Failure to be Outraged

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Once again, we find ourselves struggling to summon what is apparently the appropriate level of outrage as the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) award is announced by the Campaign for Real Ale.

It’s an important competition which can tip a brewery over into the big time, sure, but it’s not the Word of God.

If you accept that, of the thousands in production, it’s legitimate to name a single beer The Best, then there’s no reason we can see to be angry that the award has gone to Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, aka Best Bitter.

Now, we get as bored as anyone of entering pubs and finding three ubiquitous and underwhelming bitters on offer, and we have to admit that we did hope something a bit sexier might win for once — the pale’n’hoppy Oakham Citra, universally loved in the Blogoshire, which came in second place, for example.

But, like it or not, bitter is part of the landscape of British beer — should it be banned from the competition because its character derives from something other than prominent aroma hopping?

We’ve not had Boltmaker, as far as we can recall, but we suspect we’d probably enjoy it. Two of our most fondly-remembered pub sessions have been on Timothy Taylor beer — one in Haworth, and another at the Bricklayer’s Arms in Putney — and it can be transcendently wonderful, in that subtle, indescribable way that regional brewers sometimes achieve. (See also: the Batham’s.)

Perhaps that’s how Boltmaker tasted today? Enthusiasm on the part of the judges certainly seems a more likely than a sinister conspiracy aimed at the suppression of ‘craft’.

(Having said that, we’ll certainly be filing today’s result in the memory banks for next time someone claims traditional bitters are some kind of endangered species that don’t get enough attention…)

The Great British Beer Festival runs until Saturday 16 August.

32 thoughts on “Failure to be Outraged”

  1. Are there people who get genuinely outraged because one beer won a prize instead of another? I find it hard to believe, but then again, not. Some people seem to enjoy getting upset for the silliest things.

    1. Not sure how genuine the outrage is, or even if it’s fair to call it outrage, in the cold morning light. Mostly this with a bit of this.

  2. Of course Boltmaker had every right to be a worthy winner as much as Oakham’s wonderful Citra. I love a conspiracy theory as much as the next man but I’d have to laugh this one off – as you say, I *hope* it simply tasted better on the day…such is beer judging. Sure, Citra would have probably garnered more universal applause…or would it? There’s probably just as many fans of TT out there. If Citra would have won, would people re-evaluate their stance on both CAMRA and the judging? Again, we can’t rely on the prism of social media for this one. After all – according to my timeline at least – plenty of people who have been vocal about CAMRA’s shortcomings were there this afternoon, enjoying the trade session, no less…

  3. @leigh yes I noticed that in my timeline too :)

    I guess the issue the people complaining have is that its just a classic ale in a classic style,thats not retro enough to be hip yet :) and classically CAMRA in every sense, in a way that doesnt excite their craft hoppier beery senses in the way Citra would, and you know full well someone is probably going to blog about boring brown beer,beards,stuck in sepia timewarp again at some point as a result.

    which is a shame as I think it misses the point, but fwiw I had Boltmaker just last month whilst visiting Leeds, and whilst I wouldnt have said at the time, yep totally drinking a future CBOB there :) and though Id personally still rate Landlord as their best beer, I did think it was a good decent traditional bitter, that went superbly well with the steak pie I had with it for sure, and Id like to have stayed longer to try more.

    but so whilst Im thinking its not the one Id have expected to win out of that list, actually I can see where they are coming from, it is a good beer, and certainly a very good example of that beer style.

    I just hope they dont end up going all post Madonna Landlord on it to meet the volumes again, TT beers did gain a reputation of being quite tricky to manage.

    also is it worth pointing out it was runner up CBOB in 1993,so its not a totally left field selection

  4. Beer is not football.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting an up-and-coming beer or brewer you like to get some deserved recognition, but it’s hardly a source for indignation.

  5. Go TT! and well done Oakham. Two of my favourite breweries.

    If you want to complain about something, complain about how out-of-date and out-of-touch the CAMRA competition classifications are.

  6. There was a time about 20 years ago when my old man knew he didn’t have long to live that we, his sons, decided to organise a sort of last piss-up involving his close friends all of whom knew it was their last chance to say goodbye to him but none of whom was allowed to say it to him.
    By that stage of his illness a quart was about the most he could manage.
    We lived in Wiltshire – not a bad beer county but not a great one either.
    We asked for his preference and he wished for Landlord.It wasn’t a beer he came across often but when he did he greeted it like an old friend and drank the arse out of it.
    It involved meeting a beer distributor at a motorway junction just outside Gloucester but seveal days later we tapped a keg of Landlord in my old dad’s living room and it formed the basis of an 18-hour session where everyone drank and sang and ate and fell over and said their goodbyes and cried.
    And he kicked the bucket a few weeks later and I know for a fact because he told me loads of times that it was a brilliant session and Landlord was a great beer.
    All that apart I’m delighted TT have won this award.
    A great brewery which never lost the plot when beer fashion dictated a move away from tradition to craft.
    I can’t wait to try this beer.

  7. All in all the list of GBBF winners should be seen as a good sign to crafty beer drinkers. There are up-and-coming breweries there that receive much craft-love.

    Plus an overall silver win for Oakham Citra! OK, Oakham have pretty much “up and come” already… but there have been a few years of “why isn’t Oakham in the running whilst their Citra and Green Devil are craft A-list”… Citra pegging silver is a result, an unquestionably “unbalanced” dry bodied hop-forward beer, almost all about the hop… (I use “unbalanced” with some jest there). Clearly the panel was not entirely dominated by boring-brown-bitter aficionados.

    Look at some other members of that list, names the craft beer twitterati know and love, I believe: Marble, Salopian (overall bronze!), Redwillow, Offbeat, Hawkshead, Blue Monkey?

    Slowly the quirks of the craft scene’s view of beer are bubbling up through the system. It certainly seems to be the case that crafty types are a growing proportion of the new guard within the lumbering CAMRA machine.

    Now… about those CAMRA style definitions…

    1. “All in all the list of GBBF winners should be seen as a good sign to crafty beer drinkers. There are up-and-coming breweries there that receive much craft-love.”

      Yes, exactly — quietly, quite a ‘craft’-friendly CBOB/GBBF this year. It’s never going to overnight change with an organisation that size, with that kind of bureaucracy.

      1. A few random thoughts:

        I think there is scarcely a year goes by without someone being outraged about the CBOB winner. I was perhaps mildly surprised at the result – and y’know the first thing that crossed my mind was “Oh God, Twitter will be on fire aftre this”.

        I’ve been on plenty of national judging panels and it’s usuually the case that CAMRA people are in the minority so it’s not just “the beards at it again”. However I do think the names and backgrounds of the final CBOB judges should be made available in the interests of transparency.

        And yes, the categories do need looking at. While I don’t think we should stray down the US route I think some refinement is certainly required.

        1. It’s probably worth of a blog post, one that someone out there has no doubt already written… but I’d also like to see more transparency in how the competition works.

          – Clear statement of how regional contenders are selected
          – Some quasi-democratic process of nomination I think.
          I’ve nominated beers via the web interface but don’t
          quite know what happens next… etc. I’ve been told
          what beers I *have* to source to hold the East Anglia
          ‘Best Bitter’ competition at a festival before, but I have
          zero idea how that shortlist of 6 (IIRC) beers was
          chosen.

          – Publication of the results of competitions all the way up
          the chain, including:

          – What beers were the contenders
          – When the tasting was held
          – Where the tasting was held
          – Who was on the panel
          – All the way up to and including GBBF/CBOB

          – Defined procedure of the judging process. IMO it should
          be (double)blind, done without chatter, etc.

          – Finally, a goal: all, or a significant majority of the panel
          should have some training in beer judging – including
          style parameters and taints/flaws.

          That last bit is my own ideal… but I can appreciate that the tastes/opinions of the layperson drinker also have merit. But in my opinion unprofessional judgements only generate meaningful outcomes when you’re sourcing from a vast number of people. I think a small judging panel should be required to be somewhat qualified.

          I don’t think I’d count myself as adequately qualified yet.

  8. I think it’s certainly easier judging within style groupings ( there’s another endless Internet argument) one bitter is better than another etc. It does get tough when the best Czech style pilsner goes up against the best IPA. The judges need to be fair, experienced and understanding of a particular group or style. It’s how wine can be scored, but they tend to use very experienced and qualified judges/tasters. (there is still argument though)
    There is no doubt that it is an inexact science, but headline writers and publicists want a single winner. How a deep, age worthy and complex Imperial Stout can be compared with a refreshing and delicious Belgian Wit with total impartiality is not easy, but if we have to sell beer and advertise beer festivals we need to figure out a fair way to do it.

  9. “I would go so far as to say that Taylor’s Best operates beyond the malt-hop axis in a delicious flavour world all of its own.” — me, on Boltmaker, 9th July 2009.

    It’s a sublime beer and well deserving of the prize, IMO. More progressive breweries would do well to learn from it.

    It would be good to have more transparency in the CBoB process though. I’d like to know how the winner got where it did and which beers it beat along the way.

    1. “I would go so far as to say that Taylor’s Best operates beyond the malt-hop axis in a delicious flavour world all of its own.”

      Smashing turn of phrase, that.

        1. It’s the kind of quality that in music you might call ‘groove’. (Which is more tangible than ‘soul’, but not much.)

      1. Very well put indeed, this in fact is the secret to great brews, they have that different dimension.

  10. There’s nothing more subjective than beer, but It’s a well-deserved win. I tweeted earlier that anyone who thinks Boltmaker is ‘bland’ or ‘safe’ or even ‘boring’ should try it at the pub it was named after in Keighley.

    And If Taylor’s ever decide to make Havercake a permanent member of their line-up, that’ll be a shoe-in for a gold.

  11. I too have wondered whether this choice might prove controversial but what’s good and bad is mostly about preference, not fact. I say mostly because if a boring beer such as Greene King IPA won it, I’d question the judgement of the panel. The biggest fuss I recall was when Ind Coope Burton Ale won in 1990. How dare they award CAMRA’s top gong to a product of one of the Big Six – the enemy, no less? They dared because it was a very good beer.

      1. Well, it came second, but it was better 10 years ago; it’s bland mass-produced, flavourless slop now. The same was true of Ind Coope Burton: 10 years after it came first, it had become bland and uninteresting.

    1. And it was, I knew it well in that period. Huge plummy/malty/English hops character. I was very let down to read below in the comments that it has declined since then.

  12. (1) GK IPA didn’t win CBOB. That is a common misconception. It simply won best in its category and talking to the chairman of that particular panel on Monday, the reason was simple: it was the best beer they were presented with.

    (2) I’m very happy to out myself as a member of the semi-final panel that put Citra into the final and so secured its second place. The categories are a mess but you can only work with the system you’ve got; which means you can only judge the beers that have come through the qualifying rounds. Of course you don’t know what they are when you are presnted with them. CAMRA do publish a full list of the winners afterwards, so you can, like I did, look to see what beat what. Ultimately Boltmaker was felt by the Finals panel to be a “better beer” but there was little in it.

    I would say it was received very well on the day as there had been many complaints about strong dark beers winning for the last two years.

  13. I’m really pleased to hear about this award – one of my locals used to serve Taylor’s Best, and I would have it at every opportunity (maybe switching to Landlord for the last beer of the night). Yes, it’s a brownish session bitter without much of a hop attack, but it’s a superb beer for all that (better than Landlord in my personal opinion).

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