Thursday, 16 August 2012

CAMRA Great British Beer Festival 2012

The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) has been and gone again. This yearly beerathon organised by CAMRA is always a great day out and this year was no exception. If anything it was better as the festival was in Olympia, a much more pleasant building than grotty Earls Court, where previous festivals have taken place. Sadly I was drinking to much beer and didn't stop to take any snaps, so this is another photoless update. I expect my blogging rights to be revoked by Google any day now. If you want to imagine what the GBBF looked like, just imagine a giant greenhouse full of people selling you beer.

The light, airy Olympia building was a great environment for the festival. I spent the Wednesday there, where the crowds remained manageable all day, even in the evening when I was pretty soused. The threat of Olympic crowds must have been keeping people away. There was also a lack of corporate guests who nearly overran the festival last year. I don't remember getting belligerent at all about the crowds, which I tend to do when I've got a few drinks inside me

The festival was in good form with some excellent ales on offer. A new "Champion Beers" area grouped Champion Ales of past and present together in one superstar stall. The ales on offer read like a Who's Who of top notch beers, and I enjoyed a half of the excellent Chocolate Cherry Mild from the Durnham brewery. This ale tastes exactly how it is described and is always a treat. I didn't try the Champion Beer of Britain 2012, Lucky Number 9 from the Coniston Brewery, as it was a barley wine and quite frankly barley wine terrifies me. I'm sure it was very good though.

Elsewhere in the festival I thought I'd try another fruity ale, this time the Chocolate Orange Delight from Downton. I was looking forward to this one as chocolate, orange and ale feature very highly on my favourite things list. In fact the only thing it needed to tick off all items on my favourite things list was a giant pair of tits. Sadly the actual ale didn't live up to expectation and was a little bit sickly. It didn't even have that much of an Orange taste. If it was to have breasts they would probably be saggy and maybe a little hairy. Not so much a delight as a disappointment.

Things got much, much better with the Boggart Rum Porter, an excellent pint which sadly wasn't on when I visited Boggarts only outlet, the MicroBar in Manchester, documentated in a earlier update. I'm not a huge fan of porter but this was very suppable, perfectly hopped and the shot of rum really adding to the flavour. I could have drank this all day if there wasn't literally hundreds of other beers to sample. Other decent ales sampled included Raven Ale from Orkney, a very good example of a golden ale with a pleasent hoppiness and particulary dry finish, and the Dawkins Brass Knocker, another refreshing golden ale with a fruity flavour that went down well.

As the day rolled on the ales kept coming. All were delicious but as usual at a beer festival my notes stopped after around the 5th half pint, which is why I really shouldn't be allowed to blog. I made the mistake of ordering a Belgium Lambic beer which certainly refreshed the tastebuds with its vingary flavour. Some tastebuds were so refreshed I could feel them trying to run the hell out of my mouth. I found it disgusting to be honest but some people seem to enjoy it.

The American section was doing a brisk trade which really shows how the American craft ale scene has picked up speed over the last few years. A lot had sold out on the Tuesday, when the festival didn't even open to the public until the evening! A promising sounding Lagunitas ale had long gone so I settled for the servers suggestion of Brown Ryed Girl from Willimantic in Connecticut, which was absolutely fantastic. I was prepared for the usual American ale experience where the beer is tremendously hopped and tastes ridiculously fruity. However I was greeted with a wonderful caramel taste with spicy undertones. It was probably the best beer I had at the festival. Well done to the Americans.

The GBBF really is a good day out and with the pub games, live entertainment and vast amount of food available the time just flies by. I had a great time as always and look forward to returning next year. Hopefully they'll stick to the Olympia venue from now on.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Pembury Tavern and Holborn Whippet

It was risky business a couple of weeks ago as I took a trip to Hackney for a few pints at The Pembury Tavern. To be honest I have taken many risks in my life, which is why I've been banned from many good board game stockists. The Pembury Tavern is a large, open bar with bare white walls and plenty of handpumps. With the large plain room and big wooden tables scattered around the place felt like a school dining hall but the ale was plentiful and in good nick. The crowd was suitably varied for Hackney, with a mixture of old and young folks and, always a danger in Hackney, the occasional hipster. I visited during their beer festival which supposedly had a London theme. I immediately got in the spirit of things by ordering a Cornish ale, the ever realiable Betty Stoggs from the Skinners brewery. This was in good nick and the warm, hoppy and bitter taste came through wonderfully. I did try a couple of ales from local breweries which were sadly umemorable. I can't even tell you the name of the brewer or the ale! What a sorry excuse for a blog writer I am. Although not tied with the Milton brewery pub they appear to be the regular beer, so I opted for a pint of Milton Cyclops, a rather pleasant fruity ale which goes down well.

I did enjoy my time at the Pembury but I wouldn't be rushing back. Well actually if I was to return I would be rushing so I can avoid getting shot at and/or stabbed in Hackney. But it was a pleasent evening and I managed to beat three people in a row on the pool table so I can't really complain. I wasn't actually smacking their faces into a pool table- Hackney hadn't affected me that much.

Normally I would blur out faces in my photos but that is some top class gurning going on there.
The Holborn Whippet is a new venture from the guys who run the excellent Euston Tap and apparently is not named after the Devo song. This is a small pub with cosy indoor seating and a small outside seating area. I had high hopes for the Whippet as the Euston Tap is one of my favourite pubs for craft ale, with a jolly atmosphere and keen staff. Would the Whippet replicate its success?

I must admit the first time I went to the Whippet I didn't even stay for a pint as it was absolutely packed, and the high ceiling and bare walls meant the noise level was terrifically high. However returning early evening on a Saturday the place was pretty quiet. There are around 15 keg and 6 cask ales availabe. Like the Tap these are served from a wall which presumably bleeds ale.

The lone barmaid was serving drinks pretty quickly and I enjoyed a half of Arbor Old Knobbley. This unusual ale, marketed as an old ale, tasted like a mild but was bordering into stout territory. It was pleasant with an interesting chocolate and malt taste, but to be honest a half was enough for me. I also sampled the Adnams Flamerunner, a solid pale ale with a good citrus taste. It wasn't anything spectacular but it was a good pint for a rather stuffy day. I also ordered a burger and chips from their small menu. Everything was great except the burger meat itself which was gray and tasteless, which is a bit of a setback in a burger. A shame.

Although the Whippet had a lot going for it, in particular the enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, I just never got comfortable in the place. The atmosphere was a little sterile, even as it started to fill up as the evening went on, and the plain decoration and white walls actually got a little depressing after a while. After a couple of hours I was itching to leave and we eventually decamped to the Cross Keys in Covent Garden just so I could see some good old fashioned tat hanging from the walls of a pub. There's potential at the Whippet and I no doubt will return once things have settled in a bit. I'm sure they can't wait for my return!