This year I attended the GBBF ‘trade’ session, which is open to members of the industry and (ahem) the press. This takes place on the Tuesday lunchtime before the festival opens the public. In recent years I had missed some of the ales I wanted to try, so this year I was determined to get in early.
This year’s festival boasted over 1,000 Real Ales, Ciders and beers from around the world, and the range of beers clearly showed a ‘back to basics’ fundamentalist approach (eloquently described by Steve Williams here).
There seemed to be fewer lagers available on the international ‘Biere Sans Frontieres’ bar, this year it seemed to be ales all the way.
As has become my personal tradition, I started my festival visit with Timothy Taylor’s ‘Landlord’ (4.3% ABV). As I have written before, this sets my personal benchmark high. It’s also a treat to enjoy this excellent beer kept and served in perfect condition.
Another brew that I enjoy – and first tried at the GBBF in 2008 is “Chocolate Cherry Mild” (3.8%) by Dunham Massey. This didn’t disappoint, but I still think there’s a stunning porter lurking in there somewhere.
There is a growing trend towards Mild ales – these are, as their name suggests, less bitter than most ales, and for the second year running the Champion Beer of Britain is a mild – this year it’s “Oscar Wilde” (3.7% ABV) from the Mighty Oak brewery in Brentwood, Essex. ‘Oscar Wilde’ being ‘cockney rhyming slang‘ for ‘mild’.
Alongside the growth of ‘Mild’, the other hot trend seems to be India Pale Ales (IPAs). It seems to me that almost any Ale with plenty of hops gets branded an IPA. I’ve recently explored some IPAs for The Brew Club, and while some at the 2011 GBBF disappointed, others did not.
Two brews that didn’t disappoint were ‘Kipling’ (5.2% ABV) and ‘Jaipur’ (5.9% ABV) from the Thornbridge brewery in Bakewell, Derbyshire. I’ve reviewed these recently for The Brew Club, but they’re still on Scott’s ‘to publish’ pile!
Another Thornbridge brew I tried for the first time was ‘Chiron’ (5% ABV) which they describe as an ‘APA’ (American Pale Ale) and while less exotic than ‘Kipling’ or ‘Jaipur’ it was still full of flavour and refreshing.
Another IPA and the only international brew I tried was Stone Brewery’s “So Cal Hop Salute Imperial Black IPA” (9.9% ABV). While I found this to be a heady, full bodied brew, loaded with chocolate and mocha, I couldn’t see the justification of the ‘IPA’ moniker.
The Suffolk brewery ‘Greene King’ launched two new brews at the GBBF. ‘Old Golden Hen’ (4.1% ABV) which joins ‘Old Speckled Hen’ and ‘Old Crafty Hen’ in Greene King’s stable (hen-house?) and a Very Special IPA (7.5% ABV). I enjoyed the ‘Golden Hen’ but again found the ‘Very Special IPA’ while not unpleasant, to be lacking somewhat in “IPA-ness”. I’ll seek them both out for a more objective review.
Overall, I had a great day and enjoyed some great brews, but my lasting impression of the day was that, by going ‘back to basics’ and focusing on cask ales, CAMRA and the GBBF are in danger of becoming too ‘niche’.
While there are more and more micro-breweries in the UK, some great modern breweries were conspicuous by their absence; for example the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich and Brewdog in Scotland both brew excellent and challenging brews, but because these brews are supplied in kegs rather than casks, they’re not welcome at the GBBF.
And, for the record, my favourite brew of the day? Thornbridge’s ‘Jaipur’… no, their ‘Kipling’, no the ‘Jaipur’… decisions, decisions!
Bob the Brit