The Great British Beer Festival 2015 is under way at Olympia London and it kicked off today with a trade session, where people involved in beer get to go along to a session before it opens to the public later on this evening.
I was lucky enough to be offered a spare ticket, so after quickly booking a day off work then booking train tickets, I set off this morning back to my old stomping ground of Hammersmith. At one point, before I got into beer, I used to work in the office block right next door to Olympia, so remember seeing the signs up for the event in years gone by. It felt strange to be going past the old office I haven’t seen in over 5 years.
I got there around 30 minutes before they opened the doors, so got a place very close to the front of the queue of people waiting to get in, and watched as the queue grew longer and longer very quickly where hundreds of people were turning up and joining the back of the queue every time a train, tube or bus came in. The sight that greets you when you walk in is quite spectacular. You enter this huge arched hall and it is full of beery goodness.
I have to say, the website for the event is rather disappointing. There is a map available on the website, however I didn’t find it until after the event as it is hidden away in the footer under “Venue”. To add to that, instead of just giving you an up to date beer list, they have tried to be clever and create a “beer finder” system, you start by telling it if you want real ale, international beer, cider or perry. then it wants to know what ABV you want, before going on with more and more questions. It would have been far easier to use if it was just a beer list with filter options, rather than having to jump through hoops picking strengths and colours before you can actually just pick a style. Add to that, the fact that the beer finder is out of date and many of the changes that always occur to the final beer selection in any sizeable event are not shown. The only way to actually find out what they do or do not have is to walk around all the bars individually, looking to see what has been added on, or all the beers where the labels are either marked up as coming soon or just not there. For example the Stone Brewing Co. Ruination was one of the few beers I had picked out in advance after working out you could “trick” the beer finder into giving you the full beer list, just by ticking every single box you see, it took about 50 plus clicks to do but you could finally see a beer list, but once I got to the bar, a good third of the American Draught beers were not available during this first session. Moving on to the German bar, I had highlighted a couple of beers I liked the look of in the programme, only to find when I got to the bar that these must have also been replaced, as they didn’t have these either. These were bottled so it wasn’t as if they were waiting for the cask to clear.
I decided at that point to just go with the flow, ignore what the online list and the printed list said and just wander round to see what was on each bar. I finally managed to get my taste buds on some Dogfish Head. I haven’t seen any over here before, at least not since I started looking for it. Also found a pretty decent Dunkel Weissbier even if it was served using compressed air due to the CAMRA stance on CO2 , plus several rather nice British beers. The beer seemed reasonably priced, especially for London, I was doing thirds of a pint and it was costing between £1.10 and £2.00 ish to get a 1/3rd of most beers and the bottle prices could jump significantly above that. The Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA was £5 for a bottle, which I didn’t think was too bad for something that rarely makes it to our shores, even if I would be unlikely to pay that for it again. You can see what else I drank on my Untappd page
Whilst I didn’t eat anything at the festival, the different food stalls, did put on a great range of things, from roasted nuts, to seafood, pies, sausages and pasties through to cheese. There was also Thai, Indian and Mexican food available among others. Food prices seemed to vary quite a lot with scotch eggs for £2 as an example up to well over a tenner for some other items.
Overall, it’s certainly worth visiting the CAMRA GBBF, even if you have to go out of your way to get there, and if you are more local, then you really shouldn’t miss it.
The Great British Beer Festival 2015 runs from 11th to the 15th of August in London Olympia and full details are available at gbbf.org.uk