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17th Aug 2015

IMG_20150817_151427 (2) London Beer City is one of the highlights of my beery calendar, and I always plan my week around a visit to the Great British Beer Festival. This year I went down a day early to help judge the final round of the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain competition. The finals take place at Kensington Olympia the day before GBBF opens its doors, and as my fellow judges and I were led through the venue up to the judging room we walked through a hive of activity as volunteers worked hard to put the finishing touches to the festival. The selection process for the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain takes a whole year(!), and the nine beers we would be judging had been carefully whittled down through many, many rounds of tastings. It was my first time judging in a beer competition, and I must admit that it was initially a little bit daunting to be sitting on a table with a load of experienced judges who had been doing this sort of thing for years, but as the beers were brought out all of those nerves faded away as I focused my attention on what was in the glass in front of me. Look, swirl, sniff, swig, think, and repeat; with water, crackers and a set of style guidelines to hand, we scored each beer on appearance, aroma, taste and aftertaste. Once we had made our way through the nine we discovered that we all felt roughly the same about which three were the stars of the show. The winner, and my firm favourite, was Harveys Imperial Double Extra Stout (that's a mouthful to try to say after you've had a couple of beers!), marvellously rich with deep roasted malts and a complex character. With its intense dark chocolate and sour cherry notes, Harveys Imperial Double Extra Stout is no stranger to glory, having previously won awards at the International Beer Challenge and World Beer Awards. Second and third place went to Fyne Superior IPA and Mordue India Pale Ale, which were both nicely hoppy and full-bodied. Psst - you can get your hands on 15 of the competition's finalists by reserving our case of CAMRA champion beers, which will be released in the first week of September. The next day was GBBF Trade Day, and armed with my trusty festival programme I set off into the fray to hunt out some real ale. As always with GBBF there were some star finds nestled in amongst the sea of (often quite similar) ales, and I enjoyed an Adnams Explorer (which won Silver in the Golden Ales category later that day) and the always wonderful Marble Earl Grey IPA. The American bar was rammed as usual, but I eventually worked my way to the front of the crowd and nabbed a third of Lagunitas Sucks with Ancho and Pulla Chillies. Phwoar! The combination of the big citrus flavours and the mild yet persistent chilli heat was really something. Later in the afternoon my day was made when I discovered bottles of my all-time favourite beer, Cantillon Rose De Gambrinus, on the Belgian/Dutch/Italian bar. When it comes to splashing out on bottles at beer festivals I generally like to try something I haven't had before, but for Cantillon I'll make an exception. Soon the time grew near for the Champion Beer of Britain to be announced, and we gathered by the stage with bated breath. The Champion Bottled Beer of Britain announcement was widely applauded and I felt honoured to have helped choose the winners in that category. After all of the other categories, the result we had all been waiting for was announced: The Supreme Champion Beer of Britain was Tiny Rebel Cwtch! Of course, the crowd went wild. Brewed with American hops, Cwtch (meaning an affectionate hug) is full of juicy citrus, tropical notes and red berries, supported by a chewy toffee backbone. Full-bodied and refreshing with a lovely grapefruit edge, this was a non-traditional but very deserving winner. GBBF is always a pleasure, and thanks must go to the hard working volunteers who make such a tremendous task possible. Whether you're looking for traditional real ale, interesting American cask or something exciting from the continent, there's always a good range to explore, and of course it's a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. See you there next year, and don't forget that you can now reserve our Champion Bottled Beer of Britain finalists case! Cheers. - Rowan

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