Great British Beer Festival 2012

Yesterday we headed down to London to the trade session of the Great British Beer Festival.We were slightly concerned beforehand about the transport situation, having to get to and across London in the middle of the Olympics, especially after discovering that both tube lines we intended to use were suspended or delayed due to signal failures. But by the time we arrived the District line was up and running again, so we took the tube to West Kensington then walked 10 minutes in convoy with a group of other beer enthusiasts who seemed to know the way to Olympia better than we did. Well, one of them did have the Google map app on his phone, so we trusted that he and Google both knew where they were going.
Upon reaching Olympia, the GBBF’s home for 13 years before moving to Earl’s Court in 2006, we joined the queue and waited until 12 for the doors to open. We were entertained by a hobgoblin of sorts having his photo taken with unwilling volunteers from the queue, and then the real entertainment began – the Skinners Brewery coach pulled up. Off piled the Skinners lot, with flag and Betty Stogs (one of their beers is named after the delightful – ahem – lady) accompanied by the Falmouth Marine Band who immediately started to play and march. Yes, Skinners certainly know how to make an entrance, and throughout the session the marching band would march around the venue, banging their milk churn type drums. If you didn’t know Skinners before, you most certainly do now. (Skinners Cornish Knocker is a great beer, as is Betty Stogs (the beer, that is, not the man.. sorry, I mean ‘lady’..!)).

Never having been to Olympia before, the first thing that I noticed was its glass winter-garden style ceiling – it was as if we were in a giant greenhouse, slowly sizzling away down below. It was a massive venue, although smaller than Earl’s Court, with bars, shops and food spread over two floors. I would most definitely get lost some point later. The exhibition centre was certainly big enough to house over 800 beers, ciders and perries – and they were expecting over 50,000 visitors over the 5 days. We picked up programmes and pint glasses for £3 sale or return, spotted lots of bars named after sports stars (inkeeping with the Olympic theme) and we walked around in circles in bewilderment trying to find Ruth B5 bar where the American ales were located (we didn’t realise there was a site map in the centre pages of the brochure until much later, it was far too well hidden). Like the previous year, I had made a list beforehand featuring no less than 30 US beers – I realised that some might not be available yet, being day 1, so thought with 30 I was in with a good chance of trying many of the ones on my list.

There were just 5 on from my list. Hmm. And about 10 altogether, many of which were very strong, even too strong for a third measure at that time of day. Many were oatmeal stouts and porters, which I didn’t want to drink just yet – I was saving those for later after I had dealt with the hop monsters. I decided to go first of all for a Notch Brewery Session Ale, at a manageable 4.5% for 12 pm. Pintsandpubs stocked up on bottled US and Italian beers, and we grabbed a table near the stage and sat down to drink. My Session Ale was full of juicy tropical mango hops , whilst pintsandpubs‘s Deschutes Doc Watbrown– one of our favourite breweries from Portland, Oregon – was mellow, caramelly and malty with subtle hop flavours. They know how to balance their beers, Deschutes.

After that I tried a few more US beers – the insanely tropical Sebago’s Fry’s Leap, at 5.2%, and the Lowell Beer Works Sour Red – one that I would never have tried if it wasn’t for the suggestion of Mat Wilson, the organiser of Ely Beer Festival who happened to be volunteering behind the bar there. I don’t normally like sour beers, but this one was very interesting with biscuity and sour fruit notes. At this point Eric ‘the Crafty Cockney’ Bristow took to the stage for a world record attempt for the fastest 301 game, playing against Dean Gould and Keith Deller. Keith Deller ended up beating the world record, which was pretty cool. I took a few pics and drank more beer. Then the Skinners clan sang some folk songs, then started banging their drums again and marched off, Betty leading the way. (Check out pintsandpubs’ great photo of the ‘lady’ herself).

I decided to go for a selection of English ales as my USA list was turning into an #epic fail. I went to ‘Ben’s Bar, B7 Hutton, for the wonderful Buntingford’s Hurricane, a delightfully mellow caramel malt and subtly hoppy beer – it went down a treat, as their beers generally do. I then had a Marble Lagonda IPA, a full bodied tropical hop monster at 5%.

Roger Protz announced the Champion Beers of Britain at 3pm on the stage, after being introduced by festival organiser Marc Holmes. The overall winner was Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, at 8.5%. I really thought a weaker beer would win, just like the Oscar Wild last year, so it was a big surprise – so well done to them! Green Jack Trawlerboys Best Bitter came second, and the lovely Dark Star APA came third (I thought that one would win, actually).

After a curry that was far too spicy I needed to sort out my mashed taste buds, so I  went back to the Ruth bar and got myself a Watch City Breakfast of Champions, an espresso oatmeal milk stout – very interesting roasted sweet malty flavours. My taste  buds slowly returned to normal. This was then followed by a Brodie’s Dalston Black IPA, with massive hop aroma and flavours followed by a subtle sweet dark roasted malt aftertaste, a good one from this East London brewery. I then tried some of pintsandpubs Allgates Hopgate, and was so impressed with its sweet and nicely balanced incredible hop flavours that I went back to Ben’s Bar for some of my own. Beautiful stuff from this Wigan brewery, I will have to keep my eyes open for more of their beers. I think this was my beer of the fest.

And then, suddenly, I was all beered out. Time to get back on that tube…

There are so many beers I would still like to try, but I always leave beer festivals saying that and there’s no way to try them all when attending a festival with several hundred beers available – not even, alas, when drinking thirds. It was a great festival, and I look forward to reading the #gbbf tweets throughout the rest of the GBBF week with interest. Cheers!

Peterborough Beer Festival 2011

I don’t know why I’d never got round to going to the Peterborough Beer Festival before. I religiously attend the Cambridge Beer Festival, and I managed to make it down to Earl’s Court in London to the Great British Beer Festival earlier this month. But for some reason I’d never made the effort to take the 50 minute train journey to Peterborough. On Wednesday it was time to put that right.

Lonestar TPA

Lonestar TPA

The Peterborough Beer Festival, with over 350 real ales plus cider, wine, and bottled world beers, is the second largest CAMRA beer festival in the country. When I saw the beer list a week before the festival I was excited by the selection, with some breweries present whose ales I really wanted to try. Already I could see that this festival was going to be more exciting than the Great British Beer Festival (US cask beers aside). But at the same time I knew there was no way I could try all the beers I wanted to try in just one session; if they served third pint measures like at the GBBF I might be in with a chance. Come on all CAMRA beer fests, serve third pint measures; I can’t drink much but I want to try lots of different beers!

After a pleasant train journey from Cambridge in a wonderfully sparkly train (why can’t the trains to London be as nice as these?) and a 15 minute walk from the station we arrived at the Embankment, the site of the festival. It was 5.15 and the sun was shining, but the gates were closed. We joined the growing queue and waited in anticipation. The gates opened at 5.30 on the dot, so we all filtered slowly through, with CAMRA members paying £4 and non-members paying £8, which includes the £3 glass hire fee.

Table footieThe festival is located in large interlinking marquees. The floor is grass as opposed to the plastic flooring that is layed out at the Cambridge festival. The breweries were listed alphabetically through the various marquees in an L shape, which should have been straightforward – shouldn’t it?  Not for me – I still managed to get lost and ended up walking backwards and forwards several times trying to find T. Hmm. I blame the beer. They also have a live music marquee (which I am not particularly keen on at a beer fest, preferring my drinking and chat not to be drowned out by live music, despite the fact I do generally love to watch a good band) and a cider bar, wine bar, fairground rides, food stalls and shops, and pub games such as table football and Northamptonshire skittles (my personal favourite, as a girl who hails from that county).  There is a small grassy area outside around the food stalls where we sat, but I missed the open expanse of grass of the Cambridge Beer Festival – that’s what makes it so special in my opinion. There is plenty of grass on the Embankment – I am sure a large grassy space could be created for drinkers to sit and chat. Then it would be perfect.

Brewery bars

Brewery bars

So, onto the important bit – the beer. The Lonestar TPA (Texas Pale Ale) 5.8%, was first up; it had been recommended to me as it was a festival special but also because it has a great story. It was a collaboration between Hopshackle brewery and Steve Saldana, the festival cellarman and a Texan; the beer was brewed according to an ancient Texan recipe. Check out the full story (page 9), it’s fascinating 😉 The result is a beer loaded with hops, but not overly so; it’s wonderfully balanced and has the most gorgeous floral aroma. Very nice indeed. It didn’t disappoint (thanks for the recommendation Karl!)

Next up was Magic Rock High Wire, 5.5%.  I had been wanting to try their beers for a while but hadn’t managed to get hold of any. Here was my chance. Wow. Overwhelming tropical flavours and smells, mango, passion fruit, citrus. Incredibly rich. I could’ve sworn there were Nelson Sauvin hops in there, but when I asked them they said no, just loads of ‘C’ hops!

Tintagel Brewery is a relatively new and fantastic little brewery; the beer is brewed in an old milking shed on a farm just outside Tintagel, Cornwall. The Castle Gold was fantastic; bright yellow, floral, honey notes and very sweet. This went down a treat and was a pleasure to drink. Tintagel Harbour Special was a favourite after having drunk this in Tintagel this summer, with its caramel malty notes with citrus and dry hopped flavours.

I then went for Summer Wine 7 C’s of Rye, a beer containing 7 types of hop beginning with C (Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, etc). At this point the guys at the bar tried to warn me off the stronger beers, asking if I knew that my beer of choice was 7% and should I maybe try something weaker so as not to end up in a heap on the floor by the end of the evening? I explained that this was a brewery whose beers I had to try, that everything was fine and I knew what I was doing (didn’t I?). So they sighed and poured me a half. (The bar staff were so very nice and helpful at this festival, the nicest I have come across to be honest, nothing was too much trouble and they all were so enthusiastic about beer and wanted to share their enthusiasm).  Well the beer certainly tasted its strength. It was similar in a way to the High Wire (as in lots of tropical hop flavours) but it was deeper, creamier, much heavier and resinous. But I could have done with a 3rd pint to be honest, a half was too much for me as it was so rich.

Tydd Steam Stargazer was a beer that I wanted at the CBF but it had run out. It was a delicious golden ale; so easy to drink (after the 7 Cs’!) and full of wonderful American hop flavours.

I tried several other beers and had tasters of others, so here are some in brief – Oakham Dream Catcher, 6.9%: deeply hoppy and resinous, fruity, red, very nice. Oakham Green Devil, 6%: very tropical (there’s that word again) – lots of grapefruit, peach, similar to a very strong Thornbridge Kipling. Leeds Samba, 3.7%: quite pleasant, hoppy, light and refreshing. Mallinsons Peter-Beer, 4.6%: full of flavour, golden and hoppy with a lovely aftertaste. Le Brewery Mysterieuse Lady from Normandy, France, 4%: a wheat beer with an unusual aroma but very delicate with elderflower and grassy notes. Brodie’s Hackney Red IPA, 6.1%: deep ruby colour with prominent US dry hopped flavours.

It was time to leave to catch the train home. A pleasant walk back to the station through pretty Cathedral Square with its colourful shooting fountains and Butter Cross made for a nice end to the evening.

The festival was fantastic – it runs until Saturday 27th August. Next year I will try to go to more than one session to take advantage of all that is on offer!

The Great British Beer Festival 2011

On Thursday we headed to the Great British Beer Festival in Earl’s Court, London. This is the mother of all UK beer festivals, with over 700 beers on offer as well as a multitude of ciders and perries.

At around 12.30 we emerged from Earl’s Court station straight into the pouring rain. We made a running dash for it over the road and entered the exhibition centre to the voices of stewards shouting repeatedly and urgently to the eager (and sogging wet) crowd ‘Don’t slip on the wet floor!’

I was initially overwhelmed by the size of the place. After grabbing a couple of £3 souvenir pint glass and beer programmes (free for CAMRA members) we had a look around. I found it to be a very confusing layout; breweries were ordered by groups of counties rather than alphabetically, which surprised me. I don’t always know the name of the towns that some of my favourite breweries are from, let alone the county. The bars were all given names and letter, such as P4 Gray, which confusingly had beers from counties H-L (not G, as you might vaguely hope/expect). So really, you would have no idea where to go without your brochure, and would have to aimlessly wander around hoping you would come across a brewery you were looking for – the names are listed on the backdrop behind each bar. But they could make this so much easier by listing the breweries alphabetically like the Cambridge beer festival does, as opposed to regional location – it would therefore be obvious where to go  if you wanted an Adnams beer or a Youngs. In my opinion.

So, rather than trying to figure everything out immediately upon arrival whilst still clutching an empty beer glass, wander we did. Luckily, we soon came across what we were looking for, the Bières Sans Frontières bar, or more precisely, the USA cask beer bar (or W2 Blackwell, if you want to get all technical). This was the reason I was here. I had composed a list comprising of no less than 24 US beers I wanted to try. OK, I knew that I wouldn’t get through 24 strong US beers in one day, but I knew several were bound to be gone already, so I had to give myself a few options, just in case…

Bières Sans Frontières

Bières Sans Frontières

When we got to the bar there were quite a few US beers on, but many had indeed gone already – including, unfortunately, most of the beers on my ginormous list. I was most disappointed to see that Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale was one of them, which was due to be my first beer of the day. Grrr. This beer was going to evoke happy memories of Portland, Oregon, where we drank it in the Deschutes bar (see my US beer trip post). That was the plan anyway. However, the barman informed me that the beer was so amazingly fantastic that he had been recommending it to all his customers the previous few days, and now it was gone. Dammmit. Luckily, Adam managed to find the last remaining bottle of it on the adjacent bottled beer bar, so he grabbed that along with some bottles of Cascade Ale and Green Lakes Organic Ale by the same brewer, both wonderful beers. The great thing about Deschutes is that they don’t overdo their hopping like some US breweries; everything is nicely balanced and just right. However, I do love a massive hop kick too. Any day of the week.

So out of my 24 US beers, I managed to try a grand total of 4. Pah. Here they are:

Country Boy IPA

Country Boy IPA

Everybody’s Brewing, Country Boy IPA (6.2%)  – This wonderful beer from Washington state didn’t taste its strength although you could tell it wasn’t a 4%er. A golden ale with a fantastic hop aroma and citrus flavour. Contains lots of NW hops such as Chinook and Cascade but wasn’t overdone. This incredibly drinkable beer was one of my favourites of the fest and a very pleasant start.

Il Vicino, Wet Mountain IPA (7.2%) – I love the name of this beer – this conjures up for me the Cascade mountain range in Oregon with soaking wet hop fields from the incessant rain and lots of wonderful grassy smells. I had to try this beer from this New Mexico brewery, and it didn’t disappoint. Full of resin from the bundles of Pacific hops such as Cascade and Centennial this beer provided the much loved hop kick. Dark amber and very sweet with dry hop flavours, and tasted its strength. I was drinking 3rd pint measures (which is great about this festival) and glad I was – I couldn’t have survived on larger measures drinking beer this strong. Great beer.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2%) – Oh dear, not another 7.2%er. Again, this tasted its strength, if not stronger, and again very resinous. Not as sweet as the Wet Mountain, but a drinkable beer from this great Californian brewery who were the sponsors of the BSF bar. Their Pale Ale is also superb and ubiquitous in California.

Widmer Bros Okto Festival Ale (5.3%) – This beer hailing from Portland, Oregon, was OK, not bad, but not really to my taste, more malty than hoppy. This amber beer wasn’t very effervescent but it was smooth and drinkable, I just wanted to move onto the next beer though really.


So that was it for my US beers. Onto the UK beers.

To be honest, I wasn’t there for the UK beers, which sounds terrible as this is the British beer fest after all. But I had only drawn up a short UK list; breweries that I wanted to see weren’t there like Kernel and BrewDog, and other breweries that I like only had one beer which I didn’t want, e.g. Redemption only had a porter, Crouch Vale only had Brewer’s Gold, which is a great beer but I drink it all the time and wanted something different, and so on.

Here are some of the UK beers I tried:

Mallinsons Stadium Bitter (3.8) – I really love Mallinsons Simcoe, at almost the same ABV, but this beer was not as good – it was slightly hoppy and pale, but a bit astringent and I found it a bit dull. Or maybe the US beers had mashed my tastebuds by this point.

Moor Northern Star (4.1%) – This wasn’t on my beer list originally but I saw that someone had mentioned it on the GBBF Twitter feed so had to try it. It wasn’t bad, very pale with a slight egg aroma which put me off a bit, but pleasantly hoppy if also slightly astringent; I just would have liked to see more US hops in there. It’s an award winning beer, so must give this another go another time.

Thwaites Triple C (4.2%) – I wanted this beer as it is brewed with US Cascade hops. But I really couldn’t taste my favourite hop. It was pleasantly drinkable but uninspiring. Sorry, Thwaites, I do like what you do (I love your Wainwright ale ). I again blame the US beers for messing with my tastebuds. I will try this another day too.

Arbor Yakima Valley American IPA (7%) – Onto a strong American style ale by a UK brewery as I was obviously not getting on so well with weaker UK beers at this point. I had to wait for this beer to come on, but it was very nice, fruity and literally bursting with hops as they had thrown so many in. It actually tasted stronger than US beers of the same ABV – I would have liked to have done a taste comparison with this and, say, the Torpedo, but by this point I was starting to suffer so that wouldn’t have been such a good idea…


The queue for Oscar Wilde mild

The queue for Oscar Wilde mild

Adam queued in a very long line for some of the newly awarded Champion Beer of Britain: Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde,  a nutty mild beer. This beer was pleasant and easy drinking – maybe that’s part of its charm – but I don’t understand why this beer won the award with so many other amazing beers out there.  Anyway, the queue for that beer  just kept getting longer and longer.

So there we have it. I’d like to have returned for another session, but quite honestly, after the long slow journey home, the painful head the next day, and the fact the US beers had virtually gone,  it unfortunately wasn’t going to happen. It was good fun though, I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was obvious how much organisation and planning had gone into the whole thing. I came away with a couple of good books from the CAMRA bookshop. I enjoyed chatting to various people along the way who joined our table, like Garth and Bob from Devon who were on the darker beers and travelling back to Devon the same evening, a group of older gentlemen from the Kent beer club who were on the Worthingtons and had never heard of a decent US beer, and the guys from Hornchurch drinking Sharps Doom Bar (great beer) whose journey down the District Line almost took as long as ours from Cambridge.

Next year the GBBF will be in the venue of Olympia as Earl’s Court will be used in the Olymics and then possibly demolished. I’m looking forward to it already (more US cask beers please CAMRA!). There are many beer festivals to enjoy in the meantime though, including the Peterborough Beer Festival on 23-27 August. And it’s only a couple of months until the Cambridge Octoberfest 2011 on October 14th-15th…

%d bloggers like this: