The final programme in Jamie Oliver’s recent Food Fight Club series for C4 was on the theme of beer and featured a competition between the British and the Belgians. I was the UK judge, one of a panel of three, the others being Marc Stroobandt (Belgium) and Darin Oman (Independent). Marc is a Master Beer Sommelier and Darin is a home brewer and beer enthusiast who was recommended to the TV production company by beer author Tim Webb. Below are my thoughts on the programme – which was first broadcast on Friday 28th Dec. A review of the beer Jamie & Jimmy brewed for it is also below.
I like Jamie Oliver. I didn’t used to. We used to refer to him rudely in the bookshop I worked in many years ago when he was still The Naked Chef. Then I saw his School Dinners series and I changed my mind. So there. I think it is great that he’s managed to get beer on to prime time TV and, no, I’m not just saying that because I was asked to be on the programme.
Here’s the thing about telly. It takes a lot of time and effort to make a tiny little bit of TV. You have to film much more than you’ll ever be able to use and then you have to edit it down to fit a programme slot. Which mostly means that if you’re restricted to a single programme it can only ever be an overview, an introduction to give viewers an idea of the thing rather than being a comprehensive guide. Given all this Food Fight Club did a very good job.
Could it have done better? Well… the British could have won the competition and that’s mostly what the great and the good have been debating on Twitter, and perhaps what you have been talking about down the pub or at home.
Contrary to how it seemed on the programme, we did judge the beers blind. Each ‘flight’ was brought out from behind us in unbranded glassware so we did not know which beers were in front of us. However, there were bottles of all the beers within sight so it was not the kind of strict blind tasting you’d have when judging a more formal competition. I also ran into the British brewers on the Eurostar and was about to sit with Sara Barton of Brewster’s because I recognised her, but was swiftly ushered to the opposite end of the carriage by one of the production team and told me not to speak to her or any of the other brewers prior to the competition – so the programme-makers were trying their best to make it a serious and fair battle.
But once we’d judged the beers and the Brits lost out to the Belgians, I started to wonder about how and why the British ones had been selected. If I’d been asked to select them, rather than judge them, there would have been more of Britain’s brewing heritage on the table – but I don’t mean that as a criticism of the beers or brewers that were there. It’s just that if you are going to go up against breweries that have been around since the 17th Century, and are famous the world over, then surely you’ve got to bring a few of your oldest breweries along too?
Then there’s the question of how the British beers were stored and looked after on their way to Brussels and before they reached the table behind which sat Marc, Darin and I. I refer the honourable member to the paragraph they read some moments ago. A TV programme was being made. The producers’ main concern is to make sure they film what they need to make their programme and that what they film gives them the necessary to make something people will want to watch and will be informed and entertained by. They spent a couple of days solid on filming just the competition aspect of the show, including a lot of to-ing and froing, and I can’t imagine that allowed much opportunity to properly look after the beer and make sure it had time to settle before it was judged. So, I think it came down to either putting the effort in to making a good programme or winning the beer competition and, assuming you’ve seen the programme, you know which of those won.
At the end of the day (it’s night) it gave our beloved beer – and some of our favourite breweries some much needed TV exposure so I’m not going to complain. You can though – feel free to comment below.
Review of Lady Marmalade – Jamie & Jimmy’s beer made in collaboration with Camden Town Brewery
No ABV stated on the bottle, but I’d guess (or maybe I was even told) it was around 4.7%.
The beer was a lovely dark, brassy gold with a small, loose bubbly white head. Its aroma was no great shakes, a bit cardboardy with a vague suggestion of tinned peaches, but not strong or unpleasant enough to be off putting. First taste was refreshing and citrussy with subtle but noticeable zesty orange and mandarin flavours and a tangy, mildly astringent finish that I felt on the sides of my tongue. The beer was reminiscent of its name and also benefitted from a balanced malty and slightly sweet aftertaste. Clean tasting and drinkable, I wouldn’t say it was a world-stopping beer but a good, characterful brew with a memorable flavour that made me feel sad I couldn’t have another.
If you are an ‘experienced’ craft beer drinker or a serious hophead then I doubt Lady Marmalade will set your world on fire, but I think you’d still be able to enjoy it. Were Camden Town Brewery and Jamie Oliver so inclined I think it could be marketed as a sort of ‘entry level’ craft beer and if it had J.O. branding it might just be the brew that puts beer on the map for a much wider audience.
If you missed the programme, you can still watch it online (for approx one month after first broadcast) here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/jamie-jimmys-food-fight-club/episode-guide/series-1/episode-4
The programme is also due to be repeated on 4Seven at 9pm on the 2nd Jan
I felt the beer selection was poor and agree we should have chosen more traditional brewers and ales. The program seemed to put across that “craft” beer (a term stolen from our American cousins) was a new revolution in the UK, which in part it is, with new flavours and fusions being created. But the backbone of UK ales should have been celebrated, more wooden mash tuns, less stainless steel computer controlled kit. But, hey, beer on the telly is a step in the right direction.
To beat the Belgiums, I think our selection of beers needed to be more extreme or radical. Brewers that push the envelope that spring to mind include: Brewdog, Thornbridge, Darkstar, Brodies, Magic Rock. It was an extreme competition that called for extreme brews. Great to see beer judging on TV. Thank goodness for 4OD
I watched the show and am pleased that you have provided an honest opinion about it in this blog. I think the independent judge should be accredited, I would recommend someone like Tomas Danko or Kelly Ryan, a judge with equally professional brewery consultancy knowledge, especially with each country in a specialist field based subject.
I did not know the Belgian judge and have not met him before, Joris would have been my personal choice as he is very honest and reliable. I am extremely pleased that they consulted Tim Webb whom is an absolute Belgian beer star.
Clearly the production team tried hard to get the programme format done but it was poorly edited, it was unprofessional on many levels, basic knowledge to be learnt before shooting wasn’t done for instance. It would have been far better for Jamie to go on a crash course on Belgium beer at one of the famous Belgian cafes in London before setting loose in Belgium, something which was very funny and comedy gold.
I think they got many many things wrong on the show and the styles and choices from both sides could have been improved. Gateway beers, again, surely a larger from both countries, Veddet v Brodie’s London Larger or Camden Hells, Westmalle (one of the world’s best beers) v Traquair 900 or Orkney Dark Island; Harviestoun Ola Dubh v De Struise Pannepot, Kernel 1890 v Abbaye des Rocs Brune?? A few suggestions!
I think the programme came off badly in the production levels and I definitely would like to thank them for showcasing beer but it is still a lot of work. I think it was good of Jamie to realise how much there is to beer and that is the important issue. Congrats on the appearance and hoping there is more beer tv time.
The beer wasn’t the problem. I didn’t matter about ‘losing’ to the Belgians. Anyone who understands beer knows that every beer is somebones favourite beer. No beer was robbed, as I keep reading.
The issue was the shocking depths the programme was pitched to, to entertain. The general public are not brain dead, and it was dumbed down to the lowest level. I think they missed a massive trick here. Instead of filling time with re-caps every five minutes they could have entertained and educated.
I also thought it was a bit derogatory to a large proportion of the brewing industry (traditional and non traditional – whatever that means) to, but that’s a different story for a different day.
Very well written review, Sophie, and an excellent comment from Adnams does APA too!.
Sorry for hijacking your blog, but I wanted the British public to know how close the competition actually was. The judges were split on the first category and the decisions were difficult for the rest. The Belgians chose their beers well and I agree that they had the advantage of being able to better control the storage and handling of their samples. Going into this competition, I genuinely thought the Brits were going to take it. Personally, the kind of beers being produced in the UK are generally the kind of beers I prefer to drink (and I live in Belgium).
One thing I think the show did do well was choose its judges. Yes, it was all in good fun and we had fun doing it (I did, anyway), but we judges took our role very seriously. We take beer very seriously.
I do feel a bit bad about not getting the chance to provide feedback to the brewers. The UK brewers especially deserve to know why their beers weren’t victorious. Then again, perhaps they don’t care. Good for them.
About the Lady Marmalade: We did get a chance to sample this beer after the competition and I enjoyed it a lot. Your tasting notes (Sophie) come close to how I remember it, though I remember it a bit more fondly, especially the aroma. Are your notes based on a bottle you had recently? It sounds like it might have suffered from age and maybe got a bit oxidized. It was probably my preferred beer of the day and the one I would’ve gone back to. It seems those Camden boys know what their doing.
I still haven’t watched the show from start to finish, since I live in Belgium and it’s not exactly available here yet, but I did catch parts including the competition bit. I’m glad not too many of my friends will see it. I might never live down, “I’m getting nut.”*
*I believe I specified hazelnut or another specific nut immediately after that, but it was edited out.
Thought the ‘fight’ was a little unfair – having a Trappist category was ludicrous when the UK only has one beer in the entire country to choose from. Where was the IPA category? One of THE greatest beer styles there is.
The Belgians seemingly have a very insular beer culture, which is shame (obviously, I’m going by what I saw on the programme, so I’m prepared to be proved wrong).
I am Belgian, and saw the show only today on one of the “food channels” we have on Belgian TV.
I really enjoyed the show (especially the part where Jamie and Jimmy worked in a pub, that was hilarious) and obviously I was happy with the outcome (as beer and chocolate are some of our gastronomic prides).
Still, and despite the fact that I think also in UK there are many nice beers (especially the ales), whenever I try UK beers I always think that similar Belgian beers simply taste better. So reading here that judges were independent and tasted blind, strengthens my belief in the quality of our Belgian beers.
But I am not a Belgian beer fanatic and enjoy to taste any good beer, wherever part of the world it comes from.
(And maybe someone should explain Gary Barlow something about beer, as his reaction (“why would you battle the Belgians on beer, they have nothing to battle about?”) was rather stupid…)
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