I have always wondered how the Champion Beer of Britain is judged. Now I know.
I’ve judged a few competitions and the CBOB definitely ranks as one of the best-organised. The structure of the panel is also very good with each section panel comprising a brewer, a flavour specialist, a couple of CAMRA tasters, a drinks industry professional and lay person. The panel I was sitting on was judging category winners for their suitability for supreme champion. Adding the scores from the preceding round took longer than expected so our panel waited for an hour to do our tasting. I did get quite tense, a condition not helped by being directly under the PA speaker which seemingly had not been adjusted since the Slayer concert last week.
When the beers came out it was good to get going. The first was evidently brewed with Citra with all of the panel enjoying the aroma but being underwhelmed by the flavour. It was interesting that although the rest of the panel did not know the names of off flavours they all considered the beers to less appealing as a result. There were varying degrees of sensitivity to diacetyl and H2S on the panel with one taster being blind to each (but not both) of them at the concentration in the beers we sampled. I suppose that this is valid as it probably mirrors the spread of capabilities in the general population. The rest of the panel were treated to an exhibition of the cocky brewer (me) getting carried away with identifying the flavour compounds, hops, fermentation temperature, salt balance and yeast variety. For this I apologise!
There was unanimity in the panel on our two favourites but we must have been low markers as neither were in the top 3 on the day.
The CBOB competition does not enjoy the best reputation for fairness with brewers around the country (the ones I have spoken to at least). A lot feel that there is always an air of wheels within wheels about it. The process for getting a beer into the final has been described to me but I still struggled to understand it. It also seems to change frequently. Once I was told that regional festival winners automatically got through but speaking to a few regional winners this week none of them had progressed. A few breweries have had several beers getting to the final for several years in a row without medals. Surely if the beer wasn’t good enough for two years in a row it should be moved aside for another brew? Maybe it’s time for an X factor style beer competition where progress from the auditions to the final is plain to see? I would volunteer to be Simon Cowell but I could never get away with the trousers and jumper puppies.
Having judged the final I can reassure all brewers that this aspect is well designed to find the best beer in the field on the day. It was an enjoyable experience and I am still delighted to have been asked.
Finally I would like to pass on my congratulations to John Boyce for his win. He’s a good bloke and it’s a great beer.