TRY 900 ALES AT BRITAIN’S BIGGEST BEER EVENT
One of the world’s must-visit beer festivals, the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Great British Beer Festival is a massive cask ale event that’s held every August, in London, with around 900 beers available over five days.
Like almost all of the world’s great beer festivals, it’s immediately overwhelming. You’re there for beer, of course, but where do you begin? Where is the best beer? How does it all work?! I’ve been to this festival many, many times, and I can’t offer too much useful advice, I’m afraid, other than to suggest that you do a couple of laps first, figure out what’s where (the restrooms/toilets, the food, etc.), spot a few beers you want to try (the festival is so big that you’ll probably drink two beers a lap), and then just enjoy the fact that you’re in the middle of this enormous event.
Visit to The Great British Beer Festival Photo Gallery
The focus of GBBF is cask ale and there are dozens of large bars throughout the huge exhibition space, all pouring different beers, plus a few regional breweries with their own bar (look out for Fuller’s and St Austell, in particular). Each of the bars, which are typically grouped geographically (that part’s confusing for everyone, to be honest), will have a lot of different beers and there will be a big range of styles, from classic Best Bitters to IPAs to strong Stouts—you won’t find a greater variety of British beers anywhere in the world.
The beers are selected by CAMRA members from each region and often veer toward traditional and well-established breweries and styles, but you will find many of the top British cask ale brewers there. During the event they announce the Champion Beer of Britain, which immediately sees a huge line forming at that stand. And you can drink by the pint, half pint, or third of a pint, the smaller pours being a great measure for trying lots of different beers. It’s a wonderful way to sample many beers you haven’t had before and to revisit a few favorites.
As well as all the British cask ales, there’s also a large selection of cider and perry, plus a couple of bars dedicated to international beers, primarily from the USA and Europe—you’ll always find some rare treats there (although not many of the US beers fare well in casks). For food you’ll find pies and pasties, mountains of pork scratchings, plus some world cuisine (but I always stick to the pies because they’re excellent—the chicken balti is the best!). And if you go on Thursday, then know it’s Hat Day, with people wearing all kinds of ridiculous headwear.
For the freshest and best tastes you should go earlier in the festival but, as with similar events, the fun is in the exploring, the occasional bad beer, the cheering when people drop their glass, and the chats with other beer-lovers. GBBF is big, it’s fun, and there’s a lot of great British beer in there.
WHAT: The Great British Beer Festival
HOW: Usually held for five days in August (www. gbbf. org.uk).
WHERE: Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, London W14 8UX
LOCAL TIP: Double the Fun
If you’re visiting GBBF, then it’s useful to know that London Beer City runs at the same time and includes a packed week-long schedule of beer events all around the city. Check out www.londonbeercity.com close to the time and you’ll see everything, from brewery tours to tap takeovers, beer talks, beer and food dinners, and much more.