The Great British Beer Festival: a great British institution
I’ve been at nearly all the Great British Beer Festivals organised by CAMRA since I attended the Covent Garden Beer Exhibition in 1975. So it wasn’t a surprise that I found myself at the trade session on Tuesday afternoon at Olympia this year.
Critics of the event there are many of course but there is nothing in terms of scale and impact to match it and nor is there likely to be for a good while. If you are interested in good beer you’ll want to be there.
This year I was critical (and said so in What’s Brewing) of the decision to move the Champion Beer announcement to a dinner at a nearby Hilton hotel. Of course I am a beard wearing socialist but as a trade union officer I have to interface with reality (or else) so the corporate aspect didn’t concern me too much. Rather it was the disconnect between the volunteers and the campaigning work and the announcement that concerned. The failure to make the announcement at the traditional time on Tuesday afternoon was not well received. In the event it was made from the stage in the evening at the same time as it was made at the Hilton. Perhaps it could have been clearer that an announcment would be made from the stage, albeit later than usual, and that still leaves the issue of how the trade feels about that. Hopefully the matter will be reviewed for 2017.
Anyway while I agree with Roger Protz’s comments in the FT that it would attract more young people if those working at the GBBF didn’t, in some cases, look like characters from Viz (I try my best and you can find a video of me ’dancing’ at the GBBF on twitter) in reality the festival is moving with the times.
As yet there is no keykeg but there is the marvellous and unique US cask bar. Some argue that the US beers are designed to be served in keg form and cask doesnt help but the only way to really test that is to taste and see. I do think however that the GBBF would do better if it focused more on serving great beer and worried a little less about dispense methods. That of course is part of the revitalising CAMRA discussion.
The beer range also reflects fully the recent changes in UK brewing. There are more IPAs and what CAMRA calls ‘speciality’ beers (one of which a Bingham’s vanilla stout won the Champion beer) and there are stronger beers of 5% and above more evidence.
The beauty is that here (and unfortunately in not so many other places) you can sample in third of a pint measures (and I do) so you can try a good range of beer without becoming incapable.
We can all have criticisms of the GBBF but the reality is that as a volunteer organised and staffed event it is out there on its own. It’s what some might calls a social movement. It deserves to be celebrated not least because on the evidence of Tuesday and perhaps against expectations it is still addressing the zeitgeist of where beer is in the UK and doing so to very large numbers of people.
If you havent yet been this year, do go.