The origins of this great beer competition go back to the nineteenth century. A Brewers' Exhibition was held in October 1879 in The Agricultural Hall in Islington, North London. This continued annually for 15 years before a rift developed between the organisers (who wanted the show to remain annual) and the brewers (who thought a 3 year interval was sufficient).
While the event was enjoying its early, harmonious years, an "exhibition" of beers was incorporated.
‘The Brewers’ Journal’ of November, 1886 reported
'a very happy idea that was originated by Messrs Gillman, Spencer Ltd, who had a competitive exhibition of beers brewed with their patent rice and torrefied barley malts. Over 100 brewers responded to the invitation, the prospects of substantial prizes apparently having proved an incentive not to be neglected.'
There were only two classes in this 1886 competition. Class 1 stated that a prize would be awarded “for the best beer of any class or age with at least 15% of patent gelatinised rice malt or torrefied barley malt.” The Gold medal went to Messrs Dryborough & Company of Edinburgh.
Class 2 offered prizes in three sections. The overall requirement was that the beers be brewed with at least 10% of gelatinised rice malt. The three sections were for beers with an original gravity of under 20 pounds (lbs 1055o OG), from 20-24 lbs, and 25lbs 1069o OG and upwards.
From 1889 onwards, the ‘Beer Competitions’, as they increasingly came to be known, formed a regular part of The Brewers’ Exhibition. ‘The Brewers’ Journal’ and ‘The Brewing Trade Review’ chronicled the history of these complementary events.
In the review of the 1910 competitions, it was reported that the suppliers' trade body, The Allied Brewery Traders' Association had protested 'against the imposition of increased licence duties' which were considered 'too great for the brewing and licensed trades to bear.' The familiarity of such sentiments today should not disguise the fact that the1910 Competitions were very successful. Gold Medal winners that year included Theakstons of Masham, Dales of Cambridge, Masons of Maidstone, and Whitakers of Halifax.
At this time, categorisation of beer styles already appears to have been a problem. Classes were divided by OG and included light bitter, black beer, bottled non-deposit beer and natural conditioned beer. Organisers got round the problem by awarding 'a special prize for any other description of beer not in the above classes.'
War led to the Brewers Exhibition being cancelled from 1914 but, curiously, the Beer Competitions went ahead.
Perhaps beer competitions have always been more popular than exhibitions?
By 1914, there was a class for 'stouts of any gravity'. A 5-guinea cup was also sponsored by the Bank Bridge Stopper Works for the best beer in all bottled classes. Mappins Masboro took that back to Rotherham.
The Competitions were then suspended until 1919, from then on growing in sophistication, but still a national competition only. By 1930, 800 beers were entered, plus separate contests for mineral waters (of which there were 160) and a similar number of ciders.
There were by now new proprietors for the exhibitions – Trades, Markets & Exhibitions Ltd in the City of London. But the Royal Agricultural Hall still remained the venue. 'One improvement this year', commented 'The Brewing Trade Review', 'is that every possible precaution will be taken to maintain an even temperature in Gilbey Hall from the moment that entries arrive. In past years the heat has been applied in the day-time only and the rise and fall in temperature in 24 hours has been considerable.'
In hindsight, such 'improvements' were an essential part of the development of the Competitions, and can be seen to remain important to this day. The requirements for favourable conditions and the right judging ambience eventually led to the separation of the event from the exhibition, which was known as BREWEX after the Second World War.
Great changes followed the war in all areas of life, not least the exhibition industry. It was decided that the exhibition need no longer be annual, so it was held every three years and then, as developments in the industry slowed, every four years.
However, the Competitions went from strength to strength, with over 1,000 beers regularly mustering during the 60's. By now the Competitions were known by the cumbersome title of the United Kingdom Bottled and Draught, European and Commonwealth Beer Competitions, so called because beers from these three areas of origin were not allowed to compete with each other.
But 75% of entries came from the UK, with a 60/40 split in favour of smallpack entries, and with lager entries growing steadily. Soon the likes of Mauritius Breweries, Simond-Farsons-Cisk in Malta, and Dominion in New Zealand were taking the top lager Awards. Up until 1987, European and Commonwealth entries were only allowed to submit bottled beers in their own classes.
The Beer Competitions were traditionally organised in one hall of the Brewers Exhibition up until BREWEX in 1983.
BREWEX had moved from Earl's Court in London, where it had been held since the demise of the Agricultural Halls during the war, to the recently opened National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.
After the demise of BREWEX the competition was held in Burton upon Trent, drawing upon the skills, expertise and goodwill of the local brewers to help set up and organise the event.
In 2005, the brave decision to move the competition to Munich, alongside Drinktec, the global brewing exhibition, saw another increase in entries.
With the change in the brewing industry, the consumer and value chain it was decided to take a short "break" to ensure that the next competitions truly reflected the changing consumer landscape as well as developments within the brewing industry.
To this end, it was decided to hold the next competitions back in Burton upon Trent, being supervised by Chairman of Judges Bill Taylor, Chief Brewer of Lion Nathan. These were successfully held 9-11th February 2011.
The Brewing Industry International Awards have been renamed The International Brewing Awards – a simpler description which better communicates the competition’s global appeal.
The 2013 competition, at the National Brewery Centre in Burton-upon-Trent, February 2013 returned to its roots yet again and incorporated other drink styles, with 2 cider categories.
The 2015 competition will further develop cider categories, running a seperate cider competition alongside the beer competition.
We look forward to judging your beers and ciders!
Registration for both the beer and cider Awards is now closed. Registration for 2017 Awards will open August 2016.
Awards Ceremony at Guildhall, City of London