The SIBA Great Northern Beer Festival, organised by the Society of Independent Brewers in association with CAMRA, is taking place this weekend at the Ramada Piccadilly, in Manchester, but I sneaked off on Thursday to take part there as a judge in the Northern regional beer competition. These events are a serious business. Storing and piping 260 different cask ales to the hand pumps is difficult enough, but this year the “cellar” was above the festival hall, so the “python” of pipes carrying the beer emerged from the wall over the heads of the bar staff. Organising the judges, and making sure they get the right beers at the right time, and in good condition, is a huge undertaking. I’d be lying if I said that the judging itself was anything less than a great pleasure, but it’s a serious business too, supporting independent brewers making glorious beers.