Veni, vidi, vici. Oh yes, Beer Hawk came, saw, and conquered this year's Great British Beer Festival with gusto! Once again we were proud to be the sponsor of the Champion Bottled Beers of Britain bottle bar and found ourselves surrounded by not only the best bottled beer in the country but also some great volunteers. Thankfully resurrected by CAMRA in the 80's, GBBF has now become one of the world's leading beer festivals. This beer festival is always a lot of fun with a great buzz and the opportunity to share a beer with shiny happy people. I know I'm already looking forward to next year!
Besides the CBBOB competition that I wrote about last week, I personally attended Tuesday's trade session (our directors, Chris and Mark, bravely sacrificed a bit more of their work-week in the office to partake in some other sessions...all in the name of teamwork.) One session is not enough to experience GBBF! When you're talking about the BIGGEST celebration of British beer in the world which is almost single-handedly run by a superabundance of generous volunteers, the length of the festival itself isn't long enough. It's a tremendous festival of beer and the people want more!
Now, I've been to a lot of beer festivals; from GABF, to Copenhagen, to even the famed Oktoberfest. Now that I've got two GBBFs under my belt, I've got some observations and (hopefully constructive!) criticisms about the fest as a whole. These opinions are more-or-less from the perspective of a foreign outsider looking in who genuinely wants to live, breathe, and drink everything there is to know about British beer. (Which, duly noted, are not unique to me and I'm not presenting an opinion that has never been expressed before. I'm just taking this chance to preach!)
First of all, from what I know, the beer selected for the festival is chosen by a bunch of CAMRA branches and CAMRA big-wigs picking out their favorite beers and asking that brewery to bring some of it to the festival. While that's very democratic--and mass participation is exactly what beer needs--there's a danger that it can all get a bit redundant. It ends up with a single bar with 20 taps having 20 beers from 15 breweries from a dozen different regions, and each have about 13 versions of a golden ale. Which, obviously, is quite a bit of THE SAME THING. I found myself staring at some bars and having no clue what I was looking at. I don't feel that's the best way to present British beer to the world because I'd end up walking away from that bar to go find something that was better described to me. Too much choice is not always best--streamline it!
Which leads me to my next thought: it'll probably never change. Despite the fact that every other prominent beer festival throughout the world rewards great breweries--and not individual beers--with a spot in their lineup, the organizers of the Great British Beer Festival seem intent on supplying a thousand "different" choices. Now don't get me wrong, the breweries that have been selected by the Great CAMRA Claw are all great in their own right with a lot of fantastic people behind them. Yet, when they're only permitted to bring what has been requested by CAMRA there is a lot of British talent, creativity, and innovation that is hidden away from the world stage. I think that that's a great injustice. All eyes are on British beer at this moment--work it!
My next point will probably ruffle some feathers but...well...the American bar (now dubbed "Craft Wanker Corner") was pretty busy most of the day. As were the Belgian/Italian/Dutch/Czech bars. I don't want to get started on the age-old complaint of "why do the American beers have to show up in casks if the Belgians don't?" Nope, I just want to draw attention to the fact that these bars had quite the magnetic pull on rather large crowds. And there's only one explanation for that--the beers were different.
Of course I'm not insinuating that the other bars were desolate wastelands serving poor beer. It's just that people--I--go to beer festivals to find the unexpected, to find something they'll remember. To have fun! And, sorry, but the fact that it's from Somerset or Wales or is 3.8% and golden in colour and someone from a CAMRA branch liked it last year doesn't make it memorable. It might be really good. But it's also really good at my local.
I'm obviously not advocating that CAMRA completely scrap their ethos of supporting cask. Not at all! British beer is famous for its complex subtlety and restraint. The cask ale is as British as the monarchy. Yet there is so much going on in this country--and so many talented brewers--that could do a great service to the British beer reputation if only given a chance or a little freedom. It's truly a shame to hide it from the world like it's a black sheep (*not affiliated with the brewery or any of its subsidiaries) all in the misguided interpretation of tradition.