Your best mate doesn’t approve of your girlfriend*, you just know it. That’s what being at the Great British Beer Festival made me feel like on my short visit to its old home at Olympia, earlier this month. You perhaps know the feeling: the gig is still enjoyable, but there’s something in the air that gets in the way of full-out, hands-in-the-air fun.
The unease had been festering in me since I mentioned in my pre-GBBF post my disappointment that some of the exciting newer British breweries were absent from the festival’s beer list. Thankfully, as I’d hoped, several did turn out as late additions. But where were the others? I could sense something was up.
Drumming makes you fuzzy
I tried to ignore it. I managed to summon up some muted elation in being able to “tick” Greene King 5X – a vintage, oak-aged beer that normally only sees the light of day as part of the blend that makes up Suffolk Old Ale. It wouldn’t go away. I attempted to force it into the cellar at the bottom of my subconscious as I made my acquaintance with the Armagnac cask-matured wonder that was Fullers Brewers Reserve No. 4. Still, this nagging sensation forced its way up through the mental floorboards.
A Cornish marching band almost did the trick, piping and drumming their way around the hall, stopping not so briefly at the table where I was delving into the depths of Lagunitas Undercover Shutdown. I couldn’t hear myself drink, and briefly, I had some respite from the creeping malaise.
But the pipers and drummers eventually marched on, and there it was again, the smell. An oozing, severed rhinoceros head (horn missing) that is The Schism.
Sample from Magic Rock pumpclip: Not appearing at GBBF
Now I know a review of an event should be about what was there, rather than what wasn’t, and what I did driink was very good. But I couldn’t get away from the thought that a significant fraction of members of probably the most successful consumer campaign ever (certainly one that has had anything to do with British beer) doesn’t approve of my girlfriend. Yes, that’s right, some real-ale types look down their nose at craft beer. And I’m rather smitten with craft beer.
That some CAMRA bods take the opposite view is nothing new, but it’s not just the cask vs. keg thing, that subject is soooo pre-Olympics, darling. People, whose opinion I respect, regard as keg-hugging heresy any form of deviation from the Dogma of “the only way is cask”.
These very same people are championing the cause of the British pub partly by organising an e-petition to get rid of the nonsensical beer duty escalator, and how can I not support that? I cannot just dump CAMRA wholesale.
Some equally dogmatic champions of the opposite side, the church of craft beer, snootily regard GBBF-types as festival of hundreds of slight variants of brown beer (despite much of it being golden these days, anyway…) That’s not really how it is either. Just have a look at beer sommelier Sophie Atherton’s preview of 10 new British cask ales.
So why should this bother you, this Schism? After all, to the person interested in beer but not moved to write about it, surely all that’s important is to be able to get the fantastic beers you hear about in The Nightjar and elsewhere, isn’t it? And in most cases, that is surely how it is for most people. There is no Schism.
CAMRA can champion whatever their members tell them to. And other organisations can big up craft beer. It’s just I get the feeling a schism, or at least, divided, strongly-held dogmatic views on either side tend to get in the way of celebrating and drinking great beer.
Will we see Magic Rock and the others next year? Maybe not, and if not all over a question of definition, then I wonder how much. But that’s a post for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to go out with whomever I choose.
Stop the beer duty escalator e-petition
Champion Beer of Great Britain 2012: winners list
I’d link to Greene King, but it’s a bit of a dull site.
Magic Rock Brewing, home of great craft beers. Not at GBBF, as far as I know.
Fullers Fine Ale Club. Bookmark this page for when Brewers Reserve No. 4 comes out.
* Obviously, swap genders as you see fit to your preference.
With apologies to my wife of nearly 20 years, MaltCim. It’s just a metaphor, honest!