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drinking beer in the South of France and then writing about it

Judging a home brewing competition in the South of France

The beautiful little town of La Seyne sur Mer saw its first beer festival organised this weekend, featuring a homebrewing competition to wrap up the celebrations. 

I was very happy to be selected to be one of five jury members for La Seyne Sur Mer's homebrewing competition along side my friend Sheri, as part of the town's first craft beer festival Bière en Seyne. 

After two years of organising Nice's Concours du brasseur amateur with the association des Brasseries Indépendantes des Alpes Maritimes (BIAM06), I was excited to finally be on the tasting side of things.  

With Sheri, manager of Brewdog Nice

Homebrewers had four categories to chose from - four styles of beer that were specially selected by the president of the competition, as they are traditional styles seldom found in today's french beer universe :

GOLDEN ALE - BITTER - ALTBIER - PORTER 

 A grand total of fifteen beers were submitted to the jury for deliberation. We were asked to judge the beers following the BJCP's guide of styles, with a specific emphasis on certain criteria : 

BOUQUET / ARÔME - APPARENCE - GÔUT - CORPS 

We had two and a half hours to taste, examine and deliberate on all fifteen homebrews. A winner in each category was to be announced at 6pm that day.

The time, effort and passion put into each homebrew was obvious in each and every sample we tasted. Certain beers - despite their plain and indiscript containers - stood out more than others.

Some beers put forward the brewer's mastery of balancing malts, whereas other beers confirmed their proficiency in dry-hopping. 

While some brews were better mastered than others, and there could only be one winner per category, each homebrewer who took the time, effort, and courage to submit their beers are winners in my book. I am very honoured to have had the chance to judge and comment on the fifteen beers, and hope to have the opportunity to do it again !

One thing is certain : the view couldn't get much better! The town was blessed with gorgeous, hot spring weather (meanwhile it was storming back at home in Nice).

The greatest challenge I found was to accurately detect the flavours (intentional or not) of each beer in order to give precise and helpful feedback to each homebrewer. I wished to give constructive criticism in order to - hopefully - encourage and help the homebrewers continue their brewing adventures and improve their future recipes

I don't pretend to know everything about beer tastings and flavour detection - in fact this competition made me realise that I need to study off-flavors more closely, Cicerone here I come ! I do believe that my past experience as a cavistehomebrewer-turned-assistant brewer, and avid beer-drinker has given me the skills and knowledge to give appropriate feedback to each participant. 

Here are a couple tips and tricks I've learned to help me with the beer tasting experience :  

  1. EARS : is there a nice hissss when opening the bottle? 
  2. EYES : how does the beer look in the glass (always serve your beer in a clear, beer-clean glass)? Is it hazy? Is it bright? Are there little floaty-bits? What does the head look like: thick and creamy? Light and thin? What colour is it? 
  3. NOSE : I like to take short and quick breaths in, as opposed to long, deep inhalations. If ever my nose gets tired or saturated from taking in all of the beer aromas, I can either cover my glass with a coaster and whirl the liquid around ; or smell my own, un-perfumed, natural skin to "reset" my nose.
  4. MOUTH ! Definitely the best part of the tasting. Studying the flavour of the beer lasts from the second it hits my tongue to the couple of seconds after swallowing. This is where I look at the flavour (duh) of the beer (which ingredient stands out most? What aromas am I detecting? Is the beer sour / bitter / salty / sweet?), the body (is it thick, creamy, watery, syrupy,...) and of course the carbonation (too little? Too much? Juuuuust right?). 
  5. OVERAL IMPRESSION : in the words of my dad, "is it pintable"? Was the experience enjoyable? Did I enjoy the beer? And in the case of the homebrewing competition : did the above correspond to the BJCP's definition (or my own experience) of the declared style?

I would like to thank Kelly (Kelly's Spirits, France Bières), President of the homebrew competition, for inviting me to be a part of this fun and enriching afternoon. 

I would also like to thank each homebrewer who participated in the competition, without whom this tasting would - obviously - not have been possible ! 

Le Concours du Brasseur Amateur de Nice is back in 2022 ! Stay tuned for more information here.

Nice Beer Festival : Nice's first ever craft beer ...

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