The announcement of CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival is always exciting. The choice has often surprised me and I often wonder how meaningful it really is. It's obviously a very prestigious award as the winner will see their sales soar. At the end of the day though it is the opinion of a few distinguished panelists and personal taste must play a large part. In the early days I felt the award was often 'political'. How else can you explain Batemans XXXB winning in 1986 during their battle for independence. This beer is quite magnificent and deserves all accolades but amazingly it has never won since. Some of the stranger victors have been Caledonian Deuchars IPA (2002), a very ordinary beer, and Ind Coope Burton Ale (1990), a decent pint but nothing to compare with many beers available at that time.
So what is the current process for choosing a winner? I received an email last week to join in the voting process. Looking at the first category, Milds, I was presented with a list of 26 milds. I have sampled 82 different beers in pubs since September 1st and quite a few of these were milds but I have not tried any of those listed. So how do they get on this list? I am probably an anomaly in that I am presented with a list of beers for my region but I do most of my drinking elsewhere due to my work. Church End Gravediggers is a superb mild and it would get my vote but it was not one of the choices available to me. Do people vote for beers they have never tasted? I couldn't do that. It was a similar story for most of the other categories so my voice will not be heard this year.
So the Champion Beer of Britain is obviously a difficult competition to win and it must be biased towards the more commonly available beers as these will be tried by more members over the year. So can the huge number of beers now available ever be compared against one another? Local festivals often have a beer of the festival and this is an award that is probably fairer as all beers will be often sell out and therefore be tried by an equal number of paying customers. Beers with a strong local following may have an advantage but this is not guaranteed as many drinkers will steer clear of their favourites and try something new.
So how do I judge my beers? As I've said before, I always try and sample something new and some of these will turn out to be disappointing but others will turn out to be excellent. Some beers can be disappointing due to the way it has been kept but once I sample something that is exceptional it will be awarded a Gold Medal. Perhaps this is what should be adopted by the GBBF. Choosing one champion ale seems arbitrary but to award medals for all those available depending on the quality will make the award more meaningful. If there are 10 amazing beers then give 10 gold medals. Simple.
So to conclude, out of the 82 different pints of beer I have tried in the past 3 months here is my list of Gold Medal winners. To be awarded a Gold Medal the beer must be exceptional and must have been served in perfect condition. I have tried some beers in the past 3 months that have been awarded Gold Medal status previously but on the occasion I tried them this time it did not live up to previous standards.
Byatts Coventry Bitter (3.8% ABV)
Church End Gravediggers Ale (3.8% ABV)
Dorset Brewing Company Durdle Door (5.0% ABV)
Hawkshead Brewery Cumbrian Five Hop (5.0% ABV)
Hobsons Best Bitter (3.8% ABV)
Lees Moonraker (6.5% ABV)
Oakham Ales JHB (3.8% ABV)
Ossett Hop Monster (5.0% ABV)
Otter Brewery Otter Ale (4.5% ABV)
Sadlers JPA (3.8% ABV)
Sadlers Mud City Stout (6.6% ABV)
Slaughterhouse Starboard Porter (4.8% ABV)
Weatheroak Brewery Victoria Works (4.3% ABV)
This is the start of a regular feature and every three months I will be listing my latest winners. Obviously, I highly recommend you trying any of the above if you get the chance.