CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) is probably the longest running beer competition staged by consumers in the world (there are much older technical ones). Recently, there has been a lot of discussion around the 2023 CBoB and the fact that Greene King Abbot won overall Silver award. So, how did it happen? The route to the final judging is less than simple, so here is the background.
Champion Beer of Britain 2023
- Overall Gold – Supreme Champion Elland (West Yorkshire), 1872 Porter (6.5% ABV)
- Overall Silver Greene King (Suffolk), Abbot (5% ABV)
- Overall Bronze Salopian (Shropshire), Darwin’s Origin (4.3% ABV)
- Champion Mild of Britain Harveys (Sussex), Dark Mild (3% ABV)
- Winner – Session Pale, Blonde and Golden Ales Swannay (Orkney), Island Hopping (3.9% ABV)
- Winner – Premium Pale, Blond & Golden Ales Baker’s Dozen (Rutland), Electric Landlady (5% ABV)
- Champion IPA of Britain Twt Lol (Rhondda Cynon Taff), Diablo Dragons (5.5% ABV)
- Winner – Barley Wines and Strong Ales Robinsons (Cheshire), Old Tom (8.5% ABV)
- Overall Gold Green Jack (Suffolk), Baltic Trader (10.5% ABV)
- Overall Silver Hobsons (Shropshire), Dhustone Stout (4.3% ABV)
- Overall Bronze Five Kingdoms (Galloway), McGregor’s Mild (3.8% ABV)
Unlike most beer competitions, CAMRA invites brewers to submit a particular beer for judging in CBoB (and not all take up the offer). In most other competitions, it is the brewery who decides which beer to enter and, in the majority of cases, the brewer has to pay an entry fee. No fees are payable for CBoB.
If you are a CAMRA member, then the choice of the beers starts with you. Every autumn, CAMRA members are asked to vote on which beers should be included in that year’s CBoB. This is done on-line so you need to make sure that your membership preferences allow for this. Beers are nominated in twelve draught beer style categories and two for bottled beers. At the same time, CAMRA’s regional tasting panels put forward their recommendations from their tastings over the year. CAMRA’s regional CBoB coordinators then combine the input from the two sources to work out which beers will go forward to the regional judging round. Around six to nine beers in each of the style categories go forward. This means that there needs to be 14 judging panels in each of CAMRA’s nine regions. This judging is usually done at local beer festivals. The beers are judged ‘blind’ with the judges having no indication of which they are. The winners of each of the categories are then put forward to either the main CBoB competition at the Great British Beer Festival or, if appropriate, the Champion Winter Beer of Britain competition held at the GBBF (Winter). For London, beers are put together with beers from the South East region.
The main competition is held at the GBBF. There is firstly a judging panel for each style category. These have up to nine beers to judge (one from each of the nine regions) and, again, the judging is ‘blind’. The winners then go forward to the final panel. This panel is made up of judges who were not on any of the earlier panels and, once again, the judging is ‘blind’. The diagram below clarifies the process, which takes about two years from start to finish. The overall Gold, Silver and Bronze medallists are therefore judged at least three times, or four if the beer has come through from the Winter Beer judging, and always judged ‘blind’.
There have been comments about the quality of the judges. Each judging panel has a mix of CAMRA members, brewery staff, publicans, beer communicators and others from associated hospitality or beer related organisations. For example, in 2023, judges included people from the Hop Inn and the Mitre pubs in Greater London, Castle Rock and Howling Hops breweries, the British Institute of Innkeeping, the Society of Independent Brewers and UK Hospitality, to name but a few. Of the CAMRA judges, all bar two held the CAMRA/People 1st beer judging qualification and those two were active tasting panel members. All the panel chairs were experienced beer judges, with many of them having experience of judging in other non CAMRA competitions.
So how did Abbot get the overall silver?
Abbot was initially one of the premium bitters chosen by CAMRA’s East Anglian region. When it was blind judged at a local beer festival, the judging panel thought it was the best on the day and therefore put it forward to the finals. The premium bitters judging panel also admired the beer and put it forward to the final panel and this panel thought it was the second best beer on the table. But the out and out winner was Elland’s 1872 Porter and having tasted all of the eight finalists, I concur with those results!
Was the Abbot tasted a special one?
The cask was taken randomly from Greene King’s delivery to the GBBF. I have found Abbot of a similar quality in Greene King pubs which benefit from a dedicated landlord and also in a number of Wetherspoon’s pubs which are in the Good Beer Guide. In my opinion, it is not the quality of the brewing that holds this beer back but the cellarmanship. I believe that Fuller’s London Pride suffers from a similar problem.
The only way CAMRA can stop a large brewer winning an award at CBoB would be to ban the larger brewers from competing but then the competition would no longer truly be the Champion Beer of Britain. It would be just the Champion Small Beer of Britain and the results over the years (including this year) are already biased towards smaller brewers.
What can you do?
Firstly, have your say and vote for which beers go forward next year. The link is https://cbob.camra.org.uk/. Please note that voting closes on 1 November.
If you are interested in how the tasting panels work, go here.
Although a lot of people think they can judge beer, it really isn’t that easy, particular if you are judging a number of different styles as part of a judging panel. This is why CAMRA invests in training its judges. If you would like to try it for yourself, go here.