When I let my intentions to attend the 2010 Great British Beer Festival (henceforth to be referred to as GBBF) be known, numerous people let me know not to go on Saturday. Sadly, having already bought the tickets and being a Monday to Friday working man, Saturday was my only option. It turns out that most of the good beer is gone by Saturday and the crowds tend to be rather raucous. I had no problem with the latter, but the lack of quality beer was disappointing. That being said, if you enjoy people watching, Saturday is the day for you. I will not elaborate; attend next year to see for yourself.
To give you a bit of back-story, the GBBF is held every year at Earls Court (an enormous convention center in London) the first Tuesday to Saturday of August. CAMRA UK organize GGBF, which is well attended by hundreds of brewers from around the UK who provide casks of beer. It costs £8 to get in, another refundable £3 for a tasting pint glass (yes, pint), and then beer can be purchased from various bars in 1/3, 1/2, and full pints at rather affordable prices. I was used to having my testing vessel at a beer festival come in the form of four ounce taster sized cup and was quite surprised at the full pint glasses on offer. Luckily, most British beers are lower in alcohol content than typical North American festival beers, so the full pint did not do me in.
In searching for quality beer, we did indeed find that almost half of the beer listed was sold out. We didn’t particularly enjoy what we tried of the other half. It might be that the beer was starting to spoil after five days sitting in an open cask or that only the poorer quality beer was left, but I was not particularly impressed with the overall beer quality of what I tasted. I admit that this might have been to do with me lacking in knowledge of the vast number of British brewers and I’ve vowed to do my research in the future. Next year I’m going to go earlier in the week and come prepared with a list of fine beers to try. What I am quite sure of is that the beer available at GBBF was nowhere near as adventurous or varied as what you might find at a festival in the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure the various ales on offer were chock full of subtlety, but subtlety detection seems to disappear after a couple pints.
After a few disappointing pints, I stumbled upon the international bar where I found a few of my west coast favorites. I took comfort in a bottle of one of my favorite beers, Deschutes Black Butte Porter. I then went back to challenge myself with a 500ml bottle of Green Flash Double Stout. You might say this did me in. I’m once again going to complain about the propensity for festival organizers to hold events such as these during the day. I wasn’t particularly inebriated at 7PM on Saturday, but what’s a slightly inebriated person going to do post GBBF at 7PM on a Saturday? Carry on, that’s what. Needless to say, the following Sunday was one of those “I’m never drinking again” days, which usually last me a week. However, I’m in England now, so I only managed to take one day off.
All and all, it was a very interesting experience and a fun time, I’ll be back. Next year, I’m going on a Wednesday night and I’m going to go prepared. This strategy will hopefully help me come up with some non useless commentary in 2011.