A visit to Britain’s largest beer festival
February 2, 2002
Written by bierkoning
The Great British Beer Festival in Olympia in London is one of the greatest beer festivals in the world. Some 30.000 visitors can choose out of up to 800 beers. After rating more than 1100 beers it becomes increasingly hard to score new ones. The GBBF is an ideal opportunity to do so. More than 750 untasted beers were waiting for me there.
So I left on a hot Thursday morning and travelled to Brussels. I had two hours to spare there, in which I managed to taste Timmermans lambic doux in A La Becasse, just off the Grand Place and Cantillon Lambic in the brewery, poured by Jan Pierre Van Roy himself. The new Brasseurs de la Grande Place wasn’t open yet (it was half past ten).
The Eurostar brought me to London and at 5 pm I entered the venue: Olympia. What a space, what a hall, what beers! I decided to try the American ales at Bieres Sans Frontieres (virtually impossible to buy in the Netherlands) and wasn’t disappointed. They tend to be firm and rich, both in aroma and flavor, possibly a reaction to the bland American lagers most people tend to drink.
After a few hours I met Rauchbier and later on Jacob Lövenlund and MartinKubert, just back from their day job at the festival. Others from BA and BBB joined in and together we enjoyed various beers. Time passed by so fast. I thought I had only just started tasting when "time" was called and we had to leave the Grand Hall.
The next morning I decided to visit Bottles Beer Shop at Commercial Road. A small shop containing an enormous amount of beers from Belgium, UK, Germany, Canada and the United States. I wanted to buy some beers and send them to the Netherlands, but the young lady in the shop didn’t know what it would cost and if it was possible at all. So I had little choice but to buy some beers and take them home by myself. Pitfield beer shop was also a minor disappointment. The shop was due to open at 11 AM, but at a quarter past eleven the gate was still closed and there wasn’t any sign of the shopkeeper, so I went again, knowing that there would be plenty available at the GBBF. Some Swedish beer enthousiasts who were also there later told me that the owner only showed up an hour later.
Shortly after 2 PM I re-entered the beer paradise for five days. It was a very hot day, over 90 Degr. Fahrenheit is exceptional for London. I was thirsty and started tasting again. My favorites were Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout from Wye Valley, Daleside Morocco Ale, Rogue Imperial Pale Ale, Victory Hop Devil and of course the greatest of them all, the almost perfect Courage Imperial Russian Stout fresh from cask. Soon I met JorisPPattyn and together we tasted various beers, including a version of Fantome Saison specially bottled for the occasion, soured with lactic acids. A partly failed but nonetheless very pleasant brewing experiment.
I found Jacob and Martin, pouring the beers from South East Engeland to interested customers. Working at the GBBF beer festival has its advantages. You can taste all the beers at the place you work, for instance. They let me taste Goachers Crown Imperial Stout, a very interesting and tasteful beer.
At 8 PM I decided I had enough, bought some bottle conditioned British beers to take home and left Olympia. The White Horse in Parsons Greene, a well known pub with a good assortment of cask conditioned ales and Belgian ales just half an hour away from my hotel was the next stop. At a large table inside the pub I found JorisPPattyn, Jacob Lövenlund, Martin Kubert and other beer enthousiasts, tasting their beers and discussing them. Later in the evening Rauchbier, Yogi_Beera and Pivo joined us, just back from the kriek tasting session, held by Lorenzo Dabove. Star of the evening was Lorenzo himself, talking about beers with all his Italian fire and charme and offering us Bibock, an Italian Bock Beer from Birrificio Italiano. They almost had to kick us out of the pub.
I look back on two days filled with great beers, good fun, laughter, friendship and very pleasant people, who share my beer enthousiasm. Hope to see you all soon!
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