Great British Beer Festival 2011

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!

One more unto the steps

One more unto the steps

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.

Allgates, California

Allgates, California

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).

Andrew - all the way from America!

Andrew - all the way from America!

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.

Turning heads

Turning heads - Betty Stoggs and the Skinners marching band

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.

Bumble beer

Bumble beer

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.

IMG_9458

Bang on the bus! - The Bombardier Bar in a Routemaster bus

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.

Waiting

Waiting

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.

Mead!

Mead!

Sombrerro

Sombrero and 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!

GBBF is on at Earls Court, London, until Saturday.

*Because I am a proper nerd, the missing beers in the sequence are #5 Busheys Pride of Manx, #7 Cotswold Spring, Old Sodbury Mild.

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Mason & Taylor, E1

Mason & Taylor

Mason & Taylor - Bethnal Green Road, E1

Mason & Taylor is East London’s newest bar. Located just up Bethnal Green road from Shoreditch High St station in a former restaurant building, it is just into the east proper.

Mason & Taylor

Interior

Fittingly for the times, the interior is quite austere,  with wooden chairs that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1950s school.  Neither is there a false ceiling, with all the building elements exposed inside it gives a very simple pleasing atmosphere. Of course, the real focus is the beer.

Beer

Beer - Darkstar Hophead

The house beer is Darkstar Hophead (£3.20 per pint) and for the opening the Thornstar hybrid along with a Pictish beer appeared on the remaining 2 or the 3 handpumps.  To compliment the ales, there are 8 keg taps ranging from Bitburger German Pils to the local Camden brewery’s Helles beer (unavailable on Friday). Lastly a vast range of bottled beers are on offer – 40 featuring British Ales, Belgian, German, Dutch, American… Several London breweries are featuring including Camden, Kernel, Brodies and Meantime. Interestingly within the beer menu beers are not categorised by type but by style and taste – this could be a very good move for the less adventurous as the bitters and lagers are all mixed in together.

Beer Menu

The Beer Menu

Prices range from £3.20 pp to £4.80 pp depending on the beer, with most bottles priced around £4. There is also a food menu…

Mason and Taylor opens on Monday 13 December.

Date of visit 10/12/2010

Euston Tap

Euston Tap

Euston Tap - from the bus station

Last week saw the opening of the Euston Tap. By Wednesday I’d found an excuse to check it out, meeting a friend arriving from the north for the LCD Soundsystem gig! The Euston tap is ideally placed so I can see it become a regular rendezvous point. Built into one of the former ‘gatehouses’ of the earlier Euston station, largely demolished in the early 1960s, it’s a neat setting for a craft beer house.

Euston Taps

Euston tap - alongside a list of places formerly served by rail from Euston

Moving inside, the bar is a fairly small affair with the fridges containing most of the beer to the side. It’s deceptively small – via a spiral staircase you can access a mezzanine floor with more tables and chairs (though I never made it upstairs, my friend did) providing plenty of space.

The Bar: Euston Tap

The bar

So onto the beer… The main attraction is, of course, the beer wall –  7 cask taps and many keg taps offering a selection from English ales through continental lagers via the fruit laden lambics of the lowlands.  It is certainly the first place I have seen to have draught Peche (peach lambic) on offer.

Euston Tap

Mirror and beer wall

Adjacent to the beer wall are two fridges expanding the range even further. Sadly I had time for just a half pint (Bath ales – Ginger Hare – lovely beer well served!) so I haven’t had chance to check out anything but the cask.  Price wise I was impressed – two half pints came to around £3.30, which given the nature of the products available is pretty reasonable – I’d expect to pay around £3 /pint in Euston anyway.


Bottles

A fridge full of cool joy

Apparently next week they get a coffee machine – but I think, personally, I’d  save my next trip for the evening ready to take in some more of the beer. I’m already looking for another excuse to pop in…

The Penny Black, Northwich

The Penny Black public house Northwich

The Penny Black, Northwich

A Wetherspoons house, formerly Northwich post office. Large expansive bar area, behind a suitably grand Tudor pastiche frontage. Enjoyed a pint of Thornbridge ‘Brother Rabbit’ and the Tuesday steak club. Beer was well presented and there were 10 handpumps on offer – though two seemed to be offering cask Tetley! Very surprised to see this so far west (not suprised enough to order one though…)

Expansive bar area in the Penny Black, Northwich

Expansive bar area in the Penny Black, Northwich