The winners of the annual Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) were announced yesterday afternoon at the Great British Beer Festival at London’s Olympia – and there was something to cheer for Scottish beer drinkers, as Renfrewshire’s Kelburn Brewery were awarded Champion Golden Ale before going on to win the overall CBoB Silver medal for their 4.5% golden ale, Jaguar. It’s been quite a twelve months for Kelburn, after their Dark Moor won Champion Beer of Scotland at last year’s Scottish Real Ale Festival. Congratulations to all at the Barrhead brewery – it’s really well deserved.
— Kelburn Brewery (@kelburnbrewery) August 11, 2015
Although, having said it’s well-deserved, I really have no idea. I’ve never actually tried Jaguar, and to be brutally honest, probably wouldn’t have been able to name it if you’d asked me to jot down a list of Kelburn’s beers on a piece of paper. And you know what? That’s absolutely fine. I can’t know all the beers, particularly from producers in parts of the country I don’t get to very often.* That’s just the way it is. You can’t – unless you have serious
RateBeer addiction dedication – catch them all. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it, however.
* I used to go to meetings in Paisley now and again, but never tried any beers whilst over there – and although Kelburn do export this side of Harthill services (most notably to Edinburgh’s Cafe Royal, which always seems to have their beers on), I’ve just missed out on Jaguar, it seems.
But thinking about that gap in my internal beer drinking directory got me to thinking about the very nature of Beer Festival judging and awards. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot before, something I’ve done before, and of course, something I’ve experienced as a punter before. And in thinking about Kelburn’s Champion Beer of Britain silver medal, I realised that since all those moments, I have totally changed my opinion of these types of festival judging processes. The CAMRA judging (and this holds true for other festivals too) requires heats, rounds and plenty of time; the first line of the press release announcing this years’ winners states the process takes a year.
It’s a total crapshoot. All the hard work of the brewers, all the pains to maintain consistency whilst improving as beermakers, and it all comes down to how that beer was on that one particular moment in history, to those few individuals around that table. You could sail through the heats with beer in perfect nick, and then a duff cask or one that has been knocked around a little too much can ruin what is potentially the biggest day of your brewing career. I used to think this was unfair, that it attached too much emphasis to the moment and detracted from the consistency of the product. But after thinking about it today, I realise that’s completely wrong.
Judging beer for awards like the CBoB (and this holds true for non-CAMRA festivals just as much) may well be a crapshoot – but it’s borne out of authenticity. It is beer drinking in microcosm. Every time you go into a pub and pick a handpull, you do pretty much exactly the same thing. Both situations boil down to how a beer tastes on the day – whether you’re holding a pint glass in your local or a slightly shaking sample glass in the final judging round of the Champion Beer of Britain. Of course it should be the same – you know, I can’t really think why on earth I thought any different. It transfers the work and skill of our brewers into a single moment, and if they are found wanting then that’s just the way it is. Of course it’s subjective and opinion-based; but then that what makes drinking beer so interesting – and the challenges of brewing so utterly unique.
Congratulations to all the winners – particularly the overall Champion Beer of Britain, Tiny Rebel Cwtch – and the other Scottish breweries to win in their class; Williams Bros (Black – Gold, Milds), Highland (Scapa Special – Silver, Best Bitter), Fyne Ales (Superior IPA – Silver, Bottled Beers). The GBBF continues at London’s Olympia until Saturday. Oh, and if I ever see Kelburn Jaguar on in a pub I’m drinking at, I will very much order a pint and enjoy it.