted. I did get very drunk. And I did do something I would come to regret bitterly at several points over the following year. But one did not lead to the other: I did most of the damage while perfectly sober. What I mean is, this was one of the increasingly frequent occasions when I got carried away after spending too much time with the kind of people you meet when you let beer start to mean more to you than simply the best long drink in the world. Not for the first time, the ideas and associations that surround beer, what beer means, intoxicated me more effectively and more devastatingly than mere alcohol ever could. My voyage across the Atlantic on a century-old tall ship, and the larger quest of which it was merely part, began over dinner, ten months before I boarded Europa. Not just any old dinner though. Tonight, in the elegant surroundings of the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in London’s fashionable Kensington, just before Christmas really started to get going, several people – not all of them bearded, pot-bellied, cardigan-clad or even necessarily male – were about to receive trophies and cash for writing about beer. Every single time I mention the British Guild of Beer Writers to people who don’t work around beer, they seem to find its very existence, the mere concept it, either hilarious or completely unbelievable. A few years ago I could still sort of remember why this was. But I wasn’t laughing tonight. Tonight, for the first time since I started writing about beer, I was one of the people hoping to climb on stage and shake the hand of TV Chef and Celebrity Yorkshireman Brian Turner, and collect an envelope from him as the great and good of the British beer industry bathed me in their applause. Beer had just got serious. As formal dinners go, it was probably one of the more unusual the harried hotel staff had catered. The India Pale Ale sorbet had been a triumph. The venison matched with brown ale had split opinion, and the double chocolate stout with the chocolate pudding had been judged a bit too obvious by my table. But the contented bickering indicated that, overall, the dinner had been a success. Brewers, beer writers, beer marketers and beer PR executives pushed back their chairs, ambled past tables where they paused to shake hands with colleagues and adversaries they hadn’t seen since this time last year, and made their steady (for now) way to the bars at the side of the big, palm tree-lined conservatory to choose a digesitif from the range of forty or so beers available. The cannier among them picked up more than one bottle, knowing that in a few minutes they’d be confined to their seats to wait patiently through the business part of the evening. When it comes to the mix of emotions within the audience, all awards ceremonies are the same. Whether we’re talking about the Oscars or school sports colours awards, most attendees are willing this part to be over as quickly as possible. The few attendees who believe they’re in with a chance of winning something do their best to project an attitude of good-natured, weary boredom, while their insides churn through hope, envy, bitterness and triumph and back to the start before the shiny envelopes have even appeared. I wondered briefly which end of that scale –Academy Awards or school colours– the British Guild of Beer Writers Annual Awards Dinner was closest to. I was always rubbish at sport, and so far nobody had tried to throw my bag on the roof, beat me with a rolled up wet towel, or take the piss out of my green flash trainers in front of forty other people before whipping my arse repeatedly with them.[1] And the idea of me winning something, anything, was something you could at least entertain without having to question the fundamental laws of reality. So tonight didn’t feel like my school sports award ceremony at all. On the other hand, Brian Turner was by far the most famous person in the room. As the PA system popped into life and the big screens lit up with the logos of our brewery sponsors, I joined the stomach-churners for the first time, practising the requisite benevolent smile for when the name that is read out is not yours, the smile that you will need to keep pasted to your face as you watch someone else walk in YOUR stead up to the stage and collect YOUR award and you can only think of how long it is before you can reasonably disappear to the toilet and punch the cubicle walls and question your whole direction in life and wonder at the futility of it all and hate yourself for even thinking for a second that you were in with a chance of winning anything. You know how it is. “And the winner is… Pete Brown!” As Brian Turner became the first person in history to utter those words in that order, my initial reaction was not jubilation, but profound relief. It wasn’t the main award, of course (I would need my fake smile after all, later in the evening, for that one) but it was the one I really, really had to win. The Budweiser Budvar Travel Bursary is awarded for beer writing that has an international scope. This is a good idea in a country where many beer acolytes start with the belief that the best beer in the world is brewed within a couple of hours’ drive of their front door, and work cautiously out from there. The 2006 prize was awarded for my second book, Three Sheets to the Wind, which is still available on Amazon at a bargain price. To write it, I’d travelled forty-five thousand miles around the world, visiting nearly five hundred pubs and bars in twenty-six towns and cities in thirteen countries on four continents. It had cost me one year and thousands of pounds to plan and execute the travel, a second, much lonelier, more frugal year to write a book about my journey that was far too long and self-indulgent, and then help my editor delete about a third of it and fashion what was left into something people might conceivably pay money to read. I was the only beer writer to have attempted anything on this global scale, at least in one go. If someone else had won the beer/travel prize for, say, a fifteen hundred word article in Beers of the World magazine about a day trip to a brewery in Bamberg that makes smoked beer, interesting as that would no doubt have been, I would have had to take it as a pretty heavy hint that I wasn’t really getting this beer writing lark right. I’d even included a glowing account of my visit to the Budweiser Budvar brewery in Ceske Budejovice, southern Bohemia, and their head of Public Relations was on the judging panel. I had no idea what I was setting in motion as I stood up and walked to the podium, shook TV Brian’s hand and relieved him of a ceramic tankard with painted figures on the outside and, even more attractively, a cheque for a thousand quid on the inside, underneath the heavy pewter lid. After that, everything happened so quickly it would be months before I came to terms with it. Relief turned to glowing satisfaction as I got back to the table, moved the cheque to my jacket pocket and filled the tankard with something dark and malty from somewhere in Belgium. The Budweiser Budvar Travel Bursary 2006 was the fourth prize I had ever won in my life.[2] Two of the previous three had been writing competitions: the first was for a story inspired by a poster in the school corridor when I was ten. My gripping yarn of mutated giant hornets ridden by evil goblins thrashed the living daylights out of the runner-up, and not just because he was eight years old and the only other entrant. My last victory was the Time Out short story competition in 1994. My delight at winning my first ever computer for a story about an eclipse over London, and having it printed in a magazine people actually read, was only slightly lessened by the fact that Time Out immediately abandoned the competition in their wake of my victory, and has never done anything to encourage people to write short stories since. As I returned to my table I was optimistic: sixteen years between the first two prizes. Only twelve between the second two. My writing career was gaining momentum.[3] I should have been very happy indeed. There was no other sane reaction to the kudos of having won a prize with my first entry into the competition, not to mention paying off another thousand quid of the debt the writing had accrued. But as Brian reeled off the names of the winners of the other categories I’d entered, doubt crept back in. Finally it was time for the overall prize: Beer Writer of the Year, chosen from the winners of all the categories, built up by a glowing eulogy from Alistair Gilmour, the previous year’s winner. “This guy could have won every category he entered…” Hey, I entered several categories! And I won one! “He’s very funny….” People always say they laughed at Three Sheets. “He brings a breath of fresh air to beer writing…” Me, me, me… “And I’d just like to finish by illustrating this with a short piece…” Yes? Which piece? The bit about the Hamburglar in Spain? The bloke who ran the bar in Portland Oregon for 25 years after signing the lease for a laugh while he was drunk? The bits with Billy and Declan in Galway? Which? “…about the time he tried to convert his older brother to the delights of real ale…” Bollocks. My only brother is three years younger than me and I’ve never tried to get him to drink real ale. Ben McFarland, the hardest working man in beer writing, rose to collect his second Beer Writer of the Year award in three years. I couldn’t begrudge him it. He’s a very good writer, and if I couldn’t win, he’s the person I’d want to. In fact, every category was won by someone I not only respected as a writer, but also enjoyed sharing a beer with. It was a good night. But they were still all bastards. Doubts started to crawl all over me like little ticks; ticks that could whisper in your ear instead of giving you a rash. They’d given me my award out of sympathy. Just because of the disturbing amount of effort I’d put in. And you couldn’t ignore the very curious wording of the award. As I drained my tankard, I started to think very carefully about that, oh yes. You see, if you read it closely (OK some might say too closely), The Budvar Travel Bursary is specifically not awarded to “the year’s best piece of beer-themed travel writing (or travel-themed beer writing)” at all. It was actually awarded to “the writer who the judges feel could most benefit” from the money. Technically, it wasn’t rewarding my writing. It was saying I needed more practice. Well, that was that. Three Sheets had taken two years of my life, cost me thousands, damaged my health and upset my wife. I wanted to write more books, but there was no way I could ever do anything else on such a scale. I had been trying to work on new ideas for six months, and come up with nothing. It had been my best shot. I was having trouble communicating this to the people around my table though. They weren’t sitting with the overall winner, but they were sitting with a winner, and they were very happy for me. “Congratulations, Pete. What are you going to spend the money on?” “You’ll be off on your travels again now then, eh?” “Where are you going to go next?” “I think Liz deserves a bit of a break from the whole beer thing,” I said. “I might spend most of it on some luxury health spa retreat for us both. And then… I might write a book about… I dunno, something else.” “No, but seriously, there’s loads of countries you didn’t go to last time aren’t there?” “It’s a travel bursary. You’ve got to travel.” “You could do a pub crawl across England. The longest pub crawl.” I grinned mirthlessly. “I was going to. But a man called Ian Marchant already did. And not only did he steal my idea before I’d thought of it, he wrote a better book about it than I would have done. It is in fact called The Longest Crawl. Funny eh? It came out a month after Three Sheets. I can recommend it.” “So where are you going to go then? What about going to the States again?” “I need to refill my rather splendid tankard, I’m afraid.” I was being churlish. Every person on my table was a beer-world mate, someone I was very happy to be dining with. And I’d won something. So later, after refilling my tankard too many times, disgracing myself, losing my cheque and phoning Budvar the next day to ask them to stop it and issue me with a new one, I thought about how I might satisfy the moral obligation to spend at least some of my prize money on a beery trip somewhere. I might return to Germany and visit some of the famous brewing towns I was forced to skip on my Three Sheets trip due to the Death Star-sized hangover and possible scurvy inflicted on me by Oktoberfest. Maybe write that article about the day trip to Bamberg and the smoked beers myself. Or perhaps I’d go to Finland and drink the very strong beer they still make there by fermenting wort with bread yeast inside a hollowed out spruce log before filtering it through pine needles. Either of these trips would make a nice article for one of the specialist beer magazines. I would enjoy the trip, learn something new, and the obligation would be fulfilled. These plans made me happy for about two weeks, before flying scared out of the window of a central London pub, chased away by the dangerous and stupid idea that was about to change my life.

[1] The games teachers at our school knew they had an important stereotype to conform to.
[2] Nobody ever actually said, “And the winner is… Pete Brown!” for the first three, unfortunately.
[3] The other prize I won was for painting some Citadel Miniatures TM Warhammer TM Chaos Warriors TM at a model making competition in Rotherham when I was thirteen. But that’s another story – one I have no intention of writing.

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Now I’m Britain’s second-best beer blogger!

Sorry to be an egotist for a minute but last night I attended the British Guild of Beer Writers (don’t laugh) annual awards ceremony.  This year saw the first award given for ‘Best use of new media’, and I picked up the silver for this blog, plus the website for the Intelligent Choice Report, which means this blog is now officially Britain’s second-best beer blog.

Older readers may remember that about 18 months ago I was runner-up in the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group’s Beer Drinker of the Year Award, which I took to mean I was Britain’s second-best beer drinker.  Some might say that on this performance, I’m carving out a niche for myself as the biggest Number Two on the British beer writing scene.
The judge’s comments were of course complimentary, but laced with a thread of chastisement.  Apparently I’m “improving” as a journalist, with the main improvement being that I’m “less laddish”.  I can only apologise to fans of my first book, Man Walks into a Pub, for this development, and promise to try to be more fatuous, rude and irreverent in future.  Let me start by urging you to go here and click on ‘drunk words’, for a reminder of the kind of writing that has apparently prevented me from winning much in the past.
When I won silver I simply assumed that I’d been beaten by Stonch – but it seems it wasn’t his year.  The gold award went to Zak Avery, who embraced the medium more fully than I by being more prolific and also posting a regular video diary.  Given that I have trouble pasting pictures on this blog, if you’re going to call your award ‘best use’ of new media he deserves it hands down.
Zak then went on to beat some very distinguished and talented writers to be named overall Beer Writer of the Year – a magnificent achievement for someone who is a relative newcomer to the scene.  Congratulations Zak.
The only problem I have with this result is that I just assumed Ben McFarland was going to win this year.  If you win one year you’re not allowed to enter the next, and Ben has won every year he’s been allowed to enter since he started writing.  Zak’s success means I now have to face competition from Ben in the awards next year when my new book comes out.  Looks like the best I can hope for will be number two again.