Friday 14 August 2015

Blog No.2 - A Tale of Two Beer Festivals

It's Saturday 15th August, a date in the diary that has long been marked down as the day I "go for it" and join in the London Beer City (LBC) celebrations with vigour and enthusiasm.
I am visiting the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) and the London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF) today.
Before I go on any further a few things probably need to be brought out in the open....
I am a fully paid up member of CAMRA and have been since 2001, however my first beer festival experience was way back in 1987, at the Ipswich Corn Exchange, I like cask ale.
On the flip side I have fully embraced the vast array of new and exciting beers on offer from the UK and other parts of the globe, most notably the states. The generic term for a lot of these beers is "craft", I am not a fan of the word myself, but, there have been some excellent recent articles written by more talented bloggers than myself on this contentious subject, so, I won't labour the point here.
I do however like good beer and choice (whatever the method of dispense might be). Right, i feel better for that, on with the tale of two beer festivals.
The GBBF is usually held at Olympia in Kensington London, a fantastic Victorian building (there was a brief time when it was held at Earls Court, however, the less said about that the better) that allows vast amounts of natural light through the wonderful single span arched roofs.
You pay to get in and you pay for your glass which is yours to keep, or, your money back if you return the glass unscathed. You also have the option of buying a programme, I didn't as by the Saturday, which is the final day of the 5 day festival, you know a lot of beers are no longer on. There is also cloakroom to hang jackets/bags at £1 an item. By this point, I had spent £12. The beers themselves come in 1/3 pint, 1/2 pint and pint measures. I sampled 8 different beers, mainly 1/2 pints, with two being 1/3 pints and purchased 2 scotch eggs (plenty of traditional pub fare and street food also available) bringing my spending to £20 - total spend at GBBF £32. The beers were purposely chosen to be session beers, around the 4% abv mark, after all this was part one of two festivals! A few scored reasonably well on Untappd, a few were rather ordinary. None were bad.
Generally the atmosphere was one of people enjoying the beers, of which there were still enough to cover most tastes (I did see a couple of guys dressed as Spider-Man, however their web slinging days seemed behind them!) and the company. There is also live music and sometimes it ain't too bad at all, although one brewery bar brought their own music, sounded like the gym at work.
The festival is well worth a visit, if only to illustrate the breathtaking choice of cask beers available in the UK, but, bring your own water, unless you are happy to purchase on site, which I am not.
For some reason CAMRA sees no problem in not offering water to rinse your glasses, refresh your palate or keep you hydrated. This is a major bug bear of mine, and an out of date practice when compared to non CAMRA events and wine shows that I have attended, also, I'm not convinced it assists in the promotion of sensible drinking.
The LCBF, at Oval Space Bethnal Green, is now in its 3rd year and this time round they have dispensed with the tokens that were used previously to obtain the beers. For your ticket price (£38.50 in my case) you get a glass, programme and unlimited 90ml pours of the beers on offer. This is the first beer festival of its size to go down this route.
First thing to say is that water is freely available.....this made me happy. No cloakroom was a bit of pain as this is not a big space, although what there is, is utilised to the max. Although I would question the need for a DJ/live music when this does indeed take up some of the limited space.
Second thing to say is what a great selection of breweries are represented here, showcasing their beers. It's a real plus in my opinion to be able to speak to the brewers and sales guys at this type of festival. The food is of a good standard, one of my friends certainly seemed to enjoy the burger!
Naturally, I have a bug bear with this festival also....the 90ml pours are a great idea to provide the beer drinking public with the opportunity to try a variety of beers, but, it doesn't help with maintaining a conversation as you and your friends are off looking for the next 90ml fix, and does it promote sensible drinking? I think not.
A balance between the chance to try lots of beers but, also a few large pours to savour with friends would make this a 5* event.
I enjoyed myself at both festivals, the beers were good, the atmosphere and company made them all the more enjoyable (even met people for real rather than via Twitter....but weird I know!?!?!)
Do either have it absolutely right? Probably not, but, unless I get the chance to have a "Weird Science" moment, I guess I will never visit the perfect festival.
In the meantime though, cheers to all those people who work so hard to put these events together, my life would be poorer without their dedication to the cause.
Sandwiched in between the two beer festivals were visits to BrewDog Shepherds Bush and Mother Kellys in Bethnal Green - the two pub hubs of LBC15, both are well worth a visit.
All of the beers i had can be found on my Twitter feed or on Untappd.


  1. Good read. Was the £38.50 price good value for money?

  2. Depends....quantity v price paid.....probably not.
    Quality, choice and opportunity to try new beers.....probably.