From licensees, to brewers, to pubco executives, the trade session of GBBF (11 August) is a leveller — an opportunity to meet, discuss, and sample the best that the UK brewing industry has to offer — and, boy, does it have a lot to offer right now.
When I first started running a bar at GBBF in 1998, there were around 300 breweries in the UK and we would have two or three beers from breweries. Now, with 1,500, we can only manage to squeeze in one beer from each brewery unless they have a beer in competition.
The industry is going from strength to strength, with more breweries per head than anywhere else in the world. This year we expect 7,000 visitors for the trade session compared with 5,000 last year.
That’s surely a sign that not only is the British brewing industry in rude health, but that the trade session at GBBF is as important as ever. One criticism we’ve had is that the trade session doesn’t have enough opportunities for companies to engage with licensees directly.
We’ve responded to that this year by introducing a new trade area where stands have been offered to businesses looking to get their products in front of publicans and breweries involved in the festival can give out samples or offer tasting sessions. While the strength of the GBBF trade session will always be the platform it creates for the industry to come together, the ‘trade-show’ element will add value without changing the relaxed nature of the day.
Of course, for brewers, there is one reason they’ll be at Olympia — to find out who has won the Champion Beer of Britain competition and been named the best beer in Britain. Last year Timothy Taylor’s won with Boltmaker — a traditional bitter that always sat in the shadow of Landlord. Winning the competition not only made the beer a must-order for many pubs, but also secured them a place on Tesco shelves — although I know where I’d rather drink it.
The rigor of the competition is what has made it the UK’s premiere beer competition.Taking 12 months to run full circle, this means that all of the beers in the running are winners in their own right.
We want to improve the festival every year we run it and I pride myself on being accessible so, if you want a word, I’m all ears and will meet you at the bar during the trade session — and who knows, it might even be my shout.
Colin Valentine is national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale