The award, announced just an hour or so back on-stage at the Great British Beer Festival by Roger Protz, went to Coniston Brewery's no.9 Barley Wine, an 8.5% beer so exclusive that it doesn't even feature in the brewery's promo leaflets.
|David Smith, a jug of no.9, & the CBoB shield|
Once the beer's creator, David Smith, had recovered his composure a little, I asked him about its background and how it fits with the brewery's other products. He said Coniston's beers have been getting stronger, from its start with a 3.6% bitter.
"This is more in the vein of Gold Label, or perhaps Sam Smith's Strong Golden," he added. "It is quite light for a barley wine, but nicely balanced, with enough malt and not over-hopped."
It is only brewed once a year at present, in the autumn, though they are looking at adding a second brew in spring. This could explain why it won overall gold here, but not at the Winter Ales Festival back in January - it is now almost a year old, and the maturity definitely shows through in its rich and winey character.
The only drawback to adding a second brew is the length of time it needs, David said. It needs nine days to ferment, and they sometimes need to re-pitch it with fresh yeast halfway through to renew the fermentation.
He added that, as well as helping to revive a historic style of beer, Coniston also uses a trick familiar to brewers from a century ago, which is to add some freshly fermented ale - in this case the 1998 Champion Beer of Britain, Coniston Bluebird - to each cask to enliven it again for its cask conditioning.
The beer itself? I picked up syrup, smoke and treacle on the nose, it's got touches of seaside and a syrupy, faintly oily body, then a dry finish with burnt marmalade and a well balanced hoppy bitterness.A worthy winner.