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Champions and Northern Heroes....

There was some excellent news to celebrate last week at London's Olympia as Elland Brewery's 1872 Porter was awarded the title of Champion Beer of Britain for 2023, the 2nd time it has won the award. And after a new start for the brewery, this is an amazing achievement. Here's my thoughts....


Celebrating their victory at the CAMRA Great British Beer Festival last Tuesday, the team from Elland Brewery should feel very proud of what they have achieved. 1872 Porter has been Champion Beer of Britain before, in 2013, and has also won Champion Winter Beer four times, most recently earlier this year, but set against the background of recent times it is a tremendous achievement. Only last year there had been speculation about the brewery's future as staff had left and a new team had been brought together, but as I'd found when I paid them a visit just about a year ago as they were settling in, there was something of a buzz about the place. And whilst they have subsequently changed brewers with Rob Thomas joining Joe Francis and Scott 'Hutch' Hutchinson in the business, that buzz and confidence has been maintained, culminating in 1872 Porter being judged by the tasting panel as the best in Britain.

Champion Beer of Britain co-ordinator Christine Cryne described this 6.5% strong dark ale as as "a ruby black porter, with chocolate and caramelised fruit flavours with a hint of black toffee on the nose", adding that "the judges enjoyed its smooth mouthfeel with a finish that is roasty and dry. A satisfying and remarkably easy drinking porter."

The roots of Elland Brewery can be traced back to the sadly now-closed Barge and Barrel pub by the side of the canal in the small town that gives the brewery its name. In the 1990's a brewery had been set up by the avuncular John Eastwood in the former children's playroom, where he developed beers such as Nettle Thrasher, a popular bitter, and Myrtle's Temper, a strong dark ale allegedly named in honour of his wife. The beers were sold under the name of the Barge and Barrel Brewing Company in the pub and other local free houses and built up a popular following. In 2002, the Barge and Barrel Brewing Company merged with the West Yorkshire Brewery run by well-known brewer Dave Sanders, to form the Eastwood and Sanders' Fine Ales, which then became the Elland Brewery in 2006 as the two founders, finding it harder to work with each other, decided to move on. John eventually returned to brew at the Barge and Barrel, whilst Dave went on to work at several other local breweries over the subsequent years.

One of the beers that had originated from the early days was 1872 Porter, a strong, creamy, and rich complex beer with chocolate and liquorice notes based on an original recipe dating back to 1872. This was the beer that really put Elland Brewery on the map, the beer winning multiple awards at CAMRA beer festivals up and down the country, culminating in being voted Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 2013, and then again this year. Well done, guys!

And it was two more long established, traditional beers that took Silver and Bronze to Elland's Gold. Big boys Greene King's 5% premium bitter Abbot Ale caused a surprise by winning the silver award, whilst Salopian's 4.3% golden bitter Darwin's Origin received the bronze which perhaps suggests a swing back to more traditional styles in general. 

Going back to the Abbot, it is one of those beers that many of us have swerved, perhaps unfairly, as it has become a stalwart of the line up at Wetherspoons, its reputation sniffily downgraded by many who should know better.  Yet at one time it was a firm CAMRA favourite, revered and respected by many. When I was a student, one of my contemporaries from down south used to regularly go on about having drunk "10 points of Abbot" as a badge of honour, the beer's reputation preceding it. True, it wasn't as ubiquitous in those days as, aside from the Wetherspoons business, Greene King themselves have transformed themselves over the past 40 years from a moderately-sized regional brewer into one of the country's biggest with a national reach. And with Abbot, and their 3.6% IPA, plus other beers such as Old Speckled Hen, which they acquired through the takeover of Morland of Oxford, and Ruddles Bitter, Greene King produce a significant amount of cask beer. It was interesting that in the aftermath of Abbot's award, Twitter (or whatever it's called these days) featured a number of beer aficionados tweeting images of them "re-discovering" Abbot.

Greene King Abbot (image: Greene King)

Having been on a judging panel at a beer festival myself, I know the vagaries that can impact on the process, and given the more traditional inclination of many in CAMRA, some may suggest this year's champion beers are what you'd expect, but a look back at previous winners throws up a variety of different styles. In the years since Elland 1872 Porter last won the award, other winners have included Shere Drop from Surrey Hills (the last winners pre-Covid in 2019), which is a pale ale, another pale, Goat's Milk from Church End, a bitter, Taylors Boltmaker, a red ale, Cwtch from Tiny Rebel, and a couple of stouts from, respectively, Binghams and Siren. Which I think shows that even though the judging and tasting process may not be perfect, the best beers on the day will win through whatever the style....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic

Comments

  1. Had forgotten 1872 had won CBoB previously. A shame the palaver around Abbott and Sunni Rishak overshadowed their win. Well done Elland.

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