All cask conditioned beers available for 3 months, during a calendar year, can be entered into the selection process that starts during September and October, when members can vote for their favourite beers in each of CAMRA’s style categories. Voting is usually by region (not all the same as CAMRA’s regions, as some are amalgamated), and in some bigger regions members can only vote for beers in their county or group of counties. For example in East Anglia, if you live in Essex you can vote only for Essex beers, and if you live in Suffolk you can only vote for Suffolk beers and so on. These arrangements vary from region to region, and are always subject to review. These nominations go forward to the CAMRA Area CBOB coordinators, responsible for co-ordinating Area competitions. The regional taste panels also input their opinions on beers which deserve to go forward. These nominations are then ranked and the top selections go forward to the Area competitions, where Area category winners are selected and forwarded into the final CBOB and CWBOB competitions. This ensures that there is an even spread of beer styles from all regions of the UK.
There is a perception that members’ votes do not affect the outcome. This is untrue. One or two members voting a particular beer as their favourite in a category could easily put it in contention for judging in the regional competitions that follow. The more votes we get, the more robust the process and the greater integrity the competition has. It is also true that some members don’t like the current system of which beers they can vote for. If anyone is not happy with the system talk to your branch chair or Regional Director in the first instance; they can forward concerns to the Area CBOB Co-ordinator who takes those decisions locally. However, we are considering changes to the whole system of what beers you can vote for, and this is coupled with a revamp of the voting portal. If the area CBOB coordinators give this the green light it can go ahead, but is totally dependent on the IT infrastructure being in place. So, hopefully, this year but if not, then next. These changes could involve members being able to vote for any eligible beer produced in the UK and/or by beers produced within a certain distance from the member’s home, as well as voting along the current regional/county lines. When I stand up at Olympia and announce the winner, knowing that many members have contributed towards that moment, is a good feeling and makes me feel confident we have come to the best decision.
Currently, between 2500 and 3000 members vote in the competition – that is about 1.5% of total membership and doesn’t even represent a significant proportion of active members and volunteers. So, I would urge all members to get involved, and have their say. It’s your competition; I am just its current guardian.
Our overwhelming preference is that these beers which go forward should be judged at regional beer festivals. This adds some objectivity and integrity to the process as the majority of the judges will be CAMRA trained, and the tastings are blind. All coordinators are urged to get as many beers judged at festivals as possible – preferably all of them, including the bottled beer category. This takes place over the year following the votes (so for the current voting round it will be done from about March 2017 to February 2018). The winners go forward to the 3 national competitions – NWAF for the winter beers (CWBOB), GBBF for the rest of the beers and the BBC Good Food Show Winter, in November, for the bottled beers. So, at NWAF in Norwich next February, the beers being judged will be the regional winners from the voting from September/October 2016. This long timescale is frustrating, and can lead to issues with beer availability/continuity, but if we are to judge at festivals then there is no way round it for now. Some suggestions include using taste panels to help judge to cut down the time taken overall, but many parts of the country do not have active taste panels at the moment. You may have seen a memo from me to recruit more taste panellists recently; this is to try and get all areas
covered by active panels to give us the option of moving CBOB in this direction if all involved agree to it.
At the Great British Beer Festival, the final CBOB category judging of the Area winners takes place, with the winning beer from the Speciality Beer, Mild and Strong Bitter categories, coupled with 2 each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories proceeding into the final round in order to judge the Supreme Champion, which is crowned the best beer in Britain. The reason for 2 beers each from the Bitter, Golden Ale and Best Bitter categories is to accommodate for the proportionate share of the commercial beer market these beer styles command.
Four beers that are fast tracked to the final round are the winners of each category of the Champion Winter Beer of Britain competition, held at the National Winter Ales Festival in January/February each year. As these beers were judged to be the Champion Beers of their style earlier in the year, they are entered automatically into the final round of CBOB. The CWBOB competition is similar in its structure to CBOB, as the final round of judging is made up of beers having reached this stage via the process of CAMRA local branch and tasting panel nominations, followed by Area competition success. The categories in this competition are Old Ale/Strong Mild, Porter, Stout and Barley Wine/Strong Old Ale.
Please note there is a separate competition for the Champion Bottled Beer of Britain (Real Ale in Bottle). Like CBOB and CWBOB, the structure of the competition relies upon CAMRA local branch and tasting panel nominations, followed by the Area competitions, with the final held at the BBC Good Food Show in November.
What can breweries do to get their beer submitted for consideration? –
Aside from ensuring their beers are of a consistently excellent standard throughout the year, brewers can consult their respective CAMRA Brewery Liaison Officer (BLO) to gain clarification on whether their beer fits the criteria defined by the categories in CAMRA’s Beer Styles Guidelines. When a list of eligible beers has been established, it is the role of the BLO to supply this list for reference to the respective CAMRA Area Competition Organiser. If brewers have any questions whatsoever regarding their beer’s eligibility, they are asked to consult their BLO for clarification; if they are unable to help then brewers should contact their Area Competition Organiser, details of whom are available from CAMRA HQ.
To help breweries ensure they have the maximum opportunity to progress in the competition there are several other things they need to know. Firstly beers are categorised according to their ABV, as it now is considered this is more reflective of style, and easier for most beer drinkers to understand.
To be eligible for CBOB, a cask conditioned Bitter, Best Bitter, Strong Bitter or Golden Ale must be available for 7 or more months of the year, and a cask conditioned Mild or Speciality Beer must be available for 3 or more months of the year, or else the cask conditioned beer must be one of the beer styles associated with the Winter season (Old Ales, Strong Milds, Barley Wine, Strong Old Ale, Porter or Stout). The BIS has five categories for availability: 12 months of the year; 7-11 months; 3-6 months; 1-2 months; and On Demand.
Also excluded are beers with misleadingly promoted geographical origin or brands with non- cask versions misleadingly promoted using CAMRA awards.