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Goat Milks It as Tiger Fades Away....

A new Supreme Champion Beer is crowned, as a long-established beer moves to a new home....

This week the Great Beer Festival has been taking place at Olympia in London, and, as is the tradition, voting took place to decide the best beers, with one of them being chosen as overall Supreme Beer of Britain. And this year, following the success of Bingham's Vanilla Stout in 2016, it was another beer from the Midlands which scooped the prestigious title.

This time it was Goat's Milk, a well-balanced 3.8% pale bitter from the Church End Brewery which is situated between Nuneaton and Coleshill. Whilst it has been around for quite a while - the brewery dates back to 1994 when it was set up in an old coffin shop in the village of Shustoke - I think it is fair to say that Church End, whose beers often have church-related names such as Vicar's Ruin and Fallen Angel, has been somewhat under the radar compared to some more publicity-minded breweries, which makes the win all the more pleasing.

In the early days the brewery tap was the Griffin pub in Shustoke, about which I wrote about a year or two ago here, although the brewery is now based in the village of Ridge Lane where it brews a comprehensive range of beers including regular specials on a 20 barrel plant. The on-site Brewery Tap is open Thursday through to Sunday, and they have another pub, The George and Dragon in Stoke Golding, near Hinckley in Leicestershire, the village having the claim to fame that Henry VII was crowned as the first Tudor monarch here following his defeat of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth field. Church End beers also appear from time to time in the free trade, and over the years Goat's Milk has often been found on the bar at the King's Head, Huddersfield.

Meanwhile, another Midlands brewery, Everards, has also been in the news of late following its decision to decommission its current brewery in Narborough, Leicestershire, so it can concentrate on running its pub estate. Whilst it plans to open a smaller brewery alongside new offices it is planning to build on a smaller site nearby, the fact is that this will not have the capacity to brew all its beer itself. And so Robinsons and Joules are stepping in to brew on their behalf, with Robbies picking up their flagship Tiger Bitter. Now Tiger is a beer I have always enjoyed, even though it doesn't match my normal preference for pale and hoppy beers. Unusually for my area it has been an almost permanent feature for the past few years on the bar of the Dusty Miller at Hove Edge, where landlord Rob has always kept this mid-brown 4.2% bitter sweet ale in tip top form, and with the Dusty being only a few minutes walk from home, I have enjoyed many a pint of it over the years. A few weeks ago Rob announced that Admiral Taverns were changing distribution partners to Kuehne + Nagel, and as Tiger was not on their list of beers, he would not be able to get it any more.

So Everards join a growing list of established brewers who have given up brewing to focus on their pubs, a list including Thwaites, Charles Wells, and before them Youngs. Most regular drinkers say that their beers never taste the same when they are brewed elsewhere, and anyone who remembers the Tetleys of 20 or 30 years ago when it was still brewed in Leeds will attest that the current Wolverhampton version is a mere shadow of the original. Everards say they have already been supplying Robinsons-brewed Tiger alongside their own brews with no comments from customers, but time will tell.

The other concern is of course the loss of another part of our brewing heritage, not to say the 27 jobs that Everards will be shedding as part of these changes. OK, there are well over 1,500 breweries now in the UK, so why should we bother? Well, increasingly a larger share of the brewing capacity is becoming concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, and let's not forget there are vast swathes of the country that don't have the number of free houses and choice that some of us almost take for granted.

But for now, let's raise a glass of Goat's Milk and applaud Church End's success....

All smiles: Paul Hamblett of Church End
(Image courtesy of CAMRA)

The full list of winners from the GBBF 2017 is here


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