Mr Reliable: Is CAMRA Missing a Trick?

By Arthur Coda

Yesterday at the Great British Beer Festival beer experts from across the UK congregated to sample concoctions of hop varieties and natural substances that have been mixed by brewers determined to create an award-winning beer.

The judges demonstrate their expertise at identifying each hop variety that they are blind tasting, then decided which ale deserves to be the Champion Beer of Britain, giving the prestigious award to Tiny Rebel’s Cwtch for its “drinkabilty” and “balance” that derives from a fusion of citrus, tropical fruit and caramel malts.

But what are they actually judging?


One of the key discoveries of the real ale movement is not just the regular opening of new breweries; nor the daily creation of new beers, but the fact that each of the beers can taste differently depending upon their age, how they are kept and how they are served.

This premise is behind a beers from the wood revival which has taken hold at The Junction pub in Castleford, West Yorkshire, where beers are stored in wooden barrels as opposed to an aluminium or plastic ones to add extra flavour and depth. But when the judges at Olympia sampled one of this year’s short-listed beers, Elland’s 1872 Porter, it would have been in the knowledge that the same beer served this Friday at the Junction Castleford will have a different taste because it has been kept in a wooden barrel for the last two months.

At the judging each beer will have arrived on the same day and kept in the same conditions ensuring that the contest will be fair and equal. But you can’t help thinking though that CAMRA are missing a trick here.

The Real Ale movement is ultimately about celebrating diversity and difference. If you want the same and reliable then drink John Smiths; Tetleys or Boddingtons. The drinkers at Olympia this week and hopefully the judges will be looking for innovation. Maybe it is time to allow the short listed beers to be presented at their optimum condition. For some that will be in a wooden barrel.


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