The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) promises to be the year’s biggest beer event: a five-day jamboree from 12 to 16 August 2014, which has up to now attracted more than 50,000 annual revellers.
This year organisers at the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) are again holding it at London’s Olympia where the festival is set to feature up to 900 different cask beers, ciders, perries and specially selected international beers across 28 different bars.
Its opening day, the trade session, will be the place the discerning licensee will want to be.
“We work hard to make the trade session as useful for licensees and brewers as possible by making sure it is dedicated to genuine members of the trade,” says festival organiser Ian Hill.
“This gives them a chance to meet other licensees and to scope out the evolving brewing industry. Some trade-related suppliers will only demonstrate at this session, so licensees won’t want to miss out.”
Every year the festival has a unique theme and the latest, according to CAMRA spokesperson Neil Walker, will feature a fantastic circus theme, with bars named after circus performers and live circus performers entertaining the crowds and queues on several days.
The website will also feature the innovative new Beermaster’s Magical Beer Selector, which will make it easy for people to find their preferred beers by sorting the beer list using various indicators such as style, colour and strength.”
Then there are the brewery bars. This year there are 11, with the likes of Hogs Back, Brains, St Austell and Fuller’s sending a variety of beery goodies. However, it’s not just about setting up a bar and pulling pints. Wells & Young’s bring along an old London bus, while Hogs Back will feature its trademark Hog motorbike and sidecar. These bars will also sell special beers produced for GBBF; in the past these have included Greene King’s 12% oak-aged beer 5X and Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve on cask.
“Having our own bar means we can serve a greater range of our products and, as it is staffed by Brains employees all week, we can interact and gain feedback directly from the customer,” says Bill Dobson, the Cardiff brewery’s head brewer.
“We’ll be taking nine beers — five from the craft brewery, and some of them will be exclusive to the brewery. The company also encourages its licensees to visit: as we are seeing a greater number of breweries and a greater diversity of beers and styles of beers, it’s a great opportunity for licensees to follow emerging trends.”
His comments about encouraging licensees to attend are echoed by St Austell’s head brewer Roger Ryman, who says: “We always take a group up from Cornwall for the trade day, including tenants and free-trade customers. It is our way of saying thank you to some of our best customers.”
For the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) a brewery bar is a good way of showcasing champion beers from the SIBA National Beer competition. According to Charlie orham, SIBA’s national manager, “this festival is a great tool for reaching out to many drinkers and provides a happy, positive experience.”
The society’s chairman, Guy Sheppard adds: “GBBF is a celebration and showcase of traditional British beers, mostly brewed by SIBA members. What message would that give if SIBA did not take a stand?”
Then there is the Bières sans Frontières bar, where a range of world beers will be available. Every year this area becomes a meeting place for beery globetrotters — especially those licensees with an interest in seeing what US beers are available.
“This year’s GBBF looks set to be another outstanding event and we are looking forward to welcoming publicans along to our stand to sample the finest examples of our dynamic and innovative craft-brewing scene,” says Bob Pease, chief operating officer at the Brewers Association.
We are living in interesting beer times, with the term ‘craft’ being attached to all manner of beers. CAMRA has long been an advocate of cask beer and spats have broken out between craft keg champions and the organisation regarding the festival in the past.
But as Walker says: “CAMRA promotes cask-conditioned real ale — that’s what we are about and that’s what we believe in. And whilst by anybody’s definition cask beer is craft beer, what we do not support is
This hasn’t stopped some brewers musing on how the festival can become more inclusive. Take Brains’ Bill Dobson, who says: “At some point the organisers need to consider whether a cask-only festival remains truly representative of the British beer scene.’
Meanwhile Rupert Thompson is disappointed that he cannot bring his Hazy Hog cider because it does not qualify for inclusion under CAMRA rules, or introduce Hogstar, the brewery’s new unpasteurised and long-matured lager.
“I do not believe CAMRA should be afraid of featuring either these new styles of lager, or the new generation of keg beers, both of which have bags of flavour, are not mass-produced and in which educated and discerning beer aficionados are increasingly interested. That doesn’t mean they’ll reject cask ale — it just broadens the choice of interesting well-crafted beers”
However, these arguments aside, the festival remains a shining light on the beer-lover’s summer calendar — and in its 37th year, it shows no sign of fatigue. After all, Germany’s world-famous Oktoberfest is still going strong after than three centuries and there’s no reason why the Great British Beer Festival shouldn’t follow this example.
Five tips to survive the day
✔ Grab a bottle of water to maintain hydration, and make sure you eat.
✔ Third-pint glasses were first made available several years ago and are ideal for sampling lots of beer.
✔ Even though your favourite tipple might be bitter, remember that you are there to learn, so
try as many beer styles as you can.
✔ Check out the beers you might have read about in the beer blogosphere.
✔ Try and meet brewers and/or brewery representatives.
The Great British Beer Festival runs from 12 to 16 August; visit www.gbbf.org.uk/trade/apply for tickets