I got very excited when the invite for this sudsy retrospective arrived in my inbox. An opportunity to taste the best beers as voted by CAMRA(Campaign for Real Ale) of the past 14 years all in one go, what a treat!
This unique event was held at The Bull in Highgate(North London), a venue that had long been on my malt liquor hit list. A very cosy pub with great staff and an impressive array of cask ales. All but one of the pumps(Pete’s Coffee Porter by Pete & London Brewing Company, which was pretty good) were dedicated to the aforementioned Champ E On A’s. Some of the beers I’d had before and others were totally new to me so armed with my tasting sheet, pen and a glass I tucked in.
I took a rather simplistic approach to tasting the line up of royal real ales, as they were arranged on 2 floors, I tasted the ones downstairs first in order of ascending ABV and then did the same with the winners upstairs.
Here’s what I thought;
2000– Moorhouse Black Cat Mild/3.4% – This was hands down my least favourite beer. Dull, thin, watery cola that was almost tasteless. A real disappointment. 3.5/10
2001– Oakham Ales Jeffrey Hudson Bitter/3.8% – Despite it’s shortened name of JHB sounding like something you would go to jail for, this is a seriously good beer. Tons of depth, flavour, balance & character. A session ale of the highest order. 8/10
2002– Caledonian Deuchars IPA/3.8% – I know this beer well and have had some excellent pints of it(mostly in Edinburgh) and some rather bad ones(in London). But it showed well, clinging to the mouth, taught hoppiness & very fragrant nose. 6.5/10
2003– Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted Blonde/4.2% – A favorite of mine in bottle and on keg, but B & T was off the pace a bit in cask. It’s freshness and intensity muted somewhat. Lacked bite but still a good brew. 7/10
2004– Kelham Island Pale Rider Golden Ale/5.2% – I’ve had this in the past once or twice and have thought it a decent beer. The nose however is not welcoming, reminded me of skunk cabbage. It was a bit soapy and lacked some definition. Better than average though. 6.25/10
2005 & 2006 – Crouch Vale Brewers Gold Blonde Ale/4.0% – The only double winner of the past 14 years and deservedly so. I buy this in bottle often from my local Morrison’s as it’s one of the only good beers they stock. Bright, crisp & refreshing, with a lemon pith grassy finish. A worthy back to back Champ, top stuff. 7.5/10
2007 – Hobson’s Mild/3.2% – Now I’m one of those Philistines who struggles to appreciate Mild, but that said Hobson’s is definitely one of the best I’ve tried. Lean, woody mushroom, tangy coffee and very drinkable. 7/10
2008 – Triple FFF Brewery Alton’s Pride Bitter/3.8% – With a strong nose of farmyard and super dry hop character that left me wanting another sip, so was easy to see why this beer had its admirers, but it didn’t wow me. 6.5/10
2009 – Rudgate Ruby Mild/4.4% – Soapy, somewhat astringent and rather ho hum. A champion? Not nearly. 5/10
2010 – Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale/3.8% – I remember this beer because it was my first year at GBBF(Great British Beer Festival) and they announced it over the tannoy. Buttery and bright with notes of sunflower seeds and lemon. Drinkable but nothing to sing about. 6/10
2011 – The Mighty Oak Brewery Oscar Wilde Mild/3.7% – Despite its rhyming name honouring a great writer & humourist, I was left wondering where this beer’s wit and charm were. I liked the creamy fleshy texture but found little else to praise. 5.5/10
2012 – Coniston Brewing Company No. 9 Barley Wine/8.5% – Very impressive this stuff. Irn Bru in colour muted peach and sandy soil on the nose. Dry malty apricot, firm structure, good balance, long dry citrus finish. Company No. 9 is a complex wonderful brew, heartily deserving the crown in 2012 and was my beer of the night. 8.75/10
2013 – Elland Brewery 1872 Porter/6.5% – Another great beer. Bitter chocolate, espresso, molasses notes, yet retaining freshness and sharp hop bite. Long persistent and well balanced. 8.25/10
Now some of my critique may seem harsh, but when it comes to judging beer(or anything else for that matter) personal taste will always play the biggest part in whether you like, love or loath something. Some of my colleagues really liked some of the beers that I didn’t, that’s just way the malt crackles…
There were some nice snacks thrown on by our hosts Warminster Maltings and R&R Teamwork to soak up all the beers. But I found myself returning to the glasses of Maris Otter Malted Barley. Nutty, malty, crunchy with a hint of sweetness, I would happily have bowls of it to snack on at my next dinner party.
Now I may not agree with CAMRA on everything(their hardliners superstitious view of keg beers for one) and certainly would not have voted to elevate some of these cask ales to Champion. However, considering how long ago some of the beers won, I was on the average pleased with the overall quality, if not wild about the beer itself. I did catch up with some old pals and met some lovely new folks as well, so all in all it was an excellent soiree.