CAMRA smashed a world record on Sunday 18 April during its 2021 Members’ Weekend, when more than 350 participants, using 266 Zoom accounts took part in a simultaneous beer tasting. The event, which focussed on beer from the Sheffield and District branch area, beats the record, as noted by the Guinness Book of Records of 18 venues achieved by the Brewhouse & Kitchen pubco in 2018.
In a normal year, attendees at the annual CAMRA AGM, Conference and Members’ Weekend (MW21) would visit local breweries and pubs. But the pandemic made 2021 different as it was impossible to keep to the original plan of a two-day event at the art-deco Sheffield City Hall.
As a result, both the AGM and Conference took place online along with a live tutored beer tasting.
Initially, there was the unenviable problem of finding a representative selection of six beers from the hundreds available. Within Sheffield, there are 26 brewing companies (23 breweries, three cuckoos), more per head of population than any other UK city. Also, within the branch area, in the Peak District National Park, are Eyam and Intrepid.
At a time when some breweries were mothballed, the occasion demanded award winners, geographical spread, mix of new and well-established breweries, diverse range of beer styles/strengths and commitment to supply 500 to a tight deadline.
Advertised in WB and online, the event was a sell-out. The CAMRA warehouse despatched, 10 days prior to the event protected by biodegradable maize starch peanuts, in tasting order:
- Neepsend: Acadia, 3.9 per cent New England session pale 440 ml can
- Kelham Island: Pale Rider, 5.2 per cent premium golden ale 440 ml can
- Triple Point: Dyad #4, 5.2 per cent DDH New England IPA 440 ml can
- Intrepid: Stanage, 4.5 per cent oatmeal stout 500 ml bottle
- Bradfield: Belgian Blue, 4.9 per cent speciality ale – flavoured 500 ml bottle
- Abbeydale: Black Mass, 6.66 per cent strong stout 440 ml can
European Beer Consumers Union beer judge and former Great British Beer Festival organiser, Christine Cryne introduced the event commenting on beer styles. MW21 co-organiser, Dave Pickersgill, then said a few words about Sheffield, reminding participants they had missed a visit to possibly the best beer city in the world. He noted Sheffield has more pubs on the CAMRA Pub Heritage lists than any other city in Yorkshire and hosts the only local to win the CAMRA National Pub of The Year title in successive years – the Kelham Island Tavern.
Christine then hosted the tasting. Five brewers – Ben Millner (Intrepid), Bruce Woodcock (Bradfield), Gavin Martin (Neepsend), George Brook (Triple Point) and Jim Rangeley (Abbeydale) – participated, commenting on their beer and responding to participants.
Companies House states the occupation of Ben as “brewer and speleological Interpreter”. He is the only UK brewer with this job title. This unique split of his working life obviously works, one participant describing the Intrepid beer as “one of the best stouts I’ve tasted from a bottle…. can’t believe the amount of body at such a low ABV.”
Throughout the event, the chat function was kept busy. Among many items discussed was the origin of Neepsend beer names, the Beaujolais Noveau aspect of Belgian Blue and the feasibility of the 2021 Abbeydale Funk Festival. It also confirmed Black Mass, the only beer in the Good Beer Guide whose ABV is quoted to two decimal places, is legally between 6.16 and 7.16 per cent. In addition, the true meaning of Dyad was discussed.
There was also complimentary comment about the brewers’ input: “Absolutely super event, wonderfully produced, great host and contributors and the sense of the CAMRA community, and great beer!” The brewers also had a good evening, as Gavin stated, via Twitter: “Was really good fun and hopefully we’ll be able to meet some of you in the flesh in Sheffield one day.”
The session was enjoyable, went extremely well and is obviously something which should happen again. However, can anyone beat 266 simultaneous Zoom accounts, or will Sheffield continue to retain its reputation as the best beer city in the world?