Guest post: My first Great British Beer Festival

You may recall Rachel Woolgar‘s post on her first ever beer festival which she wrote for me a few years ago. This is her take on her first time at GBBF.

A lot has happened since my last a guest post on this site. Since my visit to the Bournemouth Beer Festival two years ago I’ve attended Reading Beer Festival (for the last three years) and also the ‘Octoberfest’ in my hometown Basingstoke. Earlier this year I visited Munich and immersed myself in its beer culture at both outside beer gardens (the English Garden was particularly impressive) and vast, impressive Bierkellers. I’ve indulged in a box of delights from Beer Hawk in the form of some seriously strong IPAs and when visiting towns and cities in the UK made sure I’ve done my homework to visit any good real ale pubs. I also scour the supermarket shelves for new beers and ales, largely with mixed results.

But I still hadn’t made it to the Great British Beer Festival… until now.

GBBF Beer Finder screen shotMy job recently relocated to London so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. The night before I did my homework on the festival website (see left).

I found the beer finder feature (which asks you to select beer colour, strength and style) particularly useful and easy to use. It recommended a long list of things I should try and it was reassuring to see some there I’d already previously had and enjoyed. If I’d had more time I probably would have made a few notes or printed this out to take along.

I’d visited Olympia before for various trade fairs over the years but had forgotten quite how immense the space is. It felt quite overwhelming at first trying to orientate myself and I was glad to have Sophie on hand to talk me through what was where (and of course to know where the toilets were!) as the scale was grander than I was used to. A cacophony of noise hit me when I first arrived which was quite disconcerting, but once you tuned into it you knew it was just people having fun and I soon acclimatised to it.GBBF souvenir guide 2015

The set up differed to most of the festivals I’ve experienced so far in that in addition to ten brewery bars (St Austell and Fullers etc) the rest of the bars were organised alphabetically by the county of the brewery and given imaginative names like ‘Apollo’ and ‘End of the Rainbow’. The map in the souvenir guide proved invaluable in finding the bars once you’d decided on what drink you wanted to procure. The guide was easy to use and provided good, but occasionally misleading, tasting notes. But it’s all subjective, right?

The staff were friendly and did their best to ensure you weren’t waiting too long. I didn’t have to call on any of their advice or knowledge having Sophie to hand! Had I been there with friends I probably would’ve relied a bit more on their recommendations as this has proved successful at other CAMRA festivals.

GBBF edited CAMRA supplied

The punters seemed a friendly and well behaved lot too. I was even bequeathed a sombrero hat at the end of the night. (Thursday is ‘hat day’ but some punters were a little premature with this). The majority were men age 20-50 but it was nice to see a lot of women there too. I didn’t spot any large all female parties but if I’d come with a group of female friends I think we’d feel welcome.

GBBF 15 CAMRA suppliedThere seemed to be enough seating if         you searched around a bit and people were not discouraged from bringing their own (I saw a few picnic chairs set up in quieter areas). The seats at the far end of the main food area in the National Hall provided slightly more of a haven if you wanted to have a proper conversation – but the downside was being down wind of the smell of roasting meats!                                        (More like burning sausage fat if you ask me, Ed.)

I managed to try several different brews during my visit (which you’ll hear about in a separate post) but woman cannot live by beer alone so we sampled some of the various foods on offer. My tip here is that later in the evening larger portions or freebies seem to be offered. We snagged a delicious mezze style platter from a very nice man at Olives and Things comprising vine leaves, olives, hummus, flatbread and the most delicious tapenade I’ve ever tasted – and as he was running low on flatbread he gave us the whole plate for free! Next door at Truckle Cheese we bought a cheese plate and as supplies of crackers had run out the stallholder slung on some extra pieces of bread. I also had some tasty real ale chutney from here.

GBBF seemed to me as though it ran like a well-oiled machine. There was plenty of choice and at reasonable prices, plenty of seating and all the facilities were well maintained too. All in all I very much I enjoyed the experience and will definitely go back next year.

You can follow Rachel Woolgar on Twitter (her beer tweets are quite funny) or look at some of her non-beer writing on her blog.

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The Sample Room: Have a Brazilian

Fruit beers divide opinion. Some really love a tart, cherry-stuffed kriek but others have only come across very sweet fruit beers and loathe them as a result. There are those that think fruit just has no place in beer and others who think it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. I fall into the latter camp.

If it’s done well, if it’s made with real fruit, if it tastes good then it gets my vote. Fruit beers I love include Burton Bridge Damson Porter (4.5%), once described to me as being like an orgasm in a glass; I was blown away the first time I had De Keersmaeker Morte Subite Oude Kriek (6.5%) because it was tart and fruity – nothing like the horrid sweetened krieks I’d been given previously – and perfectly matched the suckling pig I was lucky enough to be eating and then there’s Cantillon. I was lucky enough to visit the famous Cantillon Brewery in Brussels last year and while there tasted their frambozen. As with my kriek experience until then I’d only been given frambozens (which are made with raspberries) packed with added sugar. Cantillon think added sugar is an unnecessary evil. They don’t even call their frambozen a frambozen because of the negative connotations with the horribly sweet versions. Instead they call it Rosé de Gambrinus (5%). It’s a gorgeous reddish-pink beer, smells of flowers and raspberries and is gentle but tart like a raspberry sorbet – or perhaps a pavlova as there’s hints of creaminess too. I am misty-eyed just thinking how lovely it was.

So I was intrigued to be contacted by a brewery from Brazil which makes beers with fruits native to the rain forest – most of which I’d never even heard of. Amazon Beers are based in Belém in the north of Brazil and their labels were designed by US beer evangelist Randy Mosher (I’m not sure if he is also responsible for their logo but in any case it is a clever little design featuring a monkey whose tail forms the ‘o’ in ‘Amazon’). As I understand it the fruit used is made into a puree and added after fermentation.

I started with Cerveja Stout Acai, or Acai Stout, (7.2%) partly because I love stout but also Açaí Stoutbecause I’d heard of acai berries, which are meant to be an antioxidant-rich superfood. I didn’t get round to trying any before writing but apparently they taste like a cross between blackberries, raspberries and dark chocolate and have a fairly bitter character. Sounds a perfect match for a stout! It’ll be no accident as Amazon Beers employ a beer sommelier who works with the brewer to create the recipes – which are tested on a pilot brewing kit before going into full production. The Acai Stout was delicious. It had a big, dark chocolate aroma with hints of tobacco and liquorice and a tangy, chocolatey flavour with a herbal, piney bitterness. It somehow managed to be both rich and full-bodied but light and refreshing too.

Amazon TaperebáNext up Cerveja Witbier Taperebá or Taperebá Wheat Beer (4.7%). Taperebá fruits look a bit like potatoes but apparently taste like mangoes. They are often made into ice creams in Brazil. I didn’t get mangoes when I tasted the beer but a mixture of mandarin, melon and apricot. There was an initial juicy-fruity tart bite to the beer which gave way to a refreshing, fuzzy sherbet-like flavour and then to a balancing cereal aftertaste. Overall a zingy, little wheat beer with an unusual fruity character.

Finally I tried the Red Ale Priprioca (6%). Priprioca is a root rather than a fruit and is said to have a woody, vanilla flavour and even an aroma of patchouli! (You can find an excellent video about it, and its use by Brazilian chefs, here). I didn’t pick this up in the beer, instead it reminded me of a strong British-style bitter but with rhubarb crumble and baked apple flavours (the latter in a good way – like a spiced apple baked with sultanas and raisins – NOT a green apple off flavour). I was sorry I only had one bottle of this beer, both because I enjoyed it but also I wanted to re-taste it after researching priprioca.

At the time of writing Amazon Beer’s UK website is down but I understand the beers are available in Britain and there are plans to increase exports. I hope so as I definitely want to quaff more Acai Stout and further investigate the flavour of priprioca. Priprioca beer

You can find Amazon Beer’s website – which is in Portuguese – here.

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Beer is back at the London Wine Fair 2015


It’s the London Wine Fair at Olympia this week from Mon 18th – Wed 20th (inclusive) and beer is back at the Fair.

As well as brewers and distributors exhibiting within Brewhouse I’ve also put together a programme of talks and tastings at The Hopsack – which can be found at stand F400.

Below is the foreword I wrote for the Brewhouse catalogue – which just about sums up why beer is back at the London Wine Fair.


It’s an exciting time to be a beer buyer

Whether you see it as evolution or revolution the world of beer has changed dramatically during the last decade. Where once the choice was simply lager or ale, today there are thousands of breweries making dozens of styles and hundreds of different beers.

Leading the charge are legions of hoppy US-style IPAs, but their popularity is no reason to neglect other more sessionable styles, or boozy, high ABV delights and everything else in between. Variety is the key to making the most of beer and essential to taking advantage of the interest in beer and food matching.

Thanks to the information age of internet, blogs, social media and smartphones – drinkers are now instantly able to research and review beers and places to drink. They expect increased choice and high standards. Get it wrong and you’ll miss out not just on making a profit but also the good PR beer know-how brings. Get it right and you’ll be on track to benefit from a boom in sales of craft beer which market analysts predict will continue to grow. Brewhouse at the London Wine Fair brings together a diverse mix of breweries and distributors presenting some of the best beers currently available.

Beer genie toasting pic lower res

This year’s beer exhibitors include:

Bear Brewery Co. Ltd, Love Drinks Ltd, Duvel Moortgat,

Brasserie Meteor SA, Wild Card Brewery, Thistly Cross Cider,

Freedom Brewery, Westside Drinks, Elgood & Sons,

Fordham & Old Dominion, Siren Craft Brew, Alivini Company Ltd,

Harviestoun Brewery, Budvar UK, By The Horns Brewing Co,

The Wild Beer Co, La Rulles and Meantime.

Download the full Brewhouse catalogue – which includes a list of exhibitors and beers as well as details of what’s on at The Hopsack here or find The Hopsack programme on the London Wine Fair website.

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