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.