Judging the Mondial de la biere fest
By Tony Forder
The Greg Noonan Mbiere blind tasting competition has been a part of the Mondial de la biere festival in Montreal for 15 of its 29 years. It is named after pioneer craft brewer Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, VT. And while he was not a Quebecois, Noonan had a strong influence on Quebec's first wave of craft brewers such as Jean-Francois Gravel of Dieu du Ciel!
The competition is a bit different than most – there are no style categories. Judges are asked to judge each beer on its own intrinsic qualities. And there is no discussion – judges are on their own. And to make things even more opaque, the tasting glasses are indeed opaque, so that the beer is not pre-judged by color.
It can be quite intimidating, with really no guidelines, like walking in space, but it can also be quite liberating to judge without having to put each beer in a style box – judging outside the box if you like. The competition was the brainchild of Mario d'Eer, Canadian beer author and guru who presented his idea to Mondial de la biere President Jeannine Marois who adopted it for her festival. It has stood the test of time over 15 years on three continents. The original in Montreal, the European version in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Paris, France, and finally in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil. One of the rules of the competition is that you can only judge once at each festival, so there is a long list of alumni.
I have been fortunate to be included as a judge at each one of the festivals over the years, but this time in Montreal it was different. I am now the coordinator of the competition. I'm working on the other side of the curtain, and I get to watch the judges sweat it out. I have to crack the whip and keep things on schedule – only 5 minutes per beer.
But we had a good judging crew, an international mix of brewers and beer experts – one from Ireland, one from Brazil, one from the US, one from Ontario and a pair from Quebec. Two women, four guys. The cool thing for me to see was how the judges bonded, seemed to enjoy each other, the competition, the festival and the city of Montreal.
The evening before the competition we hosted a meet and greet at Bier Markt, close to the festival site at Gare Windsor and host hotel, Novotel. The scheduled hour turned into 2 or 3.
At the end of the first day of judging, the judges didn't immediately run for the door as I have witnessed on some occasions. Instead, they hung out swapping stories and brewing experiences in their various countries. Tico, brewer at Benelux was one of the judges and he invited his new compatriots to sample his wares at the Verdun location. Of course, the judges didn't do everything together. One went in search of a pinball bar, another hunted out fresh oysters at the Marché Jean Talon. The Irish gentleman, after the judging was over, decided to take a trip to Ottawa.
Meanwhile there was plenty to enjoy over the five days of the festival featuring more than 400 beers, ciders and spirits to sample. The great thing aabout the fest is that as there is no entrance fee, visitors can come and go as they please interspersing their festival experience with all the other attractions that Montreal has to offer.
Mark your calendars for the 30th annual Mondial de la biere festival, May 24-26, 2024.