Beer Writer of the Year Awards 2010: Interview with Adrian Tierney-Jones

Posted by Alexander Hay

Heard of the Beer Writer of the Year awards? No, I haven't either, which is scandalous as they've been running since 1990. Also, because I like beer.

Adrian Tierney-Jones (far left) wins the Budvar John White Travel Bursary at the 2007 Beer Writer of the Year Awards.

This year's event is on Thursday 25 November, at the Radisson Bloomsbury, so keen to spread the word, I decided to ring up British Guild Of Beer Writers Honorary Secretary Adrian Tierney-Jones [pictured left, winning a BWYA award in 2007], who's also one of this year's entrants. (His blog is Called To The Bar, in case you're wondering.)

It didn't entirely go to plan. He answered short of breath. It seems I caught him half way through walking his dog on Exmoor of all places.

He still filled me in, fortunately, so I asked if he could answer some more questions via e-mail. He replied soon after...

Anyway, before we talk about the beer awards, do tell me about yourself, Adrian.

"I’ve been a journalist since the 1980s, starting off in the music press, writing reviews, subbing and ending up as a production editor on a pop mag. I then went to the NME as a deputy production editor in 1987, working in the subs room with future Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamack. (I used to take the micky out of him for all the indie bands he went to see), and then freelance after a year, which I have been ever since."

This was how Adrian got into the beer-writing business, with a sort of wandering bard vigour as his CV stretched out before him. "I spent a lot of the 90s subbing and then came back into freelance writing, contributing to the likes of GQ, Men’s Health, Esquire, New Woman (a TV column) — and somehow in 1996 I did a feature for CAMRA’s What’s Brewing magazine and it grew from there."

Indeed it did: "I was in the right place at the right time, got a lot of lucky breaks, put myself out... It helped that I was already a working journalist and knew how to pitch ideas and so on. I write about beer and pubs, as well as countryside issues, with my work appearing in the Daily Telegraph’s Weekend section as well as the travel section, the Morning Advertiser, Beer magazine, Daily Mail, Coast, All About Beer (USA), Scoff and whoever asks me to write for them... I’ve also written several books, five on beer and pubs, one on walking and another on wild swimming, I’m currently about to start on another book."

Your hops-fuelled career aside, tell me about the awards.

"They are the beer industry’s version of the Oscars — plaudits handed out to those who communicate about beer, whether they are national or regional journalists, those working in the B2B press and bloggers. It’s open to anyone who communicates about beer whether they write a press release for a brewery, make a v-blog, write regularly as part of their daily job or run a website about beer."

Those wonderful, wonderful people. But as I said earlier on the 'phone, this is the first time I've heard about the awards. Surely they should get more attention. "To be honest, I think it had a bit of coverage in the 1990s, but lost ground to the media’s obsession with wine. Chris Evans called it a ‘good do’ on his show the night after the event in 2006/07 — some might say it’s the media being sniffy about beer."

Adrian thinks the reason for the Awards' invisibility may be a bit more prosaic though. "But I think it’s more of a case that there is such a surfeit of news out there that some things don’t get through the blizzard."

I wondered if the truth lied somewhere in-between. Beer is a very Anglo-Saxon drink, after all, with an 'oiky' image to match, and many hacks no doubt hunger for more glamorous wine-guzzling Norman ways. Then again, it took effort to find out about the Awards simply because there really is just so much going on these days.

But anyway, what was your first run-in with the awards like? "I do remember that my first event in 1999 seemed like something out of Hogwarts — long wooden tables, standing up when the chairman (or woman as it was then) came in, toast to the Queen... But on the other hand it has always been convivial and if beer writers can’t organise a booze up then who can?"

What a glorious sight it must be. Moving on, one of the themes the awards are pushing is how best to combine beer with food. In fact, if memory serves, you told me on the phone that you once had a craft beer made for the awards with added saffron! (Needless to say, Adrian and the Guild take this very seriously.)

"The saffron was a one-off, but we always match the menu with beer and we take a lot of effort to make sure it is right. Last year myself and Mark Dorber (a long serving member, expert beer and food matcher, former landlord of the White Horse Parsons Green) worked hard on getting it right, this year it is no different. The food has a South Indian flavour, and two members of the committee Zal Avery and Pete Brown (the latter the current beer writer of the year, the former 2008’s) have chosen a North German Pils, Trappist Duppel, US Imperial Stout and English ginger flavoured beer to match what is a wonderful menu. Beer and food is not rocket science, neither is it as weird as the wine guys might have you think."

So what are the categories this year? Adrian lists them like so:

Molson Coors’ Award for Best Writing in National Publications
Prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting aimed at a general audience, published in the national (and international) press, consumer magazines, books, national television and radio.

Adnams Award for Best Writing in Regional Publications
Prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting aimed at a specific local or regional audience, published in local and regional newspapers, magazines, radio, television and CAMRA newsletters.

Wells & Young's Award for Best Writing for the Beer and Pub Trade
Prize £1,000 & £500

For the very best writing or broadcasting on the subject of beer and pubs in a trade, business-to-business or intra-company publication.

Brains SA Gold Award for Best Online Communication
£1,000 & £500

For the very best use of blogs, websites and social media, whether that be writing or use of other tools such as video or social networking.

Bishop's Finger Award for Beer and Food Writing
One prize only, £1,000

For the very best writing or broadcasting on the subject of matching beer with food (an area formerly dominated by wine). Entries can be from national, local or regional media, books, trade publications or online.

Budweiser Budvar John White Travel Bursary
One prize only, £1,000 plus trip to Czech Republic

For the very best travel-themed beer writing (or beer-themed travel writing) or broadcasting. Entries can be from national, local or regional media, books, trade publications or online.

Yes, you read the last prize right. You get a cheque and then a Czech (beer). That's symmetry.

POSTSCRIPT:  Adrian was runner-up in the Molson Coors' Award. Well done!

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Alexander Hay

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