It’s amazing how time flies as it’s now been over a week since I went to the trade session of the GBBF, my first ever visit. I’d been saying that I’d go since 1999, so it was about time really. I had to get a later train to London than the friends I was going with, that coupled with the fact that I was getting my trade ticket from @jamesbwxm, who wasn’t going to get there until 13:00, all meant that I had time for a quick half in The Euston Tap before I had to head to Earls Court. I was after a nice cool unfiltered Bernard, but the Thornbridge Versa caught my eye and I plumped for a half of that and very nice it was too.
While standing at the bar I noticed someone a few places down who looked vaguely familiar, it turned out to be Richard Burhouse from myBreweryTap and Magic Rock Brewing fame. This was the first opportunity of the day to put a face to someone who I only know from social media, or being a customer of. I joined Rich and his colleagues outside to finish our beers and then headed to Earls Court with them on the tube.
This turned out to be a shrewd move as we got there before @jamesbwxm, but Rich had a few spare tickets, so I managed to sponge one off him, for which I’m most grateful. Once inside I realised that I knew a few of the orange shirt wearing stewards from the Cambridge beer festivals, so I went one way, while Rich and co went the other. I never saw them again, which meant I couldn’t buy them a beer, maybe next year.
My first impressions upon walking in the hall aren’t fit for publication, they involved quite a bit of swearing. I knew it was going to be big, but I just didn’t realise how big. While I managed to get a free program, got to have some benefit to the CAMRA membership, I didn’t bother consulting it, I just went for a quick wander around the cavernous interior to see what was where.
I really wasn’t sure what I was going to drink until I got there, I was conflicted between trying all the British cask ale that I can’t normal get in Cambridge, or drinking the more esoteric world beers that I’d probably never see again. Given the vast size of the hall and the weird way the beers were distributed amongst all the bars, what’s wrong with alphabetical by brewery anyway…? I decided to try two British cask beers that I really wanted to try and then move onto the world beer.
After wandering for a while, I eventually ended up on the bar that had the festivals sole Moor beer, shame it had a "not on till later" sign, so I headed for the Thornbridge bar and had a half of Chiron (how are you supposed to pronounce that…? Ch-ee-ron Ch-iron, Ki-ron…?). Once I had a beer, I set off to find my friends, which turned out to not be that difficult. There were in one of the seating areas in a small enclave of Cambridge beer festival people, so I could finally dump my rucsac and get some suggestions for beers to try.
It was at this point I started to recognise people I only know via Twitter and other social media, wandering around. I’m not going to name check everyone, but it was nice to met you all. I think it’s human nature to form preconceived ideas about what people are like and I have to admit that I’m quite bad at doing that. I expected quite a few people to be taller, smaller, fatter, thinner, grumpy, cheery, you get the picture, so it was nice to have the vast majority of my preconceived ideas shattered. I’d like to say everyone I met was really nice, but after insulting both Jonathan Queally and Adrian Tierney-Jones within thirty seconds of meeting them, it wasn’t surprising they both looked at me like I was a creature that had just appeared from a black lagoon…
In the end I split my drinking mainly between the Czech beers and the US cask beers, with the odd European thrown in for fun. I had tastes of loads more, some were fabulous, some a bit meh, one even looked like someone had been sick in the glass. I did plan of buy some of those I tasted, but for some annoying reason they took two of the US cask beers off, even though they weren’t finished (those would have been the Stone SoCal and the Green Flash Palete Wrecker).
Eventually it was time to leave, where the time had gone I have no idea. Loads of people had decamped hours before to Cask Pub & Kitchen, but we needed to head back to Cambridge. I was getting a lift home, so there wasn’t the opportunity to hit one of the excellent London pubs. We had to make do with a sneaky half in The Devonshire Arms before heading home.
I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on my first visit to GBBF, but I’m still not sure what I thought of it, I’m not sure if I actually liked it or not. I certainly enjoyed myself and I drank some cracking beer, but then I didn’t have to pay to get in, it wasn’t massively crowded and I did have access to a seat. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed myself as much if I’d had to pay to get in and it had been really, really hot and busy.
I suppose I’m a small event kind of person, I’d never do the London Triathlon for example, I’d rather do the Bedford Classic, it’s smaller and more intimate. I think I feel the same way about the GBBF, it was too big for me, too much aimless wandering around trying to find the beer I wanted to try. I’m sure the organisers have their reasons for setting it up like that and for splitting up Bières Sans Frontières into four separate bars, I’d just do it differently (I know I’m not the only one who thinks that putting all the UK beer out alphabetically by brewery would be a better idea).
The range of beer was fantastic though, as were the people I met (when I wasn’t insulting them) and I did have a good time. I’m just not sure if I’m being overly critical of what I thought about it because I’ve never been before and it didn’t quite meet up with what I was expecting. I suppose the only way to find out, is to go back next year.
These are the beers that I actually bought while at the GBBF:
- Oskar Blues
- Dale’s Pale Ale
- Left Hand
- 400 Pound Monkey
- Lambic 2 Years Old
- Budweiser Budvar
- Kroužkovaný Ležák
- Port Brewing
- Wipeout IPA
- Black IPA
- Martha’s Exchange
- The Three Headed Jurpa
- Pivovar Broumov
- Opat Kvasničák Nefiltrovane Coriander
- Pivovar Kocour
- IPA Samuraj