Around the year in beer festivals. Final stop: Great British Beer Festival. All change?

And so, my journey Around the Year in Beer Festivals that began in September 2010 in Stockholm, comes to a conclusion in London. The final stop on my trip is the Great British Beer Festival. And what was that conclusion? Well, as far as the GBBF goes, it was mostly Great and it was mostly British.

Mostly great? It’s not quite right to say there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, but Marcellus (who spoke those words in Hamlet) might be forgiven for reporting that he has detected some off flavours. However, GBBF is a real celebration of beer from the UK and abroad, and that’s what these Around the Year… posts are about. I will save the investigative stuff for another day.

As was widely publicised in the run-up to the festival, there was a falling out between a certain Scottish brewery and CAMRA, the organisers of GBBF. This Brewhaha ™ was not resolved and so BrewDog – whom we are almost obliged by law to describe as “maverick brewers” – did not have their Brewery Bar. This did not lead to mass protest or boycott, but did lead to some funny hats.

Thursday is (silly) hat day. I’m not mad about the hatters, would a “posh” festival do the same? Oh, yes, I almost forgot: Ascot. What is it about silly hats that so attracts the British? I don’t know. Back to the beer…

You could spend the entire week at this British festival and not touch a drop of beer from these islands. The Bières Sans Frontières (BSF) bars mean you can get your hands on cask and bottled beers from Alaska to New Zealand, taking in Italy and Japan, as well as the more expected Belgian and German beers. Around the World in one beer festival perhaps.

Some of my favourite beers were the American cask-conditioned ales. The Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA at 7.2% ABV was terrific, and best sampled as a third of a pint, so it wouldn’t have a chance to live up to its name. At the same strength was the Wet Mountain IPA from Il Vicino. a peak experience at this festival, maybe. I lured some of my “traditional British” friends into tasting some, without giving away the what, where from or how much. They were enamoured until, even when I revealed its secrets. It felt like a victory.

Britain produced some big hitters too – it’s not all boring brown session beers, here. Thornbridge Raven, at 6.6% was remarkable and in the oxymoronically named beer style “black IPA”. Sorachi Ace hops, if I’m not mistaken. Subtly showing its odd aromas of Play Doh and rotten mandarins. Doesn’t sound good, I know, but these notes had to be coaxed out; malt is integrated with hops and you’re left with a beer of great complexity.

Titanic’s Nine Tenths Below was a point under 6%. It was my first IPA on the day nominated as IPA day (but not by the festival). Full of flavour from the malt as well as the hops, and some estery bubble-gum aromas reminiscent of a Bavarian wheat beer.

Fullers were not to be outdone. It’s become something of a tradition for them to launch a special edition beer at the GBBF. There’s usually only one cask per day, and it’s highly sought-after,  leading to long queues. This year the Brewers Reserve No. 3 was the draw. Matured for  800 days in barrels that had previously held whisky from the Scottish Lowland distillery Auchentoshan. Lots of Christmassy cake spices and rum, surprisingly. Can’t quite forgive them for decorating their stand with a huge image of Top Gear’s James May.

Half the other point of GBBF is finding new (to you) beers from your own country. Some very promising brews from Oldershaw, Brewsters, and Brodies, whose Amarilla was a tropical hoppy delight, but I would love to have tried their Superior London Porter. I also wish a few more Brits would be a little more daring with style. If a Czech brewery can do an American style IPA… (Klasterni Svaty Norbert IPA, by the way.)

As well as my final stop this 12-month, it was also the final stop at Earl’s Court for the Great British Beer Festival. Next year, this will be an Olympic venue. With a touch of irony, GBBF will return to Kensington Olympia. Then it’s all change.. I will still champion it, wherever it is, at the same time looking to right those off flavours. Next year will be even better.

Come back for the Conclusion…

Around the Year in Beer Festivals links

The idea is formed and the journey begins.

Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival September 2010

Woking Beer Festival: The Return of the Native. November 2010

CAMRA Winter Ales festival, Manchester, January 2011

Copenhagen Beer Festival, May 2011

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