On 14th August 2013 I headed to Olympia in west London to meet up with friends at the Great British Beer Festival. Much as I love real ale, I have to admit to not having been to one of these events for a few years – partly because of scheduling clashes and partly because I remember a jam packed and testosterone heavy Earl’s Court last time – but this year’s event coincided with some time off work and so it seemed like a good time to dive back in. I arrived on my own at the Overground station and noticed a few odd looks from men as I walked towards the venue. Thankfully this “but you’re female?!” attitude was not shared by any of the CAMRA members who welcomed me into the festival. I had some lovely chats with other ale lovers as I got myself a programme (with helpful tasting notes) and a glass. The thing about real ale is that it brings all sorts of people together via their love of the stuff. Plus, as everyone is there to taste a variety of beers rather than to simply get drunk, no one looks down on you for opting for a third of a pint each time.
I had been thinking about my previous visit to GBBF on the way there and remembered the wonderful Espresso ale from Dark Star, so checked the guide to see if it was there again this year. Sadly, the only Dark Star ale making an appearance in 2013 was an American Pale Ale, but this turned out to be a fantastic way to begin my drinking. I enjoyed the light dry hoppy flavour as I found somewhere to sit and waited for my drinking partner (Topper) to arrive. I checked out the guide and its tasting notes were very helpful but, with so many beers only about five hours of drinking time ahead of me, I was going to have to narrow the options down. Thankfully, a quick search of the #GBBF hashtag brought up a post from Hungerlust describing Off Beat brewery‘s Raspberry Way Out Wheat:
Billed as a slightly sweet wheat beer brewed with raspberries I was intrigued to taste this one. It’s a really good, well balanced wheat beer, but there’s a disappointing lack of raspberries on the taste. Having said that, it is a really tasty and refreshing brew, with a sweet fruitiness and wheaty, with a rich creamy mouthfeel, and over time the fruit/raspberry flavours grow as you drink. Hoppier than I’d have expected, but nicely balanced.
It sounded perfect to me and I was not disappointed. It was smooth and subtle, and I could definitely have drunk a lot more of it. Will have to track down a pub that sells it in London! By the time Topper arrived, I was nearly finished the rather large measure that the cheerful chap at the bar had served me, so we planned our next beer together. We went for ales at the bar we were standing next to – there were many bars throughout the venue and it seemed as good a way as any to narrow down the options – and the tasting notes suggested I might like Batemans‘ XXXB. Sadly, although very drinkable, this was a somewhat disappointing choice after the last two, so I began planning beer number 4 after the first couple of sips.
After a suggestion from one of the group of friends we subsequently met up with, I hunted down some Kissingate Brewery Black Cherry Mild and swiftly declared this to be my favourite ale of the festival. As well as the cherry flavours, the hint of muscavado gave it an almost chocolatey taste. It reminded me of black forest gateau, but far less heavy and sickly sweet. I need more of this ale in my life! After a refueling with rather splendid pie, I headed to a nearby bar to get myself a third of Pitfield‘s Chococino, and to grab a third of Brentwood‘s Chockwork Orange for Topper. Requesting two chocolatey beers whilst dressed in polkadots did result in an eyebrow raise from the bar staff. Sadly, neither ale was truly outstanding, but I did wish I’d chosen the Chockwork Orange as the sip I had suggested it may have been the better of the two. On Twitter, Lauren described the Chocochino as having a “promising nose, but disappointingly thin in flavour”, which I completely agreed with.
Next up was a visit to the Brains Craft Brewery bar, where I had their delicious Low Hanging Fruit, which has a wonderful sour morello cherries flavour. Topper couldn’t resist the bacon-y lure of A-Pork-Alypse, which had an astonishingly meaty taste but we weren’t entirely sure how much of it would be too much. Even if a pint of bacon beer might be my limit, on this evidence I think that the amusingly names ales from Brains Craft Brewery deserve further investigation. The final beer I tried was Abbeydale‘s Deception, which was described as having citrus and elderflower flavours. That made it sound light subtle and refreshing, but the name becomes self explanatory once you realise just how bitter and hoppy this ale is. I wasn’t a massive fan of this at the time, but would like to try it again when I’m considerably more sober.
All in all, a great night was had. The crowd was much more diverse than before – with a considerable number of women enjoying the ales on offer – and there was plenty of space at Olympia so no one’s pint got spilled by drunken idiots pushing past. Aside from the cheers which rang out whenever someone dropped a glass and the rather too loud band in one room, the noise levels were low and it was easy to have a conversation. As well as the people Topper had planned to meet up with, we also bumped in to a couple of cider-loving friends who had very much enjoyed their evening. I tried sips of a lot of other beers that my friends were drinking, but failed to take note of any of them so this is where my tale of ale must end. However, I created a Storify of my time at the 2013 Great British Beer Festival, if you’d like to read the same story but with fewer words and more tipsiness.