I'm sorry it took so long to pick a winner!
It was interesting to read the variety of entries - a privilege to get an insight into what beer means to different people around the world.
Many entries talked about beer's role through history in keeping us alive, and almost everyone touched at least in part on beer's role today as the most sociable of drinks, its uniquely slow, stately progression of inebriation and the way we can bond over it. Many said we could do that bonding anyway, but the beer sure as hell helps. Some tried the angle that the beer itself is not what matters, but the friendships and times it helps catalyse, while others said beer may not matter to you, or to the guy down the street, but it matters to me because I drink it, or I brew it, or make my living out of it, and wouldn't have it any other way.
So in terms of themes it was all quite familiar stuff - I've made all those points in my books and on this blog many times before.
But what made reading these entries special was the way these arguments were illustrated. We might all think similar things about beer, but our own individual stories that back up these beliefs are quite different, and make for a wonderful collection of reading. Your first beer, your coming of age with beer, the moment you decided you wanted to brew, the places you've travelled in the name of beer... reading these entries one after the other was to be pulled around the world from one cool bar to another, back and forth across the last three or four decades, fantastic beer at the centre of a kaleidoscope of life experiences.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking 'sod the platitude and purple prose Pete, who won?'
OK, so we had three entries that really stood out for the pack.
In third place, is John Bidwell from Denver, Colorado, with his essay: 'Liquid identities: Community Representation through Beer.' He focuses on how two brewers in two different parts of the world pack their beers with a real sense of place and provenance, and transport you to those places when you drink them.
In second place is Shea Luke, with a spirited romp through her life as a young, female real ale enthusiast and ticker. Shea blogs here and will be on my blogroll from now on. She has a distinctive, fresh voice and a lovely turn of phrase, and I hope we hear a lot more from her in future.
And the winner... let's hope all these prizes don't start going to his head, but first place goes to Mark Dredge. He's so industrious, so omnipresent, that it's easy to forget that Mark has been writing about beer for less than two years. He's on a very steep upward trajectory and this entry is proof of that. It traces all the themes outlined above, but frames them in a neat narrative arc and addresses them with passion, energy and clarity. A clear voice and an increasing confidence in his writing mean Mark will be going to Ceske Budejovice and seeing his piece in The Publican very soon.
Thank you so much to everyone who entered. It really was a pleasure to judge - I don't think there was a single entry that was not enjoyable in some way. I'm hoping to post the top three entries on here over the next week or two, so stay tuned for some fresh takes on the beverage we all feel matters so much.