When I did my judging last week I was pleased in the first round to be tasting "Bitters and Pale Ales (Up to 4.0% ABV)". I didn't fancy the other cask category of "Strong Ales (Over 5.6% ABV)". My table was hardly expert, with a local wine merchant who spat all his beer into a bucket, a nice, young, cask ale loving lass who'd won her place in a Barrow Evening Mail contest and the boyfriend of one of the SIBA women who were providing general assistance and bringing us the beer. We tasted eleven beers and oddly enough, this motley collection more or less agreed on everything. What do I conclude from that? Well, I suppose, that when beers are good, bad or just indifferent and you are approaching them with an open mind, even if not to your taste, most people will recognise what is good and what is not. When you are doing comparative tastings, it all becomes reasonably obvious, though of course there were differences of opinion.
Were the beers all good? No. Some were poor, most were decent enough, but most were disappointingly and predictably samey. There was two stand outs in our list. Both were golden, complex, well bodied and hoppy. The modern face of bitter beer? Maybe. Going back to previous posts there was little "innovation". It was a boring old roll call of Fuggles, Goldings, Northdown and Styrians and mostly brown beers.
Now I know micros need to have a "cooking bitter" and that a well made mainstream beer will sell, but I do wonder why, in a competition, they didn't put forward something more characterful? There does seem to be a general reluctance to push the boundaries here.
I also judged strong bottled ales. Not my forte really, but I was lucky enough to sit beside Cask Marque's inspector for East London where my flat is. He was able to confirm that the London malaise of warm beer is being pushed aside and that all over the capital, cellars are being re-equipped with decent refrigeration and that standards generally are rising. That's good news isn't it?
The Hawkshead Brewery is state of the art and the Beer Hall where we did the judging is a lovely modern venue. Hawkshead Organic Stout - drunk for pleasure -was superb. I also met Jeff Pickthall properly and you know, he's a nice fellow.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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