Beer Blog

The Great British Beer Festival?

As I queued up with the hundreds? maybe going on a thousand or slightly more in the long queue, I was reassured by the volunteer who repeatedly addressed us. Nice touch that. I wasn’t bothered about the full bag search he warned of, and quietly pleased they got the patient conga through the doors in only 45 minutes yesterday.

Overall, I thought the crowd management aspect was pretty good, although I can see pitfalls with using volunteers for the bag search, mind you they were equally efficient and much more affable than professionals. In fact the only disappointing thing about the queue was when the guy in front of me got told by a steward that the American cask ales had taken a right hammering.


Hammering? I headed straight to the American cask ale bar to discover out of the sixty odd cask ales in the programme there were only seven available. Yes, only seven on, and it’s only opening time on Friday, several of these were duplicates from Sierra Nevada too.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 5.6%, £3 for a half pint and nice it was too – 4.5

Why had they all gone? Logistics? A volunteer told me there had been customs issues and most of the beer was still in the USA. Popularity? Definitely, with one or two exceptions, there weren’t many of the other ales that had sold out. Or, is it people are seeking out something different, something they haven’t tried before, is that why they were so popular and people went for these before they drank old standards?

Tiny Rebel Stay Puft, 5.2%, Marshmallow Stout, I know I’ve had it many times, but it’s sooo nice – 4.5


The Tiny Rebel bar was one of the few to have a queue all afternoon and some of their beers had sold out already. It was a close thing between Tiny Rebel and Wadsworth’s for who had made the biggest effort to prepare the best trade bar? I thought Wadsworth’s had it. Their Old Cool Inn and ‘Old cool is the New Cool’ slogan borrowed heavily from the Cool Britannia thing, but it worked and their claim of “The Coolest Bar at GBBF 2017’ was correct. I’m not so keen on the ‘Hard Craft since 1875’, you don’t need it Wadsworth’s, your better than that, surely.

Wadsworth’s 6X Brewers Strength, 6.0%, a festival special upgrade on the original 6X redeemed my thoughts on 6X from the last time I tried it in a Bristol City Centre hostelry. Proper good ale this, with a twist 4.75


Decent fiddle band on early afternoon, but the sound balance was too punchy on the treble and irritating, so we wandered back into the bar areas before the end of their set. There was a good amount of seating in front of the stage, and elsewhere, but I reckon you can never get enough at this sort of event and a lot of folk staked and fiercely protected their claim for the whole duration of their stay.

I’d read in What’s Brewing about the special collaboration brew in memory of the BLO for Harvey’s Brewery. Now who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks? Okay, maybe Burning Sky can? Seriously, this ale from the Harvey’s bar was one of the stand out beers for me, even though I was a little surprised when it was dispensed from a keg font. Key-keg of course, but who gives a fig what it comes out of, or even if it’s as murky as sin, if it’s as good as this. A fitting tribute to the lady, but on a lighter note have look at the Harvey’s blog relating to this beer, looks like they’ve taken Alan Bennet on?

Harvey’s/Burning Sky collaboration brew, Anglezarke’s IPA, 6.6%, £3.40 a half pint 5

I hung about the general area of Harvey’s because I fancied a look at the London Beer City Bar, and if I’m honest, because I didn’t really know where to try next. It’s not a criticism, it can’t be, it’s just that the choice of beers is overwhelming; had that, familiar with them, get that anywhere, never heard of them and there it starts. So, I stayed where I was, it felt easiest.

Windsor and Eton Brewery, Eton Boatman, 4.3%, £2 a half pint. Galaxy and Citra hops, loads of them and a soft peachy taste, very nice 4.75

I got chatting to the friendly staff on the London Beer City Bar and the Windsor and Eton guys told us all about the brewery and their beers. Paddy, their head brewer was on the bar, which was nice to see.

Five Points, Field Day Citrus Pale, 4.2%, £2.10 a half pint. One sniff was all it took to tell you this was citrussy, almost sour, but not quite, very refreshing, oh yes 4.75

While I’m leant at the bit of the bar where you can’t get served, but you can put your pint down, this gadge in a gaudy suit starts gurning at me while he’s spinning plates on a stick. Then he drops the plates all over the floor and beckons me over. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I have a go. I watch and follow what he’s doing. Another bloke has a go. Hold on, it’s spinning! It’s the finger grip he showed me, it’s got to be. What? Throw it up and catch it again? Bollocks. It’s quite hard talking to him because he’s either mutt n jeff or he’s a mute? Like I said though, nothing ventured … So up she goes, twirling in the air a good, maybe ten inches above the cane, and whoa! It’s back on the stick. I never knew I was any good at this clownish plate spinning business! I did it again and again, higher and higher. Don’t know who was most impressed, me or the other bloke who had a go and couldn’t. What, let the stick drop through your fingers and catch it at the last minute. Yep, done it. Shoot it back up again. Done it. Piece of cake this clown business, anyway I’ve been dressing up in fancy costumes professionally for thirty years mate.


Seriously, what a laugh, and what a surprise. I just had to take a photo of him and I managed to get him out of character when I asked his name – Pigman from Stoke on Trent.

Arbor Rocketman, 6.2%, you can never go wrong with Arbor in my opinion, 4.75

Still feeling elated about my clowning, I noticed this bored looking bloke sat on a stool reading Private Eye. He didn’t make much headway with the satire because every couple of minutes someone came along and he had to open the gate to the ‘inner sanctum’ behind the bars where they keep all the beer. Turns out he was called Calvin and he came from Nuneaton. A volunteer who was working Sunday through to Saturday and staying in some CAMRA provided, student type accommodation. He said it was pretty decent. We got on about volunteering, and beer, and places we’d been. Nice bloke, who summed up the attitude of everyone who gives up their time to make the event happen, so it’s a big shout out to Calvin and all the volunteers.


Hook Norton, Old Hooky, 4.6%, ‘only alright’ it says in my little book, but hey, at least I tried it.

Now, when I was talking to Colin, the tour guide at Fullers, he marked my card for me. A firkin of Vintage Ale 2017, will go on at 1720hrs, there’s only one each day. Cheers, mate, I owe you one.


Did I think it was worthwhile queueing up for nearly twenty minutes to get a third of a pint of this legendary brew? Mmm? Balanced, smooth and malty, but not pronouncedly so, accomplished, complex, it got better the longer it sat in the glass when raisins and sultanas started to come out of it. Anyway, I’ve had it, but I know it’s one for keeping and I reckon it was never brewed to be drunk fresh, out of a pint glass, stood up, at a beer festival.

Fullers 2107 Vintage Ale, 8.6%, from the cask, £2.40 a third of a pint, don’t want to rate it, I could taste the potential, go on 5for novelty value alone. 

Now every so often, a cheer would echo round the venue like an oral Mexican wave – WTF? Childish, not the thing to do at a beerfest, in fact anywhere, even the people who do it at football matches are those who don’t really follow football, and they only do it when it’s all got boring. Possibly these people were the same ones who were wearing the daft hats? There was some sort of silly hat theme, take a photo, win a prize thing going on. Don’t get me wrong, people who know me will tell you I like my hats, but I draw the line at chickens, or golf courses!


Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout, 4.5%, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they make some nice stouts, 4.99

At some stage during a session like this we will all need a little something to sustain ourselves and there were plenty of food stalls to choose from. The crowd of folk continually diverting to the Pipers crisps stall for a free hand full of their excellent potato crisps was unbelievable, other snacks were also available.

My main criticism is aimed at the ‘street food’ vendors. I had my eye on a few different ones. Only thing is, wherever you go, for ‘street food’ read – enticingly tasty food in small amounts at high prices – why do you always feel like you’re getting ripped off by these people? They’re not paying for premises, only for the day, and there’s usually nowhere to sit down. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a bloke with a baguette of alarming size. Where did you get that from mate? Cheese stall over there, only four quid. Wow! Truckle Cheese, courtesy of The Traditional Cheese Co. Crusty baguette, hunks of their own cheese, ham and other cured piggy things, a bit of salad and homemade pickles – £3.95. Yes! Three Pounds Ninety Five pence. Why can’t the others do the same? Eh?


That brings me round to who was there? Beer enthusiasts who queued to get in well before the 1200hrs opening. Blokes who like their beer who’d ‘done one’ early and popped in before catching the 1733 from Charing Cross. Other dudes in suits. And curious Londoners (not pucker born and bred ones, these types just live there) out for a good time. You can tell the London types, they’re the ones that shout and ball in exaggerated tones at each other, but totally blank anyone they don’t know (for don’t know read don’t work with, or haven’t been introduced through someone they work with). They did bolster the numbers and things got progressively busier throughout the afternoon before it quietened off a bit around tea time when the opening time crowd drifted.

St Austell Big Job, 7.2%, £1.70 for a third of a pint. Proper Job, but stronger. Decent drop, maybe a bit forward in the alcohol dept. nevertheless a worthy 4.75


All too soon it got round to last one? I’ve been on halves and thirds all day, so it’s a pint now. Easy Peasy, Eton Boatman. What do you mean it’s gone? Try what?

Windsor and Eton Brewery Uprising’s All Day Pale Ale, 2.7%, £1.70 a half, but I just had a taster, Wow! So much flavour in so little ABV, excellent, but not what I wanted.

Windsor and Eton Brewery Conqueror Black IPA, 5.0%, £2.00 a half pint, 4.75

Hold on, how many of this brewery’s beers have I had? They’re pretty good methinks. You’l have to come down and visit us, Rob from the brewery says, have a look round. I will, I will.

Disappointments? You couldn’t get near the balcony. I suspect why, and it’s all a load of eyewash. Whoever ghosted this, I could do everything they foresaw and more, despite the barriers, if I wanted, and did anyone want? Not that I saw. Even the ‘enhanced experience’ people couldn’t get near their own ‘enhanced’ balcony. Surely every CAMRA member, at their own flagship celebration of beer should get ‘the enhanced experience’? I’ll leave it at that before I get cross.

We’ll just have another one, eh? But what?

North Riding Mosaic Pale Ale, 4.3%, 5+++★

All the time it had been hiding by the pub games bit. Oh, Mr Nielson – I think my text to Stuart the brewer said. Did this hit the spot? So much so I had two pints of it before I departed. Just proper good beer with so much flavour that you could just drink and drink and drink it all day.

Overall, the big question is, on the evidence of today; Would I go again?

Well the last time I went to the GBBF, it was in the long since demolished, Queens Hall, Leeds, sometime in the mid to early eighties. I was twenty something, not as serious about my beer then, but it was a good day out.

Olympia? If you’ve never been it’s worth traipsing down to London to see and experience and you won’t normally get in as cheap as this.

To sum it all up, in my own words; it’s a bit like The Great Yorkshire Show, an absolutely fabulous day out that leaves you feeling pleasantly knackered at the end of it, but unless you’re in the trade, you only need to go every three or four years, else it all gets a bit too familiar, a bit samey – does that sort of make sense?




8 replies »

  1. Why would I bother going to a big shed in the scummy part of London to sample a few beers I could enjoy in beautiful pubs in Chiswick, Leeds or Stockport with more varied company ! Clifford Beer Fest, now, that’s a different matter entirely. Great location, sensible well-kept beers, Yorkshire hospitality….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Richard, its the rather bored Calvin from Nuneaton here (see photo above). I was enjoying a pint in my local Wetherspoons tonight and the local CAMRA branch chairman came up to me and showed me the photo you took of me in my rather fetching orange shirt. How on earth he saw it I do not know. To explain why I was looking bored – I normally work on a bar looking after the beer (much better than stewarding). but we helped Team Tango out as they were short of stewards, and even for an hour it is rather boring if nobody talks to you.I can remember our conversation, which was much more interesting than opening a gate every few seconds. Thank you for the kind words. I will have a good read of your blog later.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Calvin, I tweeted my post to your local branch, hoping it would somehow find it’s way to you, so they probably picked it up from that. I’m glad you’ve seen it and I hope you like the photo and the article. I do like the photo myself and I think it sums up the attitude of yourself and all the other volunteers who do so much to make the event what it is. I do volunteer work at beer festivals myself, so keep up the good work. Richard


  3. Every CAMRA member *does* get an enhanced experience. If they work. Free beer and access to the balcony. Free accommodation in student halls (but they ask for a donation). Cheap food. Much better working at the festival than getting bored witless drinking there!


    • I agree that potentially the volunteering route is the best available experience, unfortunately, not everyone has the time or opportunity to do so.

      My personal feelings are that the ‘enhanced experience’ is unnecessary and divisive. I boycott one of my local festivals because they have a private corporate session in advance of the public session the next day. It’s not what beer festivals are about; promoting good beers, providing a safe enjoyable environment in which to have a nice time and often making some profit for deserving charities. I’m still a bit uncertain around the ethics of commercially run beer festivals like INDYMAN and LeedsInternationalBeerFest, although I enjoy going to them. maybe this meandering into the whole enhanced experience and corporate packages is why CAMRA surprisingly appears to be in a bit of a state financially? maybe there are too many people at CAMRA who are getting paid professionally to run all this, targeting trends and marketing things that people don’t want/need and failing, and missing the point of what CAMRA is really about?


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