The sun is shining, it’s hot and humid in the City of London and the wasps are merrily going about their business of stinging anything that moves.
It must mean one thing: it’s time to head for the giant warehouse in Earls Court and drink fabulous beer!
Yes, this week is the return of the Great British Beer Festival (known to most as GBBF), organised by CAMRA to celebrate and campaign for beer. This year is most likely to be the last GBBF at Earls Court – post Olympics there’s major development plans meaning it could all be very different post 2012.
It’s only my second GBBF so it’s quite hard to take it all in. A good tactic though is to start light and low %, for which I picked Allgates California, from Wigan. Sadly for me this isn’t my favourite style of beer – it’s too much towards the grapefruit citric hop tastes which don’t appeal to me. Not particularly bitter, so probably a decent 1/3rd to start with.
Yes – 1/3rd of a pint – it works well as a measure meaning you can sample much more without worrying too much about either the bank balance or the waistline! From here I moved onto the more stereotypically British style of mild, infamous as an ‘old man drink’. (It doesn’t have to be).
This gave us a chance to visit the up and coming brewery bar, with third #2 going to Two Towers, Mott St Mild. This didn’t exactly set my taste buds on fire but by this stage we had got as far as meeting and greeting – on our table were a group of American’s who had flown over for the week, just for GBBF such was their love of beer.
On the way to collect my third third, a sudden drum beat rang out – everyone turning heads to see Betty Stoggs, ‘Queen of Cornish Ale‘ parading through the crowds. A little random – but certainly added to the atmosphere. On the third third finally I stuck lucky with Earl Soham’s Gannet Mild from Suffolk. A proper malty ruby beer with plenty of sweetness, but also the warming roasted notes shining though.
If only I had some pork scatchings! – Thus an epic quest was launched was launched to add some tasty pig treats; beer and food well matched in my opinion. The quest did leave my drinking buddy Dickie P (not that one!) a little bored… oops. Staying on the dark beer, #4 – Arundel, Black Stallion. This was last with notes having given in to the inevitability of lack gas behind the creative spark! It was also well matched with the scatchings.
At this stage though twitter we learned that Stu, behind the East London Brewing Co, was over by the ‘SIBA’ bar. I’m hoping to bring more information from ELB in the not too distant future.
The SIBA bar was definitely my favourite place to stand – Thornbridge was right next door offering some excellent beers (#6 Craven Silk and #9 Raven, a black IPA). It was here we found some of the local London pub owners (Max from Antic, the lovely Emma from the Jolly Butchers) and CAMRA Pete Brown with his wife Liz who entertained us with the fortunes and perils of marrying a beer writer.
There isn’t just beer on offer though – right through the middle of the site runs a street of food – everything from olives to currys to burgers to fish and chips, there’s a good mix. After an afternoon sampling food is essential but Thai Green Curry, nice as it was, left me rather full, contemplating the exit and the inevitable sweaty tube home. It was then we found the mead and a rather knowledgeable couple from Cambridge CAMRA, who run the largest mead bar at a beer festival in the UK. They were standing on our side of the bar, yet within a few minutes we were sold on the idea of tasting 4 meads – from the pale regular banquet mead, to the luxurious golden nectar of Moniack mead.
It was a good experience by which time I was ready for another third (#8 – ooh blog time shift*), for which I opted for a Cantillon Kriek (Belgian Sour Cherry). Proper sour cherry beer, a million miles away from the commercial Kreik you’re more likely to find in the UK. It’s stunning stuff but not an all night drink for me. I reckon it’s something to be savoured in small amounts between more drinkable refreshing pints! Still thinking about heading home, intelligence suggested supplies of Fullers Brewers Reserve No 3 had come on – we had to grab a 3rd of to share. Quite nice, far too easy to drink given the percentage, maybe it’s a good thing it’s rare so that it stays a beer to be treated with utmost care and attention!
Final drink of the night turned out to be a small sample of the Mikkeller (Denmark) Big Worst Barrel Aged Bourbon Edition (19.2%) owing to the fact I managed to find Jason B Standing of Whisky Squad fame on the way out who happened to be in a sharing kinda mood. A splendid brew which I’m glad to have tried – not sure I could really manage a whole third though…
A very enjoyable experience. I’ll be back again tomorrow for more of the same!