Monday, August 8, 2011

GBBF 2011, Earl's Court

We attended the 2011 Great British Beer Festival, at Earl's Court, on Saturday, August 6th, arriving about 13:15. At that time, most bars still had some choice of beers (although even then many were down to half the advertized range and a couple were already closed). Over the course of the afternoon the situation steadily worsened, however, until by 17:00 (when the festival still had two hours to go), it took 20 minutes of wandering around the entire hall (and Earl's Court is not a pretty place) to find a single bar that was still open. The "World Beer" bars all ran out before I had a chance to see much of them, and "New Breweries" was already shut down the first time I saw it.

By the end of the afternoon this frankly unsatisfactory situation had led to frayed tempers and an unruly atmosphere. (At one point a drunken idiot was trying to perform circus tricks with a plastic chair, and when a steward politely told him to stop this dangerous behaviour he began shouting at the poor man who was only tryign to do his job. The steward had to call security, but ending up standing alone for several minutes facing a baying mob growing to dozens of louts. When the security guard did arrive, he utterly failed to back the steward up, instead laughing along with the idiot and walking off. It's a telling sign that this dangerous behaviour was treated a lot less seriously than when a couple of louts decided to strip naked and perform cartwheels, only to be very swiftly apprehended and escorted off the premises.)

It's to be expected that toward the end of the last day of the festival some brews will run out before the end of proceedings day, but this year was the worst I have seen at any festival, local or GBBF. For someone who brought a party of six to the festival and spent nearly £50 on tickets, this poor show was completely unacceptable. Frankly I would rather pay a 20% premium on all beers for them to overstock and guarantee there's still a good choice at the end fo the day. I'll be making this opinion known to CAMRA. It will take some convincing to persuade me to shell out and attend next year, to be honest.

In the meantime, however, I was able to sample a few beers in the early part of the afternoon when they were still available. My notes (posted at the time via Twitter) follow:
  • Magpie's Midnight Porter: this was a very nice looking, completely opaque, very dark brown beer with rich and ripe, slightly musty aroma; it was dark and earthy on the first taste, quite smoky and smooth on the swallow. I was pretty happy with this start to the session.
  • Herok & Howell's Tantallion Sunrise: a very clear pale ale with a green, almost lime-hinted fruity aroma. The first drop on the tip of my tongue filled my mouth with citric sweetness to an expected degree. When I took a bigger swig and swallowed, it proved tangy and coarse, full-bodied and satisfying. A very nice drop indeed. I know Belhaven, who own Herok & Howell, and like the Edinburgh beer style in general, but this beer was new to me. I'm happy to have found it.
  • Cropton's Yorkshire Warrior was one of the few Yorkshire ales still available when we arrived, a dark beer with auburn highlights and an aroma of creamy coffee. It's coolly sour on the first taste, but has a heavy woody finish. I liked it, but probably wouldn't drink several pints in a sitting.
  • Wold Top's Gold: a cloudy gold beer with a light smell of tropical fruit, not very strong, but enough to put me off: it might work on a summery day out by the river, but standing around in a crowded warehouse in Earl's Court I wanted something heavier. On the tongue it was sparkly like peach spritzer, but a coarse hoppiness follows very quickly, and this pint was very bitter on the swallow. A pretty good balance overall, once the initial shock was past.
  • Quantock's Stout: a pitch black stout with a chocolatey aroma, but not at all sweet on the tongue; quite a rough smokey finish, in fact. A nice taste but not really a session ale (or at least not at this time of year).
  • Isle of Purbeck's Best Bitter: a light bitter with a nice heathy aroma and subtle but not watery first taste; quite smoky and harsh on the finish, but in a good way, satisfying rather than tearing the throat. Although from my notes I seem to have liked this one, I have no recollection of it.
  • Grainstore's Rutland Panther: a dark ale with orange highlights and a soft mulchy odour, like wood softening in the rain. A mild and slightly fruity sweetness on the tongue, which proves to be deceptive as this beer delivers a kick-in-the-throat smoky finish. Strong stuff. Worth a try, to be sure.
  • O'Hanlon's Stormystay: a slightly cloudy light amber, sweet oak-charcoal malt aroma, as if there's some whiskey in there. There's a thick chewy sweetness when you first take it in your mouth, no bitterness in finish. Drinkable, but didn't tempt me back.
  • Arundel's Black Stallion: an opaque rich brown old ale with the aroma of fruits of the forest, sweet and tangy. Strangely sweet on tongue with a very clear taste of cherry, very ripe on the swallow like a good old ale should be, but an almost bloody aftertaste. I'd like to try this again to be sure I hadn't just bitten my tongue when I drank this or something.
  • Left Hand's 400 Pound Monkey: the one American microbrew I was able to get hold of this time. A bright, pale, very fruity IPA, with a hint of tangerine in the first taste. After that it was more hoppy, bitter and ferrous on the swallow. I may look this out next time I'm over the water.
  • Hepworth's Conqueror: we finished the night with this memorable pint. Holding it up to the light was like looking into the eyes of sheer darkness; sniffing the glass gave a whiff of fire smoke. The first taste was of a steely barley mash with a hint of rust, and swallowing gave a mouthful of sticky sweetness. Very impressive, but again not something you'd drink all night.


  1. I wish I could comment on the beers instead of the antics, but I think a lot of the problem with the GBBF is the venue. Most of the ale festivals I've been to have been held outdoors, or in fairly intimate quarters in winter - and they've usually been filled with downright bonhomie. A hanger like Earls Court is just wrong; CAMRA should probably devolve into several smaller festivals (a Porterfest, anyone?). The GBBF might be less Great - but it would probably be better.

  2. Erm ... that would be 'hangar' ....