Going for Gold

by Wendy Margetts

At the same time as Olympic medals were being awarded, Britain’s best brewers were receiving gold, silver and bronze at another London venue. The Great British Beer Festival in Olympia saw the culmination of CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain competition for 2012.

Coniston Brewery’s ‘No.9 Barley Wine’ was crowned the Supreme Champion

Having previously been judged Champion Winter Beer of Britain, No.9 Barley Wine was placed ahead of the gold medal winners from the Bitters, Best Bitters, Strong Bitters, Golden Ales, Milds and Speciality categories. The 8.5% ABV ale was described by the judges as ‘having fantastic finesse, reminiscent of a fine cognac.’

Being a democratic organisation, CAMRA’s search for the best beers starts with a vote by individual members. From the ales produced in their region, they nominate their favourite in each category. These nominations are ranked and the top selections go forward to the regional competitions.

Regional winners in each category are selected by tasting panels at local CAMRA beer festivals. Category winners from each region go forward to the judging rounds at the Great British Beer Festival. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in each category, and the winners go forward to the final round to decide the Supreme Champion.

At this year’s Lincoln Beer Festival, I was invited to join the panel of CAMRA members, local business owners and brewers who judged the beers entered in the East Midlands’ Mild category. The panel chairman briefed us on what we should be looking for, and we gathered round a table, pens and paper at the ready and jugs of water and wafer biscuits nearby to cleanse our palates between beers.

The beers were brought in one by one in unmarked jugs and we assessed the aroma, appearance and, most importantly, taste. As each jug was brought in, we filled our glasses, swirled the beer around and took a breath. Does the smell make us want to take a sip? Does it have an unfortunate chemical smell (One did!)? We made our notes and moved on.

Then we held our glasses to the light to check the clarity of our beer. Is it hazy? Does the beer meet our expectations as to how a mild should look? We scribbled more notes. Then came the most important part, as we savoured the flavour of the beer. Human taste is decided on the tongue, different areas deciding whether the taste is sweet or sour, salty or bitter. We needed a good taste of this beer! Again, notes were made and scores noted for each element we were judging the beers on.

The process was repeated for each mild, until we had a line of glasses in front of us all sampled and marked. Discussion followed to reach a decision. We all agreed on the beers we didn’t like and these were eliminated. Now the process got tricky. We tasted the three remaining beers again and compared them side by side. Finally, we came to a unanimous decision.

And what about the beer? The winning East Midlands’ Mild was Castle Rock Black Gold (3.8% ABV). This beer is attractive in the glass, dark and almost stout-like. It is a perfect example of a Dark Mild, with a lovely sweet caramel smell and taste which is soft and smooth, not too sweet and not too bitter. It was a clear favourite with the entire judging panel who kept coming back for more!

If you want to see the full list of gold medal winners in the 2012 Champion Beer of Britain competition, look out for the next edition of ImpAle, due out in September.