Alresford Show 2022

A honey judge's stewards recollection of the day

My bag was packed and everything on my list was ticked off. Cleaning cloths, a sponge, some water, a clipboard with spare paper and several pens. I’d packed a battery charger and multiple leads in case anyone needed them, as well as an assortment of emergency over-the-counter medications. Pretty sure I’d thought of everything, I was feeling well prepared for whatever the day could throw at me.

I had been given the honour and somewhat daunting task of being the Honey Judge’s Head Gopher. Or “steward” as I later discovered was the official title. I’m very new to beekeeping, still finishing off my practical course as I write this, had never met a honey judge and didn’t really know what to expect. Obviously I was surprised when a very normal looking lady with an enormous travel case arrived ‘bearing’ absolutely no resemblance to Winnie the Pooh.

My sense of having packed to be ready for anything quickly disappeared when the judge opened up her enormous case and I immediately realised that, once again, I’d failed to comprehend how complex each individual area of beekeeping can be. I decided my best course of action would be to concentrate on not getting in her way or annoying her too much. A cup of tea! Everyone loves a cup of tea. But my offer was politely declined and I feared I’d be no help at all.

My brief before the day was that I’d learn a lot, get to taste the entries, and have to do some cleaning and whatever odd jobs were needed. The judge was trying to be highly conscientious about any potential virus risks, so had packed disposable dippers, removing the need for me to clean anything for her between entries. So I was positively grateful when she tasked me with cleaning, and later conducting the testing with, her refractometer. At last I was being vaguely useful!

An official-looking white coat and smart-looking badge had been presented to me so I could go about the business of the day without appearing to be getting up to anything nefarious. Coupled with the clipboard I’d brought along, I successfully fooled several people into thinking I knew what I was doing there. I absolutely did not.

I had to stifle a chuckle when one lady approached me and asked incredulously, if I was “an ACTUAL beekeeper”. Are we so few and far between that we have achieved rockstar status? I glanced around the tent and briefly contemplated blowing her mind by revealing how many beekeepers she was currently in the midst of. Apparently, we’re blending in discreetly with the rest of normal society, keep it up gang, they haven’t rumbled us yet!

With so many entries, it’s easy to just see each entry in isolation, and forget about the person behind it, who took great care to plan, extract /create and present their entry – be it biscuits, cake, sweets, a photograph, a wax mould, a candle, or a jar/s of honey. You can admire the entry in isolation, and appreciate the great effort that has often very clearly gone into it, without considering the person who did that work. It was only afterwards, as I saw the looks of joy and disappointment on the faces of entrants that the impact began to sink in.

Many people approached me asking, in a very polite way, why their entry had been disqualified or placed where it had. With so many entries it was hard to remember all of them, especially as one jar of honey looks much the same as every other.


One of the classes required 6 identical jars of honey labelled as for sale. They had misted up with condensation so the judge and I carefully cleaned them to give them the best chance of a fair viewing. One of the entries had a very tiny fragment of something, barely noticeable until a very bright light was shone through the glass, in one of the jars, so the entire entry of 6 jars was disqualified. They each had a tamper proof label on and the judge removed them from the running before opening any of the jars.

So as she cut through the tamper proof labels on all 6 unopened jars of the now unplaced entry, my horror was obvious from the look on my face. I was truly shocked. The jars were so beautifully presented and 5 of them were likely perfect. The design of the labels had clearly been very carefully planned and perfectly executed. A lot of time and care had gone into this entry, and so many others, they actually made me smile with how lovely they all looked. I have no idea whose jars they were, but this felt like a cruel act. To double down on my feeling of raw guilt, the judge saw my face and quite obviously already felt bad about it. In retrospect I wish I’d kept my thoughts to myself and not exclaimed “Oh my goodness!” with a wide eyed look of open-mouthed horror. The judge kindly took the time to explain to me what the rules are that she must follow and why. It was very clear that she took absolutely no pleasure in it, but we were under time pressure and had to move on quickly.

Most of the entries that were discounted from a winning spot were not even opened to be tasted. A very bright torch revealed a tiny amount of the beginning of granulation (something I thought was a sign of good quality) and the entry was dismissed before going any further. Some matching jars were ruled out because the jars, that looked identical to me, bore the mark of different manufacturers underneath! It all seemed so harsh, but with so many entries there had to be a rationale behind which entries made it to the final running.


Seeing a joyous face holding a red card, and knowing what that meant (they had a winning entry), was an absolute delight. The competition was certainly stiff at the 2022 Alresford Show, and any winners quite rightly felt pleased with themselves. It was wonderful to be part of that and to be able to provide some feedback on what the judge had particularly liked about their entry.

I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to essentially shadow a very patient and kind honey judge. She even tried her hardest to make time to leave notes and pointers for many of the entries, paying particular care to the notes for the novice group entries. The judge was keen to not discourage future efforts and commented several times about how difficult it is to get the various entry types just right. This newsletter isn’t nearly long enough for me to list out all the things I learned in just a few hours. Perhaps I’ll share some tips in another issue.

In conclusion, being a honey judge doesn’t look like as much fun as I’d originally and naively thought it must be. It’s much more than swanning around sampling delicious treats and admiring an array of beautifully presented candles and moulds. It’s a tough task, performed under time pressure, with a dizzying number of rules and standards to abide by, which brings joy to many, but disappointment to many more. If you’re like my dog and me, this may not be the job for you. But if you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend being the Official Gopher!