Tag: Food and Farming Awards

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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:
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? 

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Think you, or someone you know, is the best drinks producer in Britain?

Food and drink. It’s lovely.
Are you frustrated by how the mainstream media always seems to ignore beer and cider? Are you a wine lover who wishes more people were aware of how good English wine is? Following my post yesterday, do you wish there was more focus on interesting soft drinks? Or are you excited about the imminent boom in microdistilleries?
This year I’m delighted to be once again judging the drinks category in the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards, along with wine writer Victoria Moore. As the official blurb says, “From pioneering brewers to traditional distillers, wine makers to juice producers. We want to hear about the people using carefully sourced ingredients and skill to produce an outstanding drink. From producers bringing new ideas to the world of drink, to businesses keeping traditions alive, tell us who deserves recognition in 2014.”

In 2012 our three finalists were the Kernel Brewery, Once Upon a Tree cider, and the Kilhoman distillery. We had to sideline some pretty amazing drinks producers to get to that list, and if we could have then split the award three ways we would have – it eventually came down to a very close vote, which Once Upon a Tree won.

Me and Val Warner with last year’s winners. I actually think I may have lost weight since this was taken.
Beer has done really well recently – as well as Kernel coming so close, the award has been won by Bristol Beer Factory and the Wye Valley Brewery in recent years. Last year the showing from wine was very poor, and Victoria wants to change that – as do I. But I also want to make sure that beer and cider do as well as they did last year too. We had for more brewers and cider makers enter than any other drinks category.
The judging is extremely rigorous. The judges from all categories come together to agree with each pair of judge’s shortlist and the eventual winner. This year, that means a producer could be discussed by the likes of Sheila Dillon, Richard Corrigan, Valentine Warner, Charles Campion and Raymond Blanc. It’s great exposure, even if you don’t win. And if you make the final three, you’ll be featured in a Radio 4 programme with me and Victoria.
These awards are for everyone. Anyone can nominate their favourite producer by filling in the entry form on the BBC website. And just to clear up any confusion arising from that wording, producers are welcome to nominate themselves.
NOM-inations (sorry) opened yesterday, with a programme which you can listen to here. Entries close on 27th January, so you have to be quick (but the form is easy and straightforward). The winners will be announced at a ceremony in May, which looks likely to form the centre of a series of food and drink events.
This award transforms the businesses of those who win it. And the more producers that enter, the more we show the rest of the world how vibrant beer and cider (and everything else) are. There are of course other categories if you also know a great market, food producer, farmer etc.
So go on, make my life agony as I try to choose a winner from the very best of British drinks!