If you go to the Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court this year, between 6-12 August, you’re in for a big surprise. It’s not there. You will find instead, another hop-filled event: the Olympic basketball (ho-ho…).
This year, GBBF, as it is known, is back at Olympia of the Kensington variety, which I take as one in the eye for the branding goons who decreed that a certain Dutch beer brand giant has sole “pouring” rights in the Olympics, with the idiotic corollary that allusions to “Olympics” or “gold” are forbidden.
There are many reasons to go to the GBBF. Sampling the wares of the biggest, most familiar breweries in Britain has never been one of mine. Until now…
If people want to come and drink Sharp’s Doom Bar, or even Timothy Taylor Landlord, that’s up to them, but it doesn’t float my firkin. This year, one British brewing major has done something quite exciting.
So who is it? Fullers? Nope! Sure, I always look to Fullers for some hard-to-find speciality. Sometimes it’s cask Vintage Ale, this year it’s Brewers Reserve No. 4. Fourth in a, hopefully, ongoing series of barrel-aged versions of the Vintage ale (or close variant). I will be queueing up with the rest of them again to sample the limited amounts of the cask version, later to be released in a limited edition bottling.
No, the news that’s got me all excited comes from Greene King. Yes, you read that right, Greene King. Touted as a once-in-lifetime opportunity, in an unprecedented move, a very, very limited quantity of Greene King 5x will be available to the public. 5x is not a new beer, it’s a 12% ABV “vintage” ale used as part of the blend that goes to make the bottled Suffolk Strong Ale.
5x is never available on its own to the general public. Did I mention that? Can hardly wait to get my sample third of a pint. Watch out, and listen hard for the announcements. There will only be one firkin a day.
One of the main reasons I go to GBBF is the American bar, and the chance to grab some cask versions from some of the best breweries on the planet. It’s hard to give hard-and-fast recommendations because it’s impossible to predict what will be on when. But get there early, especially if you want to stock your cellar with hard-to-find American bottled (and canned) craft beers. They are usually way cheaper than is possible to sell from the online UK specialists.
The Great British Beer Festival has been a great showcase for British beers for decades. It is a great opportunity to hunt down beers you’ve wanted to try, but which never make it to your neck of the woods. The beer list is so vastly, unmanageably huge, that even despite some notable absentees from the list of breweries, planning ahead is vital, so you don’t end up settling for something you don’t really want.
What you need is a hitlist. Although you can see the whole festival beer list here, be warned, it’s a movable feast. Unfortunately, you can only make and store your own hitlist if you are a CAMRA member. A pity that there wasn’t a way of allowing non-members a way of using this facility, but you could always use a pen and paper, if some enterprising person hasn’t invented an app for it.
A pity also, is the absence in this “showcase” of many of the new greats of British brewing. It might seem a churlish of me to mention it, but a GBBF without the likes of Hardknott, Dark Star, Magic Rock, Summer Wine Brewery, The Kernel, Thornbridge, and Windsor & Eton is a major disappointment. I know the selection process arcane, and I hear, political, but I only hope this is not the start of some schism.
Maybe there will be late additions, but if not there will still be plenty to try (Marble, Mallinsons, Arbor, Bristol Beer Factory…)
List of beers
Get your tickets in advance here. It will save you a LOT of time.
Back story on Olympics “pouring rights”:
Boycott called up for Lords as Heineken rule out Hoggard