OK, there were 28 judges this year (well, it is the biggest cider competition in the world!!) with classes being allocated to specific people. Very sensibly judges are not allowed to enter a class you are judging! I got 'Bottled Sweet Cider', judging alongside John Perry (of Perry's Cider fame). I also ran a couple of tutored cider tastings where I tried very hard not to offend any of the large producers whilst taking people on a tour of the UK styles (and beyond).
But first, I have to say, 146 picked up a 'Highly Commended' once again - this time for a single variety Michelin cider. I know, I often say I 'don't do' single varieties. All of the Michelin (bar a couple of demijohns) were blended with Kingston Black to make Thornleigh Estate. I am a growing fan of Michelin - it is a much misunderstood cider variety that offers a mild tannin and fruity complexion... but is often dominated by bigger hitting varieties. Maybe next year. However, this is the 4th accolade in 2014 for my cider, so I am clearly very happy!
Anyway. Judging. The Royal Bath and West Show is a very professionally run affair - a classic rural show with lots of machinery and a big 'show ring' sitting alongside such things as cheese, honey and cider tents. Well worth a day out! Judging takes place at set times and there were some 560 entrants this year... thankfully only 34 in the bottled sweet class though!
As opposed to being a world class cider maker:-) I think I probably was invited along more because of my work with Cider Workshop than as 146 Cider Company... but I can never turn down the chance of drinking other peoples cider!!
Drinking cider at 0900 in the morning is a task in itself, but unlike the dryer categories there is no upper limit on sweetness for the class I was judging. So John and I 'girded our loins', grabbed a handful of crackers and cheese (and a bottle of water) and set about trying to rule ciders in and out. Every now and again, we checked our palates with a call of 'please measure this cider' - out came a hydrometer to measure the sweetness and we would generally be fairly spot on. In fact, only one really caught us out - it was incredibly sweet... though a 5 minute break, several lumps of cheese and a few crackers and our taste buds returned to the front of our mouths for more!!
Eventually we got to 5 ciders that were in the running. At this point things are very tight - although our top two were fairly easy - well balanced and a good flavour to them. Ultimately, we had our list - giving 'commended' to the two that fell 4th and 5th.
The final twist is that both 1st and 2nd were Thatchers... proof indeed that the larger producers can deliver great cider.
Will I do it again? Well, I hope so. It is a great competition. It hasn't made me reconsider going beyond medium for my own cider sweetening though - does a cider really need that much sweetness?