The Campaign of Real Ale’s flagship event, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) returned to Olympia London from 1-5 August.
For its 46th year the festival featured more than 700 different beers from both the UK and beyond - some of the best beers this country has to offer in cask, keg and bottle, with a fantastic range of traditional and contemporary styles and flavours. Adventurous festival goers could also sample American cask beer specially imported from the United States, as well as European beers hailing from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
Visitors could view and download the online drinks list here: https://gbbf.org.uk/drinks
For the first time since 2019, CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain competition returned to GBBF after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The competition runs over a two-year calendar, thanks to the dedication of thousands of CAMRA members who vote for their favourite beers across 12 beer styles each Autumn. The final round of judging and the announcement of the overall winners was made on GBBF Trade Day (1 August).
And the winner was - Yorkshire's Elland 1872 Porter as Supreme Champion Beer of Britain.
The happy Elland team
At a time when many brewers, especially post Covid, are turning to craft keg and canned beers, often with online sales to help their income stream, it is easy to think that cask ale - served almost exclusively in the iconic British pub - is being shoved into the corner or the UK beer stage just a bit.
But then you visit the Great British Beer Festival, and the heart lifts. There you find a glorious celebration of cask-conditioned ales, testimony enough that our unique heritage ‘real ale’ is very much alive and kicking down the door with innovation and variety. At Beer Tours UK we have championed cask-ale and its brewers for quite some years. While we can applaud the efforts and creativity of craft keg brewers, that focus will remain - simply because we believe it speaks up for British brewing loudly, clearly and conspicuously on the world beer atlas. Of course, it is blinkin' good too. And what joy this year to see the three top awards of the festival go to three traditional style brews - a classic porter and two bitters - voted for by well experienced judges from both the UK beer world and abroad.
For Elland Brewery (first formed as Eastwood & Sanders in 2002) it is the second time their cracking 1872 Porter (6.5% abv) has taken the top spot of the fiercely contested GBBF Champion Beer of Britain, a fantastic achievement. Ten years have passed since 1872 first snatched the crown, so this is a terrific boost for the new team up there in the West Yorkshire hills. The beer has been awarded Champion Winter Beer of Britain four times previously, the most recent being this year. Created by Elland's joint founder Dave Sanders from a 19th century recipe, 1872 combines four malts - including Maris Otter - with English hops.
'A deserving champion, despite incredibly strong competition.'
Champion Beer of Britain co-ordinator Christine Cryne said it was a deserving champion, despite incredibly strong competition. She described the beer as a ruby black porter, with chocolate and caramelised fruit flavours with a hint of black toffee on the nose. The judges enjoyed its 'smooth mouthfeel with a finish that is roasty and dry'. 'A satisfying and remarkably easy drinking porter.'
'There is a real passion for more traditional styles and for a very good reason, they taste fantastic!'
Elland brewer Rob Thomas said: “It is absolutely unbelievable to win this accolade, we really didn't expect it. For a team of three people to win the supreme award is fantastic. There is a real passion for more traditional styles and for a very good reason, they taste fantastic!
The beer is steeped in history with the recipe dating back more than 150 years. We thrive on these sorts of styles and this is testament to what people enjoy drinking: steeped in history, tradition while embracing innovation.We passionately believe in our products and people do get excited to try everything we make, we are incredibly proud to take home the crown."
Silver went to Abbot Ale (5%abv) from Greene King Brewery, 'classic premium bitter with typical fruit hops and malty throughout'. Bronze was taken by Darwin’s Origin (4.3%abv) from Salopian Brewery, a session bitter which impressed judges 'with citrus, earthy hops and a flavour that starts fruity and fades into a pleasant bittersweet finish'.
The choice of Abbot Ale as runner up brought protests of ‘fixing’ from some quarters, as it is a beer produced by a major national brewer, one with which stands accused of closing smaller breweries they have acquired over the years. But though the gainsayers may not like it, with no apparent supportive evidence they are only able to speculate, while CAMRA firmly defends the integrity of its rigorous ‘blind tasting’ methods. Beer politics at work eh. The visit of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to the festival on the day he announced alcholol tax reforms also came under fire. But we won't enter into that fray here.
Politics free, for us it was a real joy to see Salopian Darwins Origin take bronze. This fine Shropshire ale is a regular tipple for us in South Cheshire village pubs, such as the Hare at Farndon and the Carden Arms in Tilston or Chester's Henry Potts and Harkers. Fine beer from a fine independent brewer that in the nineties was an early trail blazer of the then budding micro brewing movement; wonderful to see that it is still showing the way with this ale first brewed in 2009 to celebrate the bicentennial of Charles Darwin. Copper coloured, there is a judicous mix of New World and Old World hops - Mosaic and Centennial.
Veteran aficionados and rookies alike should make it their mission to attend
The GBBF is a five day long celebration of beer held each year in early August at the Olympia Stadium, a wonderfully atmospheric Victorian edifice in West London which seems to be a perfect fit for celebrating our richly historic beer heritage. As the biggest celebration of cask ale in the world, veteran aficionados and rookies alike should make it their mission to attend. While beer can be taken seriously, this is a place for a day's fun - especially witness the 'hat day'- with music and a delighful cornucopia of food to try.
Our delightful afternoon at the festival was spent searching out quality sessionable ales along with the convivial Howard and Rupert, from the emerging Pubs Ltd (www. pubs.co.uk) Cheshire pub company dedicated to putting hand pulled ales on the bars of its four strong pub group. Look out for some crackers coming along.
Here’s some of what we sampled ( although using pint glasses, but only third/half pint samples obviously):
We hit the the stand of the 25 year old Ossett Brewery first of all to sample the light blonde Silver King (4.3%) a US style pale ale created for the orginal line up in 1998 to the deep and rich Voodoo, with prominent dark chocolate notes and smooth, moderate bitter finish.
The GBBF visit wouldn't be right without a taste of Salisbury's Hop Back beers, the founder John Gilbert a pioneer of microbrewing in 1986. Their golden and hoppy Hop Jam (4.1%), the August special, gave us New England hops backed by Maris Otter and Amber malts for a lovely fruitiness and lingering bitter finish.
A favourite for Rupert was Dead Man's Fist (5.5%abv) from the literature inspired Chapter Brewing of Cheshire. They produce a creative variety of brews from pales to sours and Belgian styles. This is their take on a rich smoked porter with cracked pepper.
Cheshire's Red Willow Heritage Porter (5.3%abv) is a traditional and full bodies porter, with chocolate notes and good bittering. Sticking with dark brews we then went to the Yorkshire Dales for the splendid Wensleydale Black Dub (4.4%abv), from the 20 year old Leyburn brewer, a deeply dark rich brew with coffee and chocolate notes.
Heading further north we found Newcastle's Wylam Jakehead IPA, which Howard declared 'impressive and distinct ... although big bold American hops hops aren't really my thing, very memorable and well put together beer."
We all agreed that Island Hopping (3.9%abv) from the Swannay Brewery was a cracking session ale.
Veteran brewer Rob Hill (ex Moorhouse's) created this brew when he opened his brewery (then Highland) in 2004 on the Atlantic spattered north west tip of 'mainland' Orkney. It is named for the 70 islands that comprise the windswept archipelago.
Collecting gold for the session pale, blonde and golden ales, we would hazard it was a strong contender for a place in the CBoB top trio in the final judging. It's quite a full bodied brew from the Maris Ottter malt and a little wheat beautifully balanced against New Zealand's Nelson Sauvin hops for tropical fruity, citrus notes with gentle lingering bitterness - very, very sessionable. A quarter of all Swannay's output is sold on Orkney, so if you see this beer around the UK you should pounce.
A favourite for Howard brought us almost back home to Shropshire with the Salopian Golden Thread (5%abv), and rightly so. First brewed in 1997 this crisp and fruit smooth drinking ale still stands out against the wide array of golden ales available these days.
Well, so many beers and so little time. We did our best. Never mind, while the GBBF lives, so will cask ale. There's always next year.
Here's a full list of the CBoB winners:
Who won what
Mild Gold: Harvey’s Dark Mild Silver: Bank Top Dark Mild Bronze: Church End Gravediggers
Session bitter Gold: Salopian Darwin’s Origin Silver: Timothy Taylor Landlord Bronze: Mighty Oak Captain Bob
Premium bitter Gold: Greene King Abbot Ale Silver: Glamorgan Jemima’s Pitchfork Bronze: Batemans XXXB
IPA Gold: Bragdy Twt Lol Diablo Dragon Silver: Loch Lomond Bravehop Bronze: Thornbridge Jaipur
Session pale, blonde, and golden ales Gold: Swannay Island Hopping Silver: Oakham Inferno Bronze: Salopian Oracle
Premium pale, blonde, and golden ales Gold: Baker’s Dozen Electric Landlady Silver: Blackedge Kiwi Bronze: St Austell Proper Job
Champion Winter Beer of Britain Gold: Elland 1872 Porter Silver: Robinsons Old Tom Bronze: Dancing Duck Dark Drake
Champion Bottled Beer of Britain winners Gold: Green Jack Baltic Trade Silver: Hobsons Dhustone Stout Bronze: Five Kingdoms McGregors Mild
Champion home brewer Gold: Patrick Davies, Magnificent Frigate Strong Mild Silver: Richard Roseblade, Golden Dragon Bronze: Mark Robatham, Old Claire