One of the first articles I wrote for The Brew Club, way back in August 2008 (here), was about my annual pilgrimage to the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) in London. I’ve since written about a few other visits, and confess that while I visited last year, I failed to write about it here. My bad.
I think I’ve only missed two or three since my first visit in 1991, but as the GBBF is effectively the world’s largest pub for the five days of the event, it’s a ‘must do’ for any beer drinker who can make it to London for the day.
So to this year’s expedition when we again were fortunate enough to visit on the Tuesday ‘Trade’ session, this is restricted to members of the brewing and pub trade, and beer writers. We travelled up with members of the ‘Wibblers‘ team, you might recall they’re one of my local breweries. I love the ‘Trade’ session because it’s frankly less crowded than other days, the bars are fully stocked, the beer in prime condition, and it’s an opportunity to catch up with other beer writers. Including Pete Brown, the writer of the rather excellent “Shakespeare’s Pub“.
If you’ve not visited a British Beer Festival, the ritual is that having queued to get in, and having paid your admission, you then buy a souvenir branded glass. More of that later. For major festivals like the GBBF there is often a festival guide, and this years ran to some 76 pages and included a map of the various bars as well as tasting notes for all nine hundred beers, ciders and perries on offer.
So, as is my tradition, I headed straight to the bar selling Timothy Taylor’s Landlord(4.3% ABV). I was fortunate enough (having skipped the queue to get in) to enjoy the very first half drawn. While I would not normally be seen drinking halves in my local, if you’re sampling a few brews at a festival, then a half (or third) is sensible. The GBBF souvenir glass is marked with both half and third lines.
From there we tried a few ‘golden’ ales starting with ‘Spitfire Gold’ (4.1% ABV), a new release, brewed by Shepherd Neame in Kent. As I’ve written here before, ‘Sheps’ supply beers to my local, and I would be quite happy if this was on tap regularly. Then it was ‘Tiny Rebel Urban IPA’ (5.5% ABV) from Newport in Wales, ‘Alchemy Citra Burst’ (5.4% ABV) from Edinburgh and ‘Scarborough Chinook’ (4.1% ABV) from Yorkshire.
The Chinook caused my son some amusement as he works on Chinook helicopters for a living, so a picture of the tap label was sent to his colleagues.
After an ‘artisan’ Scotch Egg for lunch we moved on to darker ales, including Swordfish (5% ABV|) from Wadworths (made with traditional ‘Pussers’ Navy Rum), ‘Moonraker’ a mighty 6.5% ABV dark ale from J.W.Lees in Manchester, Red Sails Cherry Porter (4% ABV) again from Shepherd Neame, and a strange one ‘Hopping Hog’ (5.4% ABV)from the Hog’s Back Brewery in Surrey.
Hopping Hog promises ‘liquorice & grapefruit notes’ and frankly could have been a car crash of flavours, but it works.
By now the afternoon was getting on and we had to decide on a final beer, the one we’d enjoyed the most, and all three of us agreed it should be the Wadworth’s Swordfish.
From there we traded our glasses for fresh ones – you can get refunded if you don’t want to build a collection – and wended our way home.
It was only on the way home that I realised that I hadn’t tried any of the foreign brews on offer, THAT in itself is unusual for me, but is perhaps indicative of how good a state British brewing is in at the moment.
All in all a splendid day out, with some excellent brews, well worth the trip.
Here’s to next year.