Last week I was lucky enough to be sent to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival, pocket-money in hand, to sample the delights of real ale from the UK and beyond. This was the first time I had been and didn’t know what to expect from it, let alone what I was planning to drink. Known as the biggest pub in the world, the Great British Beer Festival brings a huge selection of ales, perries and ciders together under one roof. Despite the continuous flow of stories in the papers about pub closures and the apparent lack of interest in real ale in the UK, Earls Court was heaving. Walking up to it I passed someone asleep on the traffic light signaller, so I had an inkling that it was going to be busy and that I, arriving at 6pm, was a bit behind the game.
Step number one of the Beer Festival is getting a pint glass, once you have managed that you are faced with the infinitely harder decision of where to start and more crucially, what to drink. I’m being honest when I say I have never seen such a huge variety of beers in one place. Being of limited beer knowledge I took the easiest route, starting by the glass bar and working my way anti-clockwise from there, but for the more discering beer drinker (who knew what they were looking for) the beer signposts made it fairly easy to navigate around. Earls Court is cavenous and walking round it was like Narnia…past the bar which stretched into the horizon, between bespoke huts and carriages and finally landing up in front of the stage, where a folk band was playing. En route I had decided on my first drink of the evening, a pint of Sambrook’s Wandle Ale. This is a crisp and golden ale, not too fizzy and a perfect drink to ease me into the festival and quench my thirst from squeezing through the crowds. From there I wandered past Scottish, Dutch and American bars, constantly weaving my way between people who had clearly been ‘sampling’ for the best part of the day, wearing a variety of crazy headgear (despite the popular ‘Hat Day’ having been the day before).
One of the major spectacles of the festival was the huge Wells and Young Routemaster Bombardier bus. Hosting numerous ales and lagers, they offered the opportunity to sip your pint whilst sitting on the bus looking out onto the sea of punters. One of their ales in particular caught my eye, which I had to try- Waggle Dance. Great name. Apparently it is called this because bees do a ‘waggle dance’ to attract the hive to new nectar. The beer itself is a soft golden colour with a honey aroma without, surprisingly, being sweet.
As well as the countless alcoholic offerings, the festival had various other attractions to lure in pub and beer enthusiasts. The court was dotted with food stalls, all classically associated with pub eating- fish and chips, pie and mash, sausages, gravy and chips were all up for grabs, perfect after a pint too many! Countless groups, donning balloon modelled hats, indian head-dresses and traffic cones, collected on the floor to chat, drink and eat…resembling what I imagine a ‘Village People’ convention to look like. For the more serious pub-goers the shop had a huge collection of authentic pub ash trays, beer mats and other vintage paraphernalia. My brother and I spent ages looking through the collection of goods, I particularly liked rifling through the old beer mats (see previous blog post).
The festival was fantastic and a great way to be introduced to the many real ales available. I hope that there were other people who, like me, were introduced to the world of brewing, because the more people who know about the craft behind the drink the more likely we are to appreciate our local pubs and brewers. After a couple of hours of drinking, taking in the sights and listening to the live music, my brother and I slipped out well before the end of the night to get some much-needed dinner.
See you there next year. I’ll be the one wearing a traffic cone hat, munching fish and chips and dancing badly to the folk music.
For more information about the Great British Beer Festival click here.