This was my first experience of the Great British Beer Festival.
The experience started several days in advance as I began by perusing the programme so I could narrow down the choice of over 700 beers. This was the easy bit. Finding the beers inside the venue would seem to be the challenge. The bars are arranged, not according to brewery name, but by county of origin. So if I want a pint of, for example, Arkell’s 3B, I won’t be able to use the alphabet as my guide. I’ll need to know it’s brewed in Wiltshire. So beers brewed in Wiltshire will be served at the bar named Fleming, because that’s where beers brewed in the counties beginning with W will be found. Got that? So if you want to drink a beer that happens to be brewed in Warwickshire, you’ll find it at..? No, not Fleming. Pay attention. It’ll be found at the Lister bar, where beers brewed in counties T-W are served. And so on…
Once at the venue, it turns out not to matter much; the bars are scattered about, never more than a few strides away, and with many beers already gone, planning was unecessary. But we’re here to drink good beer and there’s plenty of it…
My most wanted beer was Deschutes Mirror Pond at the USA bar. I had this and other of their beers in Portland last year and its appearance in the programme was primarily why I bought a ticket to the festival this year. I arrived at 12:30 on Thursday and the cask had run dry but there, in the fridge, was the last bottle of Mirror Pond. It’s now in my fridge. I’m saving it for a special occasion. Like the next rapture or something.
For me, the USA bar had the most exiting beers. The Fort George Cavatica Stout was like Robert Frost’s woods – lovely, dark and deep. It was also Popeye strong; just lifting the glass was like arm wrestling. This is the beer I want on Christmas day, instead of Christmas pudding. The Sierra Nevada Torpedo detonates on contact with taste buds; a dry hopped citrus explosion in a pine forest.
Talking of all things tree, Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde was judged to be the Champion Beer of Britain. There was a long queue for the beer, so the award clearly influences people’s choice. I’m glad to see a mild take the award, especially in the face of competition from ever increasing numbers of pale, hoppy beers. It was a refreshing drink that bought a bit of sanity back to the taste buds, but it lacked that frisson of the USA beers.
I tasted and supped several other beers and took home some bottles of Deschutes Cascade and Left Hand Sawtooth, an ESB style ale there should be more of in England. Next year, I’d like to see:
- MORE SEATING! – I spoke to a group of pensioners who were taking it in turns to rest their legs with the one seat they could find!
- No music – I love watching live music with a beer in my hand, but I’m here primarily to drink and have conversations. This wasn’t improved by the dull, echoey thuds coming from the arse end of the stage. If you insist on music, may as well turn the stage to face everyone otherwise most of the venue just gets a muffled din.
- Greater quantity of USA beers – People travel a long way, at considerable cost, to attend the festival. It sucks when by Thursday the most exiting beers have already run dry.
- Alphabetical order – Look, I tried to play along. I know Grainstore Brewery is in the county of Rutland. I went to the bar for counties beginning with R. But you’d already thought of that. And stuck it with the letter L. For Leicestershire and Rutland. You got me there.
I’m going to end on a less exacting note and praise the organisers and volunteers who manage to somehow get 700 different beers to several thousand customers and still have time to impart helpful advice and suggestions. Overall, its a great festival and I look forward to next year…