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Report from the frontline of the GBBF

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

Dateline London August: it’s muggy hot, it’s full of tourists and it’s near £5 a pint in most pubs.I love it. At least for a couple of days. I live near Chester city and I like tourists. But Chester is a mere village compared to our capital. Watching London at play is fascinating. Forget the tube if you can. Walk or take a bus, much better to see the sights. That way you may even come across the Household Cavalry gently trotting towards Buckingham Palace – wonderful.But above all, in the first week of August, make your way to Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival, a very special five day event held at London’s rather grand Olympia Exhibition Hall in Kensington. The hall was built to showcase the industrial wonders of Victorian Britain. Now, every August, Olympia shows off the wonders of British cask ale brewing – and a bit of foreign stuff as well - with some 1000 beers, ciders, perries to enjoy. And there’s even some gins.

Run by the Campaign for Real Ale for an astonishing 42 years, it’s quirky, with oddly dressed beer lovers, a dedicated pickled egg stall and one selling only Viking drinking horns! Well why not? The big thing on the first afternoon for trade and media is the announcement of the winners across all classes and the Big One; the Supreme Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) and its runners up. This year the CBOB title went to Shere Drop (4, 2%) from the small but excellently formed Surrey Hills Brewery, founded in 2004.Shere Drop first took the Gold in the Best Bitter category and is an excellent example of well-balanced, pale golden, best bitter with a subtle hint of grapefruit and lemon in the aroma and a long finish, moderately dry. Highly drinkable - I enjoyed a pint very much, but as most of their beer is sold within 15 miles of the Dorking brewery it may be my last for a while.When I caught up with owner Ross and his aide Simon they were still reeling from the news and perhaps a little bewildered as to how they will handle the enormous demand that the award creates; but they are determined to look after their regular customers.The win was in sharp contrast to last year’s CBOB, the sturdy strength Siren’s Broken Dream Breakfast Stout (6.5%abv) from Berkshire - so maybe reassurance that there is still a place for sessionable traditional English style bitter in today’s beer world full of West & East Coast style IPAs and pale ales, or adventurous stouts & porters and saisons. Last year the overall runner- up taking silver was an even more powerful brew - Suffolk’s Green Jack Ripper (8.5% ABV) but this year the spot was taken by the somewhat gentler Afghan Pale (5.4%) an American Pale Ale from Grey Trees Brewery in Glamorgan. Bronze CBOB was Citra, from Peterborough’s Oakham Ales – a long-time favourite of mine. Good to see the recognition here too for an ale that was in the forefront of the new hoppy style ales with plenty of grapefruit and tropical fruits.

Over the day I met several northern brewers who had their beers listed for judging but didn’t quite make the final choosing. Scapa Special (4.4%) from the ebullient and highly talented brewer Rob Hill of Swannay brewery on Orkney, a cracking pale ale with 3 malts and 5 hops from Britain, Germany and the US, Acorn Barnsley Bitter (3.8%) a wonderful Yorkshire session bitter from Dave Hughes and his team and Flat Cap (4.0%) an excellent golden bitter brew from Dave Sweeney at the 24 year old Bank Top Brewery in Bolton. We chewed over some of the thorny issues of the industry, but this was an upbeat day - with the cheering news that they are all selling plenty of cask ales.Swannay is investing in a new building complete with visitor centre and Bank Top now has three pubs, the latest the uniquely named Old England Forever in Clayton Le Moors, Accrington. Consultant Dave Smith, an expert on creating new breweries and beers, also spoke encouragingly on the demand for cask. This is very good news to me; traditional cask bitter ale is our heritage. At Beer Tours UK we have had welcomed enthusiasts from Alaska to Australia who delight in our moderate strength cask conditioned beers. So there is much hope for a really great future for our very own beer style. Let’s all raise a glass of bitter to that then. The GBBF runs until Saturday August 10.


The GBBF when it's quiet!



The CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain is one of the most prestigious beer competitions in the world. It is the ultimate honour for UK brewers, and has helped put many into the national spotlight. 71 breweries were in the running for the Champion Beer of Britain Award for 2019, taking place on the opening day of the Great British Beer Festival (6 August). Judges chose the winning beer based on its appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste across 10 categories.

Here is the full list of winners for 2019.

Supreme Champion Gold T

Shere Drop, Surrey Hills Brewery

Find it on: Endeavour Bar, B4

Supreme Champion Silver

Afghan Pale, Grey Trees Brewery

Find it on: Citra Bar, B8

Supreme Champion Bronze

Citra, Oakham Ales


Gold Gravediggers, Church End Brewery

Silver Malt Shovel Mild, Fernandes Brewery

Bronze Maggs Magnificent Mild, West Berkshire Brewery


Gold Ay Up, Dancing Duck Brewery

Silver Hobby Horse, Rhymney Brewery

Joint Bronze Edith Cavell, Wolf Brewery

Laughing Gravy, Ulverston Brewing Company

Best Bitter

Gold Shere Drop, Surrey Hills Brewery

Silver Trawler Boys, Green Jack Brewery

Joint Bronze Preservation Fine Ale, Castle Rock Brewery

Darwin’s Origin, Salopian Brewery

Strong Bitter

Gold Afghan IPA, Grey Trees Brewery

Silver Iron Duke, Irving

Bronze Fallen Angel, Church End Brewery


Gold Citra, Oakham Ales

Silver Pale, Five Points Brewing

Joint Bronze Heart & Soul, Vocation Brewery

Prince Bishop Ale, Big Lamp Brewery


Gold Vanilla Stout, Binghams Brewery

Silver Chocolate Guerilla, Blue Monkey Brewery

Bronze Brazillian Coffee & Vanilla Porter, Colchester Brewery

Winter Ale Winners

Strong Milds/Old Ales Excalibur, Tintagel Brewery

Porters Porter, Calverley’s Brewery

Stouts Inncognito, Plain Ales Brewery

Barley Wines/Strong Old Ales Audit Ale, Lacon’s Brewery

Find it on: Halcyon Bar, B9

The Supreme CBOB: A fine drop of Shere Drop

Brewery consultant David Grant takesa glass with Rob Hill (centre) of Swannay and Dave Sweeney (right) from Bank Top Brewery

Acorn's Dave & Christy Hughes raise a glass to the GBBF

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