So, the choice of the début beer has been made, and I shall be popping the lid later today.
But before I launch into the first review, I thought I'd lay down some house rules and explain exactly how each taste test will be conducted.
Firstly, to the great horror of some of you, I will not be limiting the candidate beers to 'bottle-conditioned' varieties only.
I can almost hear the shrieks of mortal despair...
The heated debate rages on about the merits of bottled-conditioning (the process by which the beer is left unpasteurised, allowing it to continue to mature and ferment within the bottle with the aid of a small amount of sediment consisting mainly of yeast) and I might as well admit that I am a fan of the concept, by and large.
However, the fact remains that some of my favourite bottled delights are not produced in this way – and I'm sure that must say something about the ultimate benefits of the process. If 'integrity' is your main concern, then conditioning will always override all other consideration. But for me, if I'm brutally honest – taste is the key. Taste conquers all, and to hell with everything else!
The second house rule is that the beers I'm to be sampling will be being consumed entirely on their own, and not as accompaniments to a meal. This is another of those 'can of worms' issues in the world of beer adoration, with many aficionados insisting that beer is intended as a partner to food and not as a taste experience in its own right.
But I see all kinds of thorny branches blocking that particular pathway. For instance, if someone claims that 'Beer X' is an ideal accompaniment to a roast beef dinner – the claim makes no mention of who is cooking the dinner, the peculiar ingredients with which they make their gravy, what unusual vegetables they tend to serve with it, or whether they actually have any skills whatsoever in the culinary field.
A good beer with a bad meal – can there be a greater source of misery?
The final rule is that I'm going to be kind. Or rather, I'm certainly going to try to be kind. Anyone who ever took a punt at brewing their own beer at home will know what a truly elusive treasure a finely crafted ale really is. Many of the beers I am about to imbibe will have been produced by small, local enterprises who may merely be finding their feet, so it is my intention to be ever mindful that great pride has been taken in pursuit of these results – however unspectacular they might be.
So, there we are, I hope that's clear. I'm gazing across at the first concoction right now, and I shall be acquainting myself with its many varied mysteries in a couple of hours time...
The verdict will follow...