Firstly, congratulations to the Coniston Brewing Company for having their No 9 Barley Wine crowned Champion Beer of Britain at this year’s Great British Beer Festival. It’s an 8.5% annual ale and is described as golden with “fantastic finesse, reminiscent of a fine cognac”.
It’s an interesting choice that has been warmly welcomed in some circles, while causing some head scratching in others. The path to CBOB glory is tortuously complex with many CAMRA members not understanding the process, let alone the general public. There are various routes by which a beer can qualify for entry before it’s judged by means of blind tasting.
One questioned that is being asked is how can a barley wine have won? Well, at least it proves that the judging is blind after all and that CAMRA aren’t hung up on any specific criteria. However, that does then rather raise the question of what is the purpose of the Champion Winter Beer of Britain award?
The whole purpose of splitting WiBOB from the main CBOB competition was to give equal prominence to exactly this type of beer. The Winter Ales Festival is their natural home and you won’t-rightly-find ordinary Bitters being considered for the title there. So perhaps CAMRA need to rethink their entry criteria as WiBOB is looking a little redundant right now.
Another complaint has been that it plays into the hands of those that like to portray CAMRA as the “weirdy-beardy” club. Beers for geeks, as someone put it. Another beer enthusiast succinctly tweeted: “Who the fuck is going to drink that?”
It’s all very well for CAMRA’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner, to say that it’s a great opportunity for pubs to try third pint glassware, but that simply isn’t going to happen. Most pubs don’t use them-including the nation’s biggest real ale seller, J D Wetherspoon. Even Coniston have admitted that they don’t expect a huge rise in sales as they acknowledge the, good as it may be, limited appeal of their beer.
Of course CBOB isn’t necessarily aimed at the popular or mainstream. Even though previous winners such as Landlord and Deuchars IPA definitely benefited from their wins. But perhaps it should be-to some extent, anyway. Certainly the Kafkaesque voting procedure needs reform and CAMRA needs to address, and communicate to others, just what CBOB is all about.