One of the first articles I wrote for The Brew Club, back in August 2008, was about my annual pilgrimage to the Great British Beers Festival (GBBF) in London.
I can scarcely believe that two years have passed, and once again I find myself at Earls Court surrounded by Britain’s finest ales, writing my third GBBF report!
To give you a little bit of background:
Back in the 1960’s the British brewing industry was in a parless state. Brewers were forsaking hundreds of years heritage and turning their backs on traditional brewing techniques, they were mass producing fizzy, tasteless beers, marketing them mercilessly and serving them from pressurised kegs.
In 1971 CAMRA was formed – initially as the ‘Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale’ then becoming the ‘Campaign for Real Ale’ in 1973. The campaign raised awareness of ‘Real Ale’ to the point where Britsh brewing came back from the brink, and while there are still tasteless mass produced beers available, there are a now large number of breweries, including the ‘big boys’ producing some excellent brews. And CAMRA now boasts nearly 120,000 members.
For the record a well known online (and collaborative) encyclopedia defines ‘Real Ale’ as : “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide“. I admit that I was a member of CAMRA for a while, but found their interpretation of this definition to be very restrictive; I attempted to argue that classic lagers have a different, but equally valid heritage but it wasn’t until 2002 that a lager first appeared at the GBBF (Czech Budweiser) and this was received with mixed feelings by many CAMRA members.
CAMRA organise hundreds of beer festivals around the country, but the first GBBF was held in 1977 at Alexandra Palace in north London. After a number of different venues around England, it moved to London in 1991 and to its current home in Earls Court (in west london) five years ago. With around 450 British beers and 200 beers from around the world the GBBF is, for a few days, the largest pub in the world.
I’ve only missed one GBBF since 1991 (2001 I think) but my involvement with The Brew Club gives me added justification to attend, if it were needed.
So, the the GBBF 2010… and once again I found myself at Earls Court for the Saturday afternoon session. As has become tradition, I headed for the bar selling timothy Taylor’s ‘Landlord’ – which won a Silver medal this year, it’s the most decorated beer in CAMRA history. As I’ve said before, I like to set a high benchmark.
While I was enjoying the ‘Landlord’ I started to peruse the bars, looking for my next target and spotted – to my horror – that several bars had already sold out of beers and were closed! I mentioned this to the barman who poured my next choice and he suggested that around 80% of the beers had sold out.
My next beer was a Mild from the St Peters brewery in Norfolk. You might recall that a review Scott wrote about St Peters Winter Ale that sparked as much discussion about the bottle as the beer. Their mild (on draught) was as you might expect, dark, sweet and not too strong, but it left me hankering for a hoppy IPA.
I wandered the halls, becoming increasingly frustrated at the number of brews that had sold out when I stumbled across the foreign beer bars – ‘Bieres Sans Frontieres’ (which is Beers Without Frontiers for those who don’t remember Peter Gabriel in 1986). Having mentioned that lagers were not available 2002, this year lager was a lifesaver… several breweries were represented, hadn’t yet sold out and the melle around the bar was considerable.
I managed to enjoy the Special (5.8% ABV) ‘Ox’ lager and the unfiltered 5% lager from the Bernard brewery in the Czech Republic – I reviewed their Dark lager back in June 2009; followed by two unusual brews from Budweiser Budvar – the unfiltered pale lager (only the second time it’s been available outside Ceske Budovice) and a half and half – which I again reviewed in June 2009 here.
By this time it was mid afternoon, the Czech beers were starting to run out, and were only being served in half pint measures, so it was time to make a judgment call. We left the festival – earlier than we usually do – and headed back into central London for a few pints of Samuel Smiths – at the wonderful authentic Victorian pub the ‘Princess Louise’.
So all was not lost.
So, some interesting brews, and an enjoyable day with friends, but overall a bit of a disappointment. Next year I’ll have to bite the bullet and go midweek.