One of the more unusual things about this year's Champion Beer of Britain, crowned at the CAMRA-organised Great British Beer Festival in London this week, is that it's available at my local supermarket. Not just that, but it's on special offer - four bottles for £5.50, a bargain for any decent beer, let alone a Champion Beer of Britain.
I've sampled a few bottles over the last couple of days, and it's a perfectly decent beer. In bottle, I have to say that it's not wildly exciting. I didn't get to try any at the GBBF, and haven't tried it on cask anywhere else, but as we all know, there can be considerable disparity between cask and bottle versions of the same beer. One of the beauties of English cask ale is drinkability - no other style of beer packs so much flavour into such a low %abv beer.
They day after Harvest Pale was announced as CBOB, there was a a tweet from James Watt at BrewDog noting that it only rated a 3.02 on Ratebeer.com - you can see some of the tweets that were exchanged here. As Mitchel Adams suggests, that was a bit of a mean tweet, but that was James' opinion, and he's entitled to express it. But equally, it sort of misses the point. That's also the rating for the bottled version - as you can see from one of the tweets there, that cask version merits a 3.35. But please don't take my bandying these scores around as my endorsement of any rating system - please read on.
CAMRA have a set of objectives and an agenda to their judging, which is totally different to Ratebeer.com. Perhaps oddly, the CBOB doesn't even have to be the best beer at the festival - the way beers make their way to the final is by being nominated by regional CAMRA groups, so it's perfectly possible that there will be good beers at the festival that haven't even been put forward for the CBOB competition. For what it's worth, I thought Fyne Ales' Jarl (4%abv) was a cracking pint (well, a cracking third in my place), but it wasn't in the running. Equally, a lot of the highest-rated beers on Ratebeer.com are of a particular style - in fact, 17 of the top 20 are imperial stouts. Great, awesome, mighty beers, but unlikely candidates for a CBOB award.
The point that I'm labouring here, I guess, is that we probably do need all of the different competitions and ratings sites that are available. As long as you understand the system behind the rating, then it's useful to have all that information available to you. If you truly believe that there is only one way to rate a beer, then good for you, but personally, I don't. It can be sessionable, it can be mighty, it can be ephemeral, but it can't be (and doesn't need to be) all three to be good. If you want to see how many people have rated a beer as "the best beer in the world, ever", head over to the Oxford Bottled Beer Database and use the search term 'bbitwe' in the search box on the homepage. I've had quite a lot of the beers on that list, and on the right day, with a bit of goodwill, they are pretty decent. Well, maybe not Bavaria 8.6, but I do have a soft spot for Amstel, fresh-brewed in it's home country and served on a hot day.
So, Castle Rock Harvest Pale Ale rocked CAMRA's world this year. My ale of the GBBF was Fyne Ales Jarl. And the bottle of BrewDog/Mikkeller I Hardcore You I've just drunk has to be one of the best IPAs I've tried in a long time.
The beauty of being a beer-lover is that all of the above can be true.