The first week in August - time to wander down to Earl's Court and mingle with some of the weirdest people ever to crawl into the daylight in the name of research and networking, come back home and write an article or blog entry fuelled by anger and frustration - yes, it's Great British Beer Festival time again!
This year's festival opened yesterday and I was down there for the trade day. And I just had one problem: there was nothing to complain about.
This bloke wasn't even there.
I feel slightly cheated. I also worry that perhaps this means I'm going native and turning into one of them through over-exposure (I've even started wondering about growing a beard.)
I mean, yes, there were the usual things - the fact that it's cask only doesn't represent the true picture of British beer. But they're a cask-only organisation, rightly or wrongly. That's not going to change. Yes there was the usual motley collection of weirdos, but that's half the fun - I'd have been devastated if they weren't there.
And of course, they still refuse to stock my books in their bookshop.
But most of the specific things I've ranted about in the past seem to have disappeared: the door staff were unfailingly polite; no-one was wearing T-shirts with messages like "If you drink lager you're a moron and you're not welcome here", the service was mostly attentive and, again, polite. They's sorted out the acoustics so you could hear what was happening on stage. It's the second year at Earls Court, and they've made the venue look a bit nicer - there are more seating areas, though still not enough really.
They've brought back third of a pint glasses, and these are elegant and stemmed, so women don't have to stand holding a pint. The pint glasses also have half and third of a pint markings, so everyone can explore more. I didn't have a full pint over the eight hours I was there. I must have tried ten or twelve beers, but only drunk about three and a half pints. This is the future for beer festivals, and it's the way American festivals have always been run, with the emphasis on trial and exploration rather than drunkenness.
And the 'Bieres san Frontieres' bit, the exception to the cask only rule (it's great that they do this - just stupid that you can have non-cask beer if you're foreign, but not if you're, say, Greenwich Meantime, who brew great beers just down the river) is bigger and better than ever. We spent most of our time drinking awesome American IPAs and unfiltered, unpasteurised Czech lagers. In both cases, this is the only time these beers are available in the UK. In both cases, this makes you want to get on a plane and spend a bit of time drinking in the beer's country of origin.
So for the first time in my beer writing career, I can heartily and unreservedly recommend that you go. It's on till Saturday.