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Wednesday, 8 August 2007

It's that time of the year again...

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.


Bailey said...

Interesting. I went to the GBBF a few years ago when I was just beginning to get into beer, and found it pretty unfriendly and intimidating. I'm going again today and hoping to have a better time... Personally, I like bottles, and I'm not fussed whether a beer is cask conditioned or not, as long as the end product *actually tastes nice*. Meantime's beer, keg or not, usually tastes pretty good to me!

Sid Boggle said...

I work on BSF (on the American bar), and I've also worked at a couple of festivals in New York, and I have to say the 4oz. measure over there doesn't stop noisy frat boys getting off their faces, or volunteers mopping up pools of puke produced through general over-indulgence.

I wouldn't say there's a great deal of difference between the mix of drinkers here or over there - you'll get the tickers, the hoarders, the traders, the pissheads, the newbies and the snobs in both countries. The third of a pint is a great idea though, especially for some of those US beasts!

Stonch said...

The issue I have with Meantime is this: why is the ale they produce for the domestic market in kegs, when every decent pub in Britain is set up for casks? What's their angle? Seems strange to me.

I'm not saying keg beer can't be good, I'm just saying that cask beer can be even better.

BLTP said...

If GBF is about promoting beer, does it matter how it get's there. Do the general public care if it's cask, keg or bottle. I think it's madness that meantime can't be there, their beer is delish. Good Local beer is more important then how it's produced. The fest was good I had a goodtime even though i'd had a shit day. My improvements more tables or leaning posts etc, more pies (how about regional pies to taste with regional pints!) black pudding sarnies.
best beer I had Marstons IPA a wonderful balanced pint, not keen on yank milk stoutthough. how about satellite events across london with regional beers in london pubs in weeks around the fest. So tourists can taste uk beer.

Sid Boggle said...

BLTP - GBBF isn't about 'promoting beer', it's about promoting cask beers, and you need to understand the reasons why Britain needed CAMRA in the 70's to see what GBBF is there for.

London has loads of 'regional' beer fests - Battersea, London Drinker, Pigs Ear, Ealing, Catford, Twickenham, Richmond.

Opa Opa milk stout won best American beer this year. Nice lactic character, a good beer which had some stiff and varied competition.

BLTP said...

congrats on the prize wasn't slagging it off just not to my taste.
I'm afraid the whole cask or nothing attitude is why the BBC had an hour long programme about wine on bbc2 tonite not one about the 300 beers on sale last nightat Gbbf. Why don't camra have a test on the door, you know how many types of hops can you indentify less than six and you can't come in that'll keep all but the hardcore out. Also it's the great british beer festival not the great british CASK beer festival. My idea of mini beer festivals wasn't for the leather flagon brigade but just pubs selling british beer to normal people to encourage them to vist the GBBF and find more of the good stuff.It's easier for a tourist in central london to geta pint f Japanese beer than a pint brewed in Battersea let alone further a field. All this sub-maoist them and us real ale nonsense is enough to put me off it and I love the stuff . To use a musical analogy I don't care what sort of guitar Neil Young plays it's the tunes that counts. Anyway let's not fall out,GBBF is a jolly old thing. Bar man a round all round. Cheers

Melissa Cole said...

Brown! Honestly, never pegged you for a misogynist 'so women don't have to stand around holding pints' - when do you see me (apart from GBBF) with anything but?!

I think the third glass is great for encouraging wider trial, it's less about volume per drink and more about ease of wandering for my mind (or wobbling in my case - went out afterwards, 15 hours straight drinking from judging to getting home - still don't feel too well, got to take sister to the cricket today!).

atj said...

Three and a half pints? Are you sure? It didn’t look like it at 9pm…
they don’t stock my book either and they published it…
But it was good and I have made a lifelong friend in Bernard beers and lowenbrau Buttenheim.

Sid Boggle said...

Hi again BLTP - CAMRA organise the GBBF, and they exist to promote, support and defend cask ale - it's their party and they'll invite who they want to. I agree that Meantime ought not to be overlooked. One of the best real ale pubs in London sells their keg beers - check out the Market Porter.

To take that idea about promoting 'great British beer' in pubs, once you go past cask, what's left? John Smith's Smoothflow? A-B Budweiser, Carlsberg and Fosters brewed under licence? Wetherspoons run regular festivals (now involving CAMRA, I see...) and they're promoting cask. As for the pubs themselves, brewery-tied pubs obviously sell their own beers, but how many of them would care to sell a competitors' beer? And I wonder if Pubcos would accept the reduced profits that would derive from supporting something like this?

Didn't Neil Young play centre-forward for Manchester City? ;-)

BLTP said...

My comparison with Camra would be the RSPB which started out as a campaign against the use of exotic feathers in women's hats and has now evolved into on of the world's leading environmental charities. Many of it's members join for it's nice carparks and cafes and then are drawn into it's more complex work later. The same could happen for beer, because most people want nice things to drink before they want to know the difference between keg and cask. Good to see a mild won a prize. It was Stephen Stills who played for Man City

Stonch said...

BLTP - "If GBF is about promoting beer, does it matter how it get's there. Do the general public care if it's cask, keg or bottle. I think it's madness that meantime can't be there, their beer is delish. Good Local beer is more important then how it's produced."

Now having met you and seen you're about 5 foot taller than me I am doubtful whether I should enter into any form of argument! (insert obligatory winky smily here)

However - cask v. keg is not just a discussion about methods of dispense. If it was, I'd agree with you. However, what you have to remember is thta cask beer is different to keg beer - what you get in the glass is a different product. Cask ale in good condition offers a different complexity of flavour and mouthfeel to a filtered keg beer, because it's a living, breathing product.

Personally I am happy to drink Meantime beers from time to time because as you say they're tasty. Also, they're unpasteurised. CAMRA, however, is committed to preserving cask ale and I don't see why they should help promote a company that brews good beer then perversely refuses to make it available to British pubs and beer festivals in cask form.

If Meantime want to be part of the GBBF, they can put their beer in casks. They do sometimes have a cask version of one of their beers on at the Greenwich Union, after all. They've chosen to exclude themselves from the party, no-one has slammed the door in their face.

Again, I ask this - why can't Meantime offer cask ale for the UK market like every other quality brewer in this country?

Jack Mockford said...

Sorry Pete, don't agree totally, still had some encounters with some rather unhelpful/unfriendly folk! (see blog for more!)

All the Best

BLTP said...

My argument for Meantime is more to do with food miles and carbon footprints, local food, local distictivness I like sitting in the Greenwich union having a pint from 2 miles down the road.
My general argument is to promote cask ale you should promote it's flavour, style etc the technical nature of kegs particularly to general audience aren't of initial interest. Lastly I believe in free speech and wouldn't use my height (or bulk) to knowingly to further a point say what you like. I think as an important aspect of our culture, beer needs a variety of voices to champion it.

Stonch said...

Was only kidding about the height bit mate!

I think consumers usually understand that cask ale is a traditional, live product and keg beer is not. If they don't, it only takes two seconds to explain that - CAMRA have been doing it for years, and they've been very successful.

If there's a good reason not to serve ale in cask form, unpasteurised keg is a good alternative (bottle conditioned is probably better though). Restaurants and bars without proper cellaring or ale turnover are prime examples of places that could benefit from the quality keg beer from Meantime. Likewise the export market.

However, when selling to British pubs, there isn't an excuse and I'm baffled by their approach. They have the ability to supply pubs with cask ale - why won't they?

Melissa Cole said...

He he, got ya! Of course I know you're no misogynist - the reason I made the comment is that I know you said that with the best of intentions but it tends to rub women up the wrong way.

That is just a statement of fact not a condemnation of your good self or anyone else who says anything similar, it might be factually correct in many cases but as with many catch-all statements it invariably alienates a section of society and with beer and comments about pints it's probably that section you are trying to appeal to!

py0 said...

Its amazing - and slightly sad - that I read this today and note that we're STILL having the same stupid debate about why Foreign Breweries are allowed keg beer but not UK breweries, 5 years later. Its getting beyond a joke.