Top tips for enjoying the Great British Beer Festival

Beer festivals are fantastic for discovering new beers and breweries. The Great British Beer Festival kicks off today and I’ve put together the following advice based on experience of attending the festival this week.

Develop a plan of attack: The GBBF is big and spread out. The festival bars are manned by enthusiastic volunteers but some of the larger breweries like Fuller’s, Brain’s, St. Austell and Shepherd Neame have their own stands. The beers are grouped by region not alphabetically. The official festival website has a beer finder tool (http://gbbf.org.uk/beers/beerfinder) but also don’t forget that the festival programme is a worthwhile investment.

Don’t ask, don’t learn: Confused about beer, don’t know what a IPA is or what hops do? Ask. Beer festivals aren’t just for beer nerds like me (don’t worry there’ll be plenty of us at the festival) and don’t feel intimidated by other people asking fairly intense questions. Feel free to tell people behind the bars what styles you like and let them suggest beers to try, although this may be harder to do when it’s busy. Also, why not consider booking a place or two on one the tutored tastings running throughout the festival.

Great British Beer Festival - One of the largest out there
Great British Beer Festival – One of the largest out there

Leave the darker, heavier beers to last: A simple Belgian rule is starting with the lighter beers first and move in ascending order of alcohol strength before moving gradually darker. It’s basically about intensity of flavour, try a hoppy beer before a lager for example and you may not be able to detect little else but carbonated water. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule – lambics, anyone?

Sample before you buy: Festivals are a time to discover something new as well as reacquainting yourself with old friends. Don’t be afraid to ask before you buy. It’s a great way of getting to learn about different styles and tick off a number of the beers at a festival, although be considerate and try not to abuse this. Also, remember the beers are served in three measures (third, half or pint) and priced accordingly so there’s plenty of time to sample without breaking the bank.

Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker, the 2014 Supreme Champion of Britain
Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, the 2014 Supreme Champion of Britain

Try a winning beer: This is not just a beer festival it’s also the British Open of beers. On the opening day of the festival, the Supreme Champion in CAMRA’s Champion Beer of Beer competition and the category winners will be announced. Their pump-clips will indicate the prize they’ve won. Expect some of these beers to run dry quite quickly as brewers may be caught by surprise by not having enough kegs at the festival or others will be put on at special times throughout the festival and served in limited quantities.

It’s not just British beers: The international bars at the festival have beers from all over the world. Many a beer aficionado can be found crowded around them looking to try beers from Europe and beyond. Some are served on cask, some draught and others may require you to purchase the bottle or can. Also, remember some of these can be purchased to enjoy at home. If you don’t want to carry them about, there’s a cloakroom at the festival for storage but might be worth bringing your own bag to put them in.

Get out there and try the British and international beers at the festival
Get out there and try the British and international beers at the festival

Take notes: This can be as simple as noting down the beers you like, you can quickly forget otherwise. I’ll leave it up to you how best to record what you tried, some guides have notes sections under the beers or others can be simply recorded on the back of beer mats etc (I use my iPhone for instance). However, I must warn you that this can quickly become addictive and and you could be in danger of becoming a “beer ticker” like the rest of us.

Take to social media: Festivals can feature limited runs or rotating taps of beers that you might want to try. Also, some beers may be even more popular than expected and run out early. Twitter can be a great way of finding up to the minute information on latest developments, so get learning the hashtag for the festival (#gbbf2015). If you like a beer or brewery, take a photo and tell the world. Following a brewery that you like is a great way of finding out if they’re coming to an outlet near you.

Take to social media to share your views on the beers you try but also to keep track of what's pouring
Take to social media to share your views on the beers you try but also to keep track of what’s pouring

Food: Beer and food matching is a real thing. Check out if they’re food stands and use it as an opportunity to try first hand what styles of beers go with particular foods. Who knows you might be doing the food vendor a favour!

Don’t forget to drink water: This is my version of the “Surgeon General’s Warning”, you can easily pass more than a couple of hours at a beer festival, so hydration will be an issue (especially as the venue heats up) as it is with drinking in general but it also helps cleanse the palate and will assist you moving from beer to beer and appreciating each one on their merits.

 

The Great British Beer Festival is organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and offers visitors the chance to explore over 900 real ales, ciders, perries and international beers. It runs from 11 – 15 August. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. For more information, including opening times visit http://gbbf.org.uk/

Look weird with a beard and stick to the beer instead

Have we reached the point when beards or at the very least not shaving for a week or so is no longer confined to the hipsters. Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point in the way that beards used to be associated more with trade unionists than trendiness. As someone who’s averse to fashion, this was a welcome development when I found myself not shaving for a week or so. It was certainly more convenient but eventually I got fed up with it.

Having a beard is not for me. I can certainly see why a fair few brewers have them, due to the early morning starts. Or in the case of Rogue’s John Maier it can be useful to cultivate a yeast strain. Instead, I’m happy sticking with a beer or two from Weird Beard.

The brewery is yet another one of those from London that is producing interesting beers. I’ve had a few of these over the past year or so and was impressed with Fade to Black (black IPA) and Black Perle (milk coffee stout). A recent beer I had from theirs is in keeping with my brief separation from my razor, Five O’Clock Shadow.

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It’s a big IPA in terms of strength. At 7% abv it tips it at the higher end of the style. It pours a hazy, copper and orange. There’s grapefruit, pineapple, mango and a hint of passion fruit on the nose. However, the tropical aromas are perhaps more reminiscent of a sweet tropical fruit syrup. On tasting, you’re hit with the carbonation first with the topical fruits notes growing in the flavour. It’s as if this beer is determined to clean the palate before appreciating every sip. A chewy, sweetness develops as you drink before leading to a bitter and warming finish. It’s a subtle reminder of the beer’s strength.

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Hit the Lights is a 5.9% abv is billed as a “mixed up IPA”. It presents a golden orange colour in appearance. There’s rich orange and citrus on the nose thanks to the hop bill of Target and Aurora (bittering, flavour and dry hopping). It was slightly watery at first before a fresh fruit bitterness taking hold. The malt backbone lends a certain amount of sweetness to the flavour. There’s a sticky, bitterness to the finish that is reminiscent of a rich marmalade.

Ah, a pint of Hit the Lights
Ah, a pint of Hit the Lights

Weird Beard is a brewery that I will continue to look out for and hopefully more of their beers will find their way over here. Actually as I write this, I am reminded that a trip to London is long over-due.

For the rest of July the outlook is bitter

The Porterhouse is back with its latest festival. This time it’s the IPA Festival, which runs over ten days in July starting on Thursday. With predictions of a heat wave on the way, what could be beer than a festival celebrating pale ales and IPAs.

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The festival will see many familiar beers putting in an appearance on their rolling bank of guest taps such as the erstwhile citra-packed Torpedo from Sierra Nevada, its archetypal Pale Ale and Ruthless Rye. Founders’ All day IPA, Centennial IPA and its Pale Ale will be there, along with Flying Dog’s Pale Ale and Snakedog IPA. England will be represented by Camden Town Brewery and Thornbridge. Camden, like Founders has been making inroads into the Irish drinking-scene in recent months and its Pale Ale will be served. Derbyshire’s Thornbridge will be represented by its black IPA Wild Raven, the stunning Jaipur, the Nelson Sauvin infused Kipling and Chiron, which is wonderful when fresh. Festival goers can also expect to taste Twin Peals, its collaboration brew with Sierra Nevada. Rumours are circulating that Hippocrates’ Purge, a summer ale with elderflower and Spanish orange blossom honey will be available on cask. Italy will be represented by much-acclaimed Birra del Borgo (My Antonia anyone?) and ReAle will be putting in an appearance. Irish variants will consist of Eight Degrees’ Full Irish (in the running for Beoir beer of the year) and Galway Hooker.

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Some of the most eagerly awaited beers will be from Yorkshire’s Magic Rock Brewing brewer of the excellent Cannonball (think pine, tropical fruits and some sweetness), their flagship IPA but also look out for their double IPA (Human Cannonball) and triple IPA Un-human Cannonball, which is released annually. During the Porterhouse festival, customers can experience the following beers from Magic Rock Brewery on cask: Ringmaster (3.9% original pale ale); Carnival (4.3%, golden summer ale); and Great Alphonso (5.6% Mango pale ale).

It wouldn’t be a Porterhouse festival without them launching a special brew. However, Dublin Pale Ale is not just a festival special but a new regular offering for their five Irish bars and their London and New York outlets.  It’s styled as an “Irish-style pale ale” (one of those descriptors that provokes debate amongst beer geeks). So what’s it like?

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Dublin Pale Ale pours clean and clear copper, an appearance that is very much at home in The Porterhouse Temple Bar. It’s earthy with light citrus notes on the nose. The carbonation is typical of kegged pale ales. It’s in the taste and the finish that this beer gets started. Notes of orange and lemon meld into a dry biscuit and an assertive bitter finish. At 4.2% this would be a good session full-bodied beer for hopheads looking for an Irish bitter equivalent of an All Day IPA (minus the pine). This beer is the sibling of Hophead, which is described as a beer “beyond the pale” and hopped with Cascade and Centennial. Dublin Pale Ale, however, is billed as a beer “within the pale” (even though it’s going to be available across the group) and it’s hopped with European varieties, namely Styrian Goldings and the high-alpha acid beast that is Admiral. Hopefully they’ll go on to produce a cask version of this beer.

No doubt this festival will prove popular. Let’s face it hoppy beers sell. I have no doubt the new beers on offer will be in high demand but also the festival will give us the opportunity to be reacquainted with old-favourites as fresh as possible.