Great British Beer Festival, Knitting flash mobs and the bearded lady, 4 August 2009

This year I made the trip to Earl's Court in London to the Great British Beer Festival hosted by CAMRA. It's a huge festival which is held every year with hundreds of beers from all over the UK and an international section with beers from all over the world. Obviously if you love beer this is the place to be at the start of august. A few of us from the Irish Craft Brewer website made the trip over.

We got to Earl's Court just as it opened and we staked out a table for the day. There were a bewildering array of beers on offer in the huge hall and I only got to try a small selection of the ones I wanted to. They sell beer in pints, half and third pints at the festival. Third pints are great if you're trying out lots of beers. I also nabbed a few small plastic glasses which were handy for sharing out tastes to people. So with that and some water at the end of the day I was fairly sober when I got home. Not so good was the lack of water fonts around the venue.

On to some of the beer highlights. Stone's very wonderful IPA has lots of hops, mostly flavour and aroma ones. I really liked this as it was bitter but not too bitter. Some American IPA's have a really harsh, oily very bitter character. I don't like those beers that much, it's not hard to go mad putting loads of hops in but you do have to balance them and make sure it tastes nice at the end and that is difficult. This beer is massively dry hopped and it shows. It's really fresh and grassy and wonderful, sort of like sticking your head in a bag of hops. Fabulous freshness you can't get in a bottle but if someone starts bringing Stone beers into Ireland I will buy them. I also sampled Stone's Levitation pale ale which again had a huge amount of flavour packed into a smaller ABV.

Next up was another cracker of a beer Allagash Interlude, I really liked this one. The man serving me warned me it was a bit lambic tasting and quite sour and was about to ask if that was ok when he saw my Cantillon t-shirt. I swear that t-shirt is like some sort of secret beer code. He smiled and said 'well then you'll love this'. It's brewed with saison yeast and Brettanomyces then part of it is aged in french oak barrels. It's smells like lambic but is sweeter in character. I thought it was sort of like Orval. Not as good as Orval but in that territory which is really no bad thing at all. I think American brewers are getting more interested in the weird and wonderful way they brew in Belgium. They also have the advantage of not being constrained by tradition the way like Belgians are. They can brew different versions of the traditional styles. It's an exciting development and hopefully more interesting beers like this are on their way.

I've heard a lot about Thornbridge brewery and how wonderful their beers are especially Jaipur. I didn't get to try Jaipur but had some Kipling which their website says is a south pacific pale ale. I tasted some of Kev's and we both struggling to see why people rave about it so much. It was a bit thin and the only hops I tasted were on the finish. It probably needs more carbonation than you get in cask type beer. Galway Hooker is a muted shadow of itself on cask, I think lots of hops especially the citrus ones need a bit of sparkle to really bring them out. I know people think everything must be better on cask but that's not the case for all beers.

Other American offerings I liked were the dark chocolate and cigar smoke Alaskan smoked porter and the bright, fresh, citrus of Opa Opa's dry hopped with centennial pale ale. I also had Dogfish Head's Midas Touch but that's for another post.
From Holland De Molen brewery's Tsarina Esra was a viscous complex thing that was unlike any beer I've ever had. I didn't like their Bloed, Zweet & Tranen so much as it had this plasticine taste that you get with some wood aged beers. I also had a taste of Cantillon's bright pink Lou Pepe which was tart with more sweet fruit than their kriek. From the UK I had some Elgood's Mad Dog as I like their other offering Black Dog. It was fairly thin but was improved so much when I drank it with a Cornish pasty, a case of food and beer going really well together.

Of course it wasn't all just about drinking, through beer blogging and Irish Craft Brewer I've met lots of great people. And we really had a great time at the festival though anyone passing our table must have been mystified as to what was going on. I finally meet the lovely Ally aka Impy Malting for real. I decided to make her a beer related knitted present. A flurry of knitting ensued and the beer sweater was the result. You can see him in the picture above, he spent the day keeping a lot of very fancy beer at the correct temperature. Apologies to the poor person I spent ages explaining the thermal properties of wool to. Wool is a good insulator so it keeps hot things hot and cold things cold but I don't think I was putting it that succinctly at the time. Thankfully Ally didn't think I was mad and really liked the beer jumper, he now has a good home adorning a bottle of her home brew.

Ally had brought along some knitting needles for me since Dublin airport has added them to the list of dangerous items you're not allowed bring on a plane. We did a spot of knitting and drinking. Boak from Boak and Bailey, claims not to be able to knit when drinking, she has a point it's far too easy to make mistakes. It was great to meet other beer bloggers like Mark from Pencil and Spoon. He popped in during the day with enthusiastic reports and tips on which beers were good.

We had a good laugh when Sarah won a Good Beard Guide with a fake beard in one of the pub games, being mad as a brush she wore it around for the rest of the day. She did get some free beer and a t-shirt out of it!

Later on in the day we wandered over to say hello to Pete Brown. I don't know what he thought when two ladies with some knitting, a beer bottle in a jumper and another lady with a beard came over for a chat. I got a postcard signed to put in the front of my Hops and Glory, the book itself was too heavy to cart around for the day. He happened to remember my twitter picture of his book posing on a beach so the dedication thanks me for taking the book out and showing it a good time. We also chatted to Pete's very lovely wife, she crochets as well. It really was turning into quite a knitty beery day. People always think I'm odd for liking both but now I know there's quite a few ladies who like both knitting and beer.

I didn't get to taste that many beers but that was a good thing the next day. The craic, the Irish Craft Brewer crowd, meeting other beer bloggers and some fantastic new beers made this into a great day out. I think I'll have to go again.

The rest of my photos of the day are here.

9 Responses to "Great British Beer Festival, Knitting flash mobs and the bearded lady, 4 August 2009" (Leave A Comment)

Dublin beekeeper says
August 6, 2009 at 7:46 AM

The Opa Opa is a great beer. Even the American's seem not to have noticed it. Really clean and citrusy but with great mouthfeel.

Thanks for everyone who put up with me after I had 10 samples of perry and went a bit hyper.

Barry (Adeptus) says
August 6, 2009 at 8:53 AM

Brilliant :)

The Beer Nut says
August 6, 2009 at 9:16 AM

Your pictures are fantastic. The expression on Pete Brown's face is just priceless. And an actual photo of Boak: unprecedented!

impymalting says
August 6, 2009 at 1:17 PM

That last picture is fantastic! Haha. They all really capture the day so well. I admire your extensive tasting notes. When were you jotting these down?!?

So great to finally meet you!

Knut Albert says
August 6, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Ypu are taking beer blogging to wholly (wooly?) new levels!

Mark says
August 7, 2009 at 6:02 AM

It was great to meet you Laura! Next time we meet I'd love to get a bottle jacket from you - they are so cool :)

The Interlude was fascinating. I'm really enjoying finding these wild ales from around the world.

I didn't try Kipling on the day but it's normally wonderful. That's one of the perils and joys of real ale though - it always tastes a little bit different!

Sinéad says
August 7, 2009 at 6:25 AM

Good on you for knitting whilst partaking in the alcoholic experience, it's not easy! Sounds like you had a great time.

Boak says
August 8, 2009 at 3:01 AM

AS I said at the time, I'm full of admiration for you and Ally, being able to knit whilst under the influence. I had a go when I got home, and despite (a) not being that pissed to start with (b) having sobered up a bit, I still managed to knit my sock backwards.

Bionic Laura says
August 9, 2009 at 8:32 AM

Thanks for all the comments guys! Boak, I want to know what an inside out sock would look like...

I think the photo of Sarah with Pete Brown is great. Such a funny expression on his face.