Thursday, 14 August 2014

Great British Beer Festival 2014

Some quick thoughts about the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) which I visited yesterday. First of all I still can't believe how much better it is at Olympia rather then Earl Courts. The place is much airier and just doesn't feel as packed as Earl Courts did, even though there were plenty of thirsty punters enjoying some of the best ales on offer. I was amused to see Timothy Taylors scooped up the Champion Beer of Britain award. I sometimes think CAMRA are deliberately trying to rile the craft beer movement by giving awards to reliable if a bit boring brews. Still it was nice to see Oakham Citra and Saltaire Triple Chocoholic get noticed - exciting beers that are comfortably straddling the middle ground between craft and mainstream.

Joining me at the festival was a friend visiting from Canada, where he emigrated several years ago. He brought the entire family along including his ten month old son and five year old daughter, so this was the first time I got to visit the fabled GBBF "Family Room." We weren't expecting much to be honest, as hardly anybody brings their kids along, and the festival programme stresses heavily that "it's not a crèche." Visions of a pokey room staffed by a bored volunteer flashed before my eyes. However we were all pleasantly surprised - the kids are treated to a lovely space upstairs where there are plenty of toys, arts and live performers to keep them amused all the way until 9pm when it promptly shuts. It was a bit weird sipping a pint while surrounded by tens of kids but they all seemed to be having a very jolly time. A parent must stay with the child though so don't expect to drop the sprog off and then go have a merry time - one of you will have to keep an eye on your child!

I'd actually arrived at the festival a bit before my Canadian friend, so I spent thirty minutes having a look around. In this time I managed to neck a third of Castle Rock Black Gold and Moor Revival, both of which were excellent. I stopped by the American bar but even by 2pm on the second day of the festival most of the beers were gone, with only four or five left to choose from. They were all on the high end of the ABV scale and I didn't fancy getting blotto half an hour into the festivities so I plumped for a third of Smuttynose Bouncy House  (about 4.3% abv,) which was fine but I don't think it was at its best. All the US beers were cask only, and quite frankly I don't think the Yanks or the Brits know how to handle US beers in cask. There were many complaints that the US beers were a bit flat and lifeless this year. Who knows, maybe next year we'll see a few on keg - or even some being served in cans.

I didn't really get to see any of the entertainment, although I was a bit disappointed that the "carnival" theme wasn't carried out a bit more. There were some halfhearted "ringmasters" walking about but it needed more trapeze artists and perhaps a couple of fairground rides so queasy punters can empty their stomachs ready for the next round of ale and pie. The food was on good form this year although I only managed to scarf down a Pork and Black Pudding pie (excellent) from the Crusty Pie Company, and a steak and Stilton pasty from a venue I can't remember the name of - I may have been getting pretty tipsy by that point. My friends native Canadian wife tried her first pork scratching, and despite initial disgust an hour later she had bought four bags of the stuff to take home. One scratching and you're hooked.

As for the beers, well they were in good form this year. The Moor Revival was probably the highlight, but I did also enjoy the Otley O1 - not the "oi" which I incorrectly asked for. The Marble Dobber was a boozy treat from the ever reliable Marble boys (and girls) and the Bristol Beer Factory Nova was a hoppy treat to finish the evening on. If you haven't been to the festival head on down - it's well worth the price of admission if you're a beer lover. And it's still great even if you have to bring the family along with you.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Still Alive (again)

Things have been quiet lately for me beer wise, and I don't really want to fill up this blog with low content nothing posts so I haven't posted much recently. But you'll be pleased to know things will be picking up in the next few weeks which means I'll be back to more regular updates. The Great British Beer Festival kicks off on Tuesday, and I'll be visiting on Wednesday. I may even attempt some live blogging, and even if I don't I'll be sure to keep you informed of all the beers I'm guzzling via Twitter. Then on Sunday I'll be going to Woodie's annual beer festival. This friendly boozer housed in a former sports club in New Malden is going through refurbishment I'm looking forward to dropping by. The week after that I'll be trying to make it to the Orpington Liberal Club beer festival. I've had good things about the place and hopefully I can finally make a visit - I'll try and leave my Tory tendencies at the door. So don't give up on this blog just yet! Rest assured I'll be "enthralling" you with my beery reports over the next few weeks. See you next Sunday!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Miller, London Bridge

London Bridge isn't my favourite area in London. It has always been a grotty little corner of the capital, dominated by the railway station which is surrounded by office buildings full of depressed workers who look longingly across the river at the City, thinking about the money they could be making if they were only a bit more smarter and/or cutthroat. The restaurants and bars in the area have always tended to be soulless food and drink dispensary's catering to people who don't really care what they're eating and drinking, just as long as they are consuming something. Things got even worse a couple of years ago when The Shard opened, a building devoid of any joy which dominates the skyline and looks like it's waiting for the Eye of Sauron to be installed. Some people say the £25 admission to see the view from the top of the Shard is expensive, but I'd happily pay that much to have a view of London without the bloody Shard in it.

However no matter how bad an area is I usually find there's a slight glimmer of hope somewhere. For London Bridge the shining gem used to be Borough Market, but sadly it is now a pale shadow of its former self, and is now mainly for tourists and monied office workers who want to spaff their money on artisan brownies. But inbetween Borough High Street and London Bridge sits The Miller, providing a much needed pub with a laid back atmosphere and plenty of decent ales - both traditional and craft. From the outside this place looks nothing special, a bog standard council estate pub sitting in the shadow of Guys hospital. Inside things are relaxed with shabby chic furniture and decoration.

On the handpumps is an ample selection of ales and ciders. The ales tend to be on the more traditional side, with Titanic, Skinners and Castle Rock seen in the past. In the fridges behind the bar is a decent selection of craft beers, including craft darlings Weird Beard, Siren and Beavertown. The ales are good value but the craft is expensive, especially considering it's usually in 330ml bottles - or cans. I struck lucky on my latest visit though as they had Weird Bear K*ntish Town beer in adult sized 500ml bottles! Even better it was an exceptional wheat beer, never sickly and going down very easily.

Titanic They Think It's Ale Over was a solid bitter from the ever reliable Titanic boys. Castle Rock Harvest Pale, which I've only had in bottle before and wasn't particularly impressed with, was better on cask but still not a knock-out considering the many awards it has won. I enjoyed the beers in a small, concrete beer garden to the side of the building. I tried the food as well, a meat and cheese plate plus deep fried risotto balls which I've completely forgotten the name of. The food was splendid, if again a bit expensive.

The Miller is a much needed respite from the humdrum pubs in the London Bridge area and well worth a visit if in the area. There's usually plenty of comedy and drama on in the large room upstairs as well. In fact I performed myself there a couple of times - I think I managed to make a couple of people laugh although it might just have been the sound of my own nervous laughter. Considering my best joke was "I found some chocolate in my belly button - ironically it was Lindt" I was lucky to make it off the stage alive. See you next week!