#3 – Go to the Great British Beer Festival
The Great British Beer Festival: the Mecca of Real Ale. Over 900 ales from the UK and further afield. A ten hour session to sample as many as possible and still remain standing… Tough challenge! Nevertheless, being a big real ale fan, one I was keen to take on. Attending the GBBF is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages – the 40 before 40 was a good excuse to force myself to get round to it! Accordingly, on Thursday 14th August I found myself on a train to London to experience firsthand the biggest choice of beer I’ll probably ever see in one place in my life.
I had enlisted the support of a friend who is a seasoned attendee, so knows the ropes. We met at Clapham, had a stomach lining breakfast of sausage roll and pasty, and headed over to Olympia. We joined the biggest queue I have ever seen – stretching around three sides of the building (!) but once the doors opened at 12 noon, the queue moved impressively quickly and we were inside with our first beer in hand in less than 15 minutes! My friend, Caroline, had recommended getting two glasses so that two halves could be obtained on each trip for beer which turned out to be a brilliant suggestion. Armed with a half of Oakham’s Citra (the 2nd placed beer of the Festival) which we just happened to pass on the way in, we sought out our base for the day and settled in to an afternoon of ale supping.
The venue is vast. There were 23 stands of British Beers plus four of foreign beers, and that’s before you sample the ciders and perries (which I didn’t…). Quite frankly, where do you start? My normal tactic for beer festivals is to have a quick leaf through the programme, read the descriptions and circle the ones I want to sample before working my way through them. This simply wasn’t an option in this case. Instead, I chose to approach each of the stalls in turn and select two beers from each using criteria no more scientific than the name on the pump! Back at our table, everything was passed around for sipping and comment with the net result that over the course of the day despite only actually drinking about six pints, I sampled over 35 different beers. Which is not a bad effort really. Fortunately there were also lots of food stalls selling a wide variety of stodge to soak up all the alcohol.
Highlights of the day included sampling the Timothy Taylor’s Boltcropper, the Beer of the Year (or, to give it its proper title, Champion Beer of Britain 2014) – a perfectly acceptable pint although not, for me, outstanding. My favourite beer of the festival was Ulverston’s Flying Elephant (great name and a great tasting beer), closely followed by Salopian’s Lemon Dream which was fresh and citrusy but not too citrusy. Others sampled included Brewster’s Marquis, Earl Soham’s Albert Ale, Highland’s Scapa Special, Salamander’s Axolotl, Red Squirrel’s Summer Daze, Yates’ Sun Goddess and even a local Hampshire ale I haven’t seen before from Sherfield Village – Hoppy Harrington.
Would I go back? Of course! What’s not to like: excellent beer, stodgy food and a day of drinking with friends.