Great British Beer Festival: Yorkshire proves once again it knows a thing or two about ale

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WHEN Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker Ale was named the Champion Beer of Britain last week, you could forgive one or two Southern brewers for groaning inwardly, while generously applauding the Keighley brewery’s success.

This flagship prize, which is awarded annually on the opening day of the Great British Beer Festival, is highly-coveted in the industry, guaranteeing the winner national exposure – and a huge spike in sales. But this is the third year in a row it has gone to a northern brewery – last year it was Elland Brewery near Halifax, while Rudgate near York and Kelham Island in Sheffield are other Yorkshire brewers which have held the accolade in recent times.

Timmy Taylor’s is by far CAMRA’s most decorated brewery. Their hugely-loved Landlord has been Champion Beer of Britain four times and runner-up on three occasions, though this is the first time Boltmaker has scooped the prize and the instant increase in sales was immediately demonstrated. By the time I found the Ringmaster bar where it was on sale (all the bars were named after circus characters, for reasons which presumably made sense to someone), drinkers were stacked four deep, waiting to get a pint of this lovely, sessionable 4% ABV beer, very much a traditional Yorkshire balance of soft malt and gentle bitterness.

In some ways it’s an unlikely winner. The last two Champions have been a firm dark porter and a super strong, barley wine, but this time the judges have opted for a more mainstream ale more suited to a long evening session.

Away from the crowds gagging for a taste of Boltmaker, the 55,000 punters in the cavernous space of London’s Olympia had plenty else to choose from – more than 900 ales, ciders and perries of every style and strength and hundreds of draught and bottled beers from the major countries on the brewing map – Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Italy, France Australia and America, as well as cosmopolitan alternatives from Sri Lanka, Japan, Iceland and Jamaica, among others.

Stalls dispensing Cornish pasties, giant bratwurst and the inevitable pie and peas offered sufficient stodge to soak up the prodigious intake of booze.

On this occasion though, I took the opportunity for a virtual tour of Yorkshire, starting at the Clown bar, where Great Newsome Brewery’s curiously-named Pricky Back Otchan was making some drinkers scratch their heads in bewilderment. The name is local dialect for a hedgehog, and the beer was as benign as that timid creature – with some nice lemony notes in the aroma and a soft refreshing bitterness that was the perfect start after a long tube ride and a route march through the London heat.

The North Yorkshire beers were all clustered at the Unicyclist bar, where my drinking buddy Fiona insisted we start with Rudgate Ruby Mild, this being her local brewery. Mild has thrown off its ‘old man’s drink’ tag in recent years, and this one is absolutely typical of the resurgent genre – liquorice and toffee on the nose, then a big blast of soft fruits on the palate, followed by a surge of unexpected late bitterness.

By contrast, the fruity but rather bland Copper Dragon Sun Chaser proved something of a disappointment, particularly when compared to their Golden Pippin, a perennial draught favourite.

Two Sheffield beers next – the sweet, big tasting and possibly popcorn-accented Pale Rider, and the strange, faintly antiseptic, gingery, Orange Wheat Beer from Abbeydale, which is clearly Belgian-influenced. Though not for the faint hearted, the palate soon acclimatises to its left field attack.

And finally it was back to West Yorkshire for two really innovative beers – the Ilkley Trader, which packs in enough pineapple to the aroma and coconut to the taste to give more than a suggestion of a Caribbean influence, while the Triple Chocoholic from Saltaire is a first rate chocolate beer, with some interesting smoky coffee notes.

Tapped Brew Co., Boar Lane, Leeds

Bar review: Tapped Brew Co, Leeds city centre