Sunday, August 07, 2005

Grin & Beer It

Imagine if you will a large building, which is essentially two aircraft hangers. Now imagine this huge enclosed space awash with beer. Well, that was pretty much my Saturday when I attended the Great British Beer Festival 2005 in London’s Olympia, arranged by CAMRA.

With over 450 ales from around 200 British brewers on show, not to mention the numerous ciders, perries and overseas beers also available to sample, there was a fair bit of choice to say the least. Furthermore, poor time keeping on my part, repairs on the Underground, and a horrendous queue at Olympia’s cashpoint conspired to mean that I didn’t arrive at the event until gone 2 o’clock and so, as it finished at 7, it was truly a case of so many beers and yet so little time.

On the way there I’d realised that unless I imposed some sort of order or approached this systematically, the sheer choice of beer could mean I’d find myself running round like a increasingly drunk headless chicken for much of the afternoon. Thus, I scrawled down ten categories onto a train ticket, and resolved to drink a pint of beer that’s name (or that of the brewer) fell into one of my categories. With 5 hours to meet this self-imposed quest, things had the potential to get messy.

Once at the festival I was surprised by the lack of attendees in the mould of the stereotypical Ale Drinker, although there was the distinct tangy smell of BO in the air and a slightly higher rate of facial hair than to expected in a representative sample of the general population. In their place was a fairly eclectic crowd, although there were a few too many of the Rugger crowd for my liking. Rather unsavourily, Evil Joe reported seeing some BNP types in attendance (T-Shirts bearing slogans along the lines of “Keep Our Beers Like Our Country – British”, that sort of thing). It is probably just as well I failed to spot them: with a few pints inside me I might have found myself steaming in, wielding my commemorative pint glass.

The range on show was of course impressive, but this being the final day of the festival many of the smaller brewers had sold out of beer so a fair amount of the stalls were closed. In particular, the whole of the Welsh and West Country section had finished up, which I was a bit irked by, having wanted to sample some of Tomos Watkin’s brews. I rather suspected that rather than having sold out, it was more a case of the stall holders deciding to get pissed what with it being the final day.

Housemate Eddie and I bravely gave the radioactive cider a try

As I sat with a pint of Bishops Finger (a rather desperate and poor choice to meet the Rude Pun category. I honestly thought there would be plenty of contenders), I befriended some serious ale drinkers who I introduced to my categories system. They were quite taken by the idea, and whipped out a booklet they possessed listing the name of every single beer at the festival.
“You could have done this one, or that one, or that one!” they told me excitedly, really getting into the spirit.
My quest would have certainly been made a fair bit easier had I had such a list, I reflected, but the element of challenge would have reduced inversely. I thanked them for their pointers, but was a bit too tipsy to remember the advice they had imparted upon me, and they in turn thanked me for sharing my innovative drinking technique, resolving to adopt it next year. I left them attempting to identify 20 categories or less which would account for every beer on their list.

As the festival moved into its final hour for 2005, 8/10 of my categories had been met, and I was queuing for a pint of Fuller’s Discovery to meet my Futuristic category. However, I found my head starting to droop and as I struggled to raise my chin from my chest I was forced to admit to myself that if I pursued my quest to its conclusion, my drunken state would go from “VERY” to “UNSIGHTLY”. Did I really want it that bad? I decided not: Olympia is a long way from N7 when you can barely walk or remain conscious.

And so:

Sea = Regatta (brewed by Adnams)
Witches / The Occult = Hellbender (Salamandar)
Fowl! = Hen’s Foot (Morland)
Politics = Cheddar Valley (Thatchers)
Tree = Crab Tree (Facers)
Rude Pun = Bishops Finger (Shepherd Neame)
Myth / Legend = Dragon Stout (Desnoes and Geddes)
Classical [in the Greek/Roman sense] = Gladiator (Hadrian and Border)
Music = FAILED
Futuristic = FAILED


emaleejayne said...

Cute boys! ;)

Matthew said...

That sounds like an awesome festival! It is unfortunate that you could not have visited it on multiple days.

Have you ever considered home brewing? I am curious to try it.

Monica said...


Home brewing makes your house stink, or so I've been told.

Curly said...

I had considered taking a trip down for that, didn't make it. It sounds like it was pretty good though, I like the train ticket drinking system - I've never seen a piss-up so well organsied!!

Any particular favourite beer?

If home-brewing didn't take so long I'd definately be into it I think.

Huw said...

emaleejayne - Why thank you.

matthew - Indeed, it would have been awesome to get a six day 'season ticket'. I shall endeavour to be unemployed next year and decamp there for the week.

monica - I know, utter bastards. They'll try and tag onto anything and twist it for their own warped means.

Curly - From what I can remember clearly (i.e. the first 3) they were all pretty good apart from the Jamacian Dragon Stout, which Housemate Eddie subsequently identified as "the beginning of the End".

General - I shall look into homebrewing and report my findings anon.

Harriet said...

I'm impressed with your stamina. I think I'd have to drink quarter pints in order not to be under the table in an hour.

Lanette said...

In my local area of the good ol' US of A, we have what we call "Bocktoberfest", which is a clever spin on "October", the month which houses the beer-drinking festivities. Shiner Bock is handed out by the cup-ful, or so I'm told. I am not much of a beer drinker, but I love me some cider. Anyway, our festival doesn't sound nearly as exciting or varied as your's. Glad you had fun. Even happier you were safe. Great picture!

Shane said...

As ever, you amuse me. I admire the workmanlike approach that you took to seeing that most categories found a winner. That you braved pissing radioactively for weeks is testament to the man that you undoubtedly are. Sir, the Midlands salutes you.

Also, what a hat!

deanne said...

Dapper hat indeed!

Ee, I would've fallen over after three pints. I'm a cheap drunk.

Lucy-Jane in Rennes said...

Mmmm, real beer...wil be back in the UK at the end of the month with two weeks to savour as many real ales as poss...Tangle Foot, I hear you calling...