We have been to many beer festivals over the past few years, the largest one being Leeds International Beer Festival. We were therefore VERY excited to be making the trip to London for CAMRA’s 37th Great British Beer Festival which promised a whopping 900+ beers, ciders and perries. The five day event was held at Olympia, Kensington and had a carnival theme. Leanne and I were there for the Saturday session.
After a rather filling breakfast at Balans, we hopped (literally as I am still recovering from my broken ankle) on the overground to Kensington. There were plenty of people about but thanks to the efficient CAMRA volunteers we were straight in, no queue, no hassle. First job was to pick up the programme (which was included in the £10 entry fee) and on to the glasses bar; £3 got me a GBBF branded pint glass and Leanne a cute 1/3rd tulip glass. These were refundable at the end of the day but we decided to keep them as a souvenir.
Olympia Hall is HUGE and the number of bars was slighty overwhelming. We decided to grab a drink from the first bar (named ‘The Lion Tamer’), took a seat to look through the programme and mark off the beers we both really wanted to try. I had a small scan through the beer list prior to the festival and The Lion Tamer had a beer I had already earmarked; B&T‘s Fruit Bat. The tasting notes described this as a fruity, hoppy beer but I was quite disappointed to be honest, it was lacking on both fronts. Leanne went for an ‘old faithful’ from Offbeat Brewery; ‘Way Out Wheat’ which is a hazy wheat beer with typical sweet banana and coriander flavours.
Once our list of ‘potentials’ was complete we decided to browse round the stands and see what was on offer. If you would expect that going to a beer festival on the final day, a good amount of the beers would be gone…you would be correct. Credit to the volunteers, as soon as a beer was off, best efforts were made to remove it from the list above the bar. This did avoid that endless listing of beers to the server only to find out they only have one beer left. It was however a bit disappointing.
Back on the hunt, we avoided the ‘obvious’ brewery branded bars (such as Greene King and Bombardier) in an effort to try something new. Starting at Brains Leanne went for the collaboration beer (with Hardknott) Gordian Knott. I follow Hardknott on Twitter and after seeing Dave (the brewer) talk about the brewing process I thought it would be a good’un. It was. I wandered over to the Hogs Back bar enticed by the Collaboration Tawny Ale. This was brewed by Andy Parker, a home brewer who had brewed this with Hogs back especially for festival. This beer was straw like, fruity and hoppy – delicious and very drinkable.
We wandered round some more, thinking we had seen it all until we noticed another hall, only slightly smaller than the first filled with….more beer! Hoping to find the US bottles and cask bar we found this…….
This was SO disappointing. We understand that beers wont last the entire festival but have been to ones before where casks are held back for certain days, or there is a ‘cap’ on certain drinks for each day. After all, we did pay the same price for a ticket and those who were lucky enough to attend earlier in the week so it would have been nice to have the same choice. Regardless, there was still plenty to be drunk elsewhere.
Drinks were available in pints, halves and thirds. Here are a few of our personal favourites:-
St Austell Brewery – Liquid Sunshine (3.9%): A zesty golden ale with citrus flavours and a bitter sweet finish.
Sulwath Brewers Ltd – Solway Mist (5.5%): A cloudy wheat beer brewed with Seville orange peel – absolutely gorgeous.
Grain Brewery – India Pale Ale (bottle – 6.5%): Rich, malty, hoppy with a really great IPA punch.
Grain Brewery – Blonde Ash (4%): A blonde ash wheat with flavours of bubblegum, orange and coriander
St Austell Brewery – Big Job Double IPA (7.2%): Citra and Centennial hops made this really flavoursome.
As well as the beer there were plenty of food stalls about – burgers, bratwurst, seafood, curries, pies, pickled eggs and Pipers crisps. Seating was aplenty, however later in the day it did become more difficult to find an empty bench. There was a stage at the top end of the hall which played host to a pub quiz, live music and auction throughout the afternoon. Bournemouth Carnival Band proved very popular. One thing we felt was really lacking was the availability of anywhere to buy a bottle of water. The only place selling water had priced a small bottle at £2.25 – more expensive than most of what we had drunk through the day. Water shouldn’t be priced more than beer.
All in all the day was fantastic. I think with the boom of the ‘Craft Beer Revolution’ and the ever growing keg variety available in our favourite bars, it is easy to forget what real ale and CAMRA have to offer. Both me and Leanne have fallen guilty to choosing keg over cask thinking that the newest London brewery with their crafty brewing methods has something more to offer then the old favourite. Cask beers can have great flavour too and they don’t have to be 9% and served in a fancy glass. I think the CAMRA festivals are a constant reminder of that.
Leanne’s beer of the day – St Austell Brewery – Liquid Sunshine (3.9%)
Simon’s beer of the day – Grain Brewery – Blonde Ash (4%)