The Great British Beer Festival 2016: 900 beers but a few controversies

The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) is CAMRA’s flagship event of the year, but it’s not without its controversies.

I’ve been to many CAMRA (Campaign for real ale) festivals over the years but never to GBBF. The huge event is held at Olympia in London’s Kensington and although I wasn’t planning on attending this year, I was lucky enough to win tickets via a Beer Hawk competition on Twitter.

One of the reasons I wasn’t going to attend was because I’d recently gone to the London Beer City opening party and it costs a fair few quid to travel into London from Luton before you add the cost of any beer or the resulting need for food. Tickets to GBBF cost £11 which is a little steep considering you don’t even get a programme with the beer listings – that, as I found out by a grumpy volunteer at the stand, costs £2.

You do get access to over 900 beers, available in third, half and full pint measures, but at least make it a round tenner guys. Considering I won the tickets, I headed down on the Saturday with my ever trusty beer side-kick of a wife to see what was going on.

Although the sheer number of beers sounds attractive, it creates the problem of needing to be even more selective of which ones to try. This proved even harder considering that the only some (very few, in fact) of the large banners hanging above each bar used sold out signs so you didn’t waste time trying to order a beer that was long gone – difficult considering that Saturday is the last day of the show.

Without the programme, it’s hard to know what the beers are as they don’t seem to be spread out in any kind of logical manner such as style, strength or region. Instead you just get the name of the brewery and beer despite there being plenty of space for elements such as a square to denote the colour of the beer.

We managed to find some fairly decent tipples, partly from doing some research before arriving, some by luck and some by recommendations. I knew I wanted to try one of St.Austell’s small batch beers and the Cornish brewery has Italian Job pouring which was nice but not as lemony as I imagined. Stroud Brewery’s Alederflower (elderflower infused) was a highlight and I enjoyed sampling an Allendale Mosiac which came recommended by Matthew Curtis.

Overall we weren’t exactly blown away and considering there were 900 beers, there was a surprising lack of variety. We struggled to find many stouts and the queue for the final cask of the champion beer (a vanilla stout) was way too long to consider joining. I’m a fan of rye beers but when I found Slater’s Rye IPA, I was sorely disappointed – perhaps it was the end of the cask or something as it came endorsed by Beer Hawk.

The saving grace for me was the Harvey’s stand which had the new branding on show as well as a range of ale which I’m oh so familiar with having grown up in Sussex.

That was my experience but there’s also some interesting controversies surrounding GBBF which I’ve become aware of so wanted to mention.

For starters you might already be aware that BrewDog has not always seen eye-to-eye with CAMRA (to put it lightly) and stopped putting its beers into casks a long time ago. Even in 2011 when the pair had decided to put differences behind them, the firm’s bar at GBBF was cancelled despite a signed contract saying it could served kegged beer. You can read all about it here.

The requirement for beers at the festival to be served from casks means that it rules out some interesting breweries which would otherwise take part. Fourpure, for example, doesn’t use kegs and wouldn’t even be allowed at GBBF with its beers in small quantities because it only uses cans but the festival only accepts bottles.

I also noticed a strange incident where staff from Dark Star were treated quite poorly on the trade day of GBBF when the awards are held. They had even paid for tickets to the dinner and an organiser was rude in front of a guest. Click on the tweet to read a bit more and see some of the reactions.

Have you been to GBBF before or know of another controversy surrounding it? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.


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