Failure to be Outraged


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. Used to just be called best bit­ter, not often seen out­side of Tay­lor’s pubs or York­shire

  4. @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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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

          - 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.

          1. (Sor­ry about the for­mat­ting, tried to be smart and ASCII-art some bul­let lists. Fail.)

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. (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.

  14. 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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