GBBF trip post No1
Despite being from the delightfully remote and beautiful Cumbrian valley of Eskdale, where the population of sheep1 greatly outnumber us humans and the air is crystal fresh and clear, I always enjoy with great relish a visit to London. This time I was here for the Great British Beer Festival and incidentally to also attend the 21st birthday party of the British Guild of Beer Writers. I'd have to admit to childlike excitement as I stepped off the 15:12 at Euston, incredibly less than 3 hours after I'd boarded it at Oxenholme in The Lake District.
My first call on Monday was the Porter House in Convent Garden. My hotel was at Earls Court and a change at Leicester Square was needed anyway. It's two minutes walk from the tube station and a guarantee of something reasonable to drink. The guild party was not starting until for another three hours so I had time to kill. Having got myself a bottle of Liberty Ale I walked out into the sticky afternoon mug that is expected alfresco in these southern city places, and settled to enjoy my beer.
Within a few minutes a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers walked up simultaniously greeting me and the three others on the next table, who it turned out are also members. "Has it started already?" he asked. "Has what started?" I returning a further question. "There's an American beer tasting session downstairs, I'm sure you'd be welcome as a guild member". Well it would be churlish to refuse, wouldn't it?
The "New world" beers are still an area of research I need to develop. Although I've had my hands on them here and also in Oregon, I'm quite convinced I need to explore them more. A bad experience, as it turns out, with Arrogant Bastard Ale had made me sceptical about the whole American beer scene. That is until I cracked open a bottle of something different from the same consignment 2 years later which changed my view completely.
This tasting session was about to confirm that there is a whole new angle that can be applied to beer. It showed, that in fact, the bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale I had before must have been duff as not only did it taste foul, but it also made me as sick as a dog. The very nice gentleman who gave it to me probably didn't know, and I was too polite to object. The beers I tried here all excited me, including Arrogant Bastard.
There were, I believe, four American breweries represented including Stone and Victory. As well as my successful second chance at Stone's beer I was impressed by V12 which had an incredible Belgian style nose, quite unmistakably. I asked, because I suspected, what yeast was used and was delighted to hear it was Westmalle. That explains things. In the taste there is something that cuts through the wonderful Belgian style and declares itself American, the hops I suspect is what makes it and together it works fabulously well. At 12% ABV not a session beer, but as I'll explain later in this series of posts, that, in itself, does not produce drunks. In fact, it would seem to me that this could not be further from the truth.
There were incredible stouts and porters and IPAs and even a hoppy Pilsner to really inspire. All beers with bags of flavours and most with ABVs higher than are the norm in the UK. I realised these beers were all beers I'd like to have better access to and started to ask how I could obtain them. The answer seemed to be that I'd have a problem in my location, up in Cumbria. Then somebody pointed out that there was no reason why we couldn't make these type of beers here in our green and pleasant land. It would make them cheaper than these imports and cut down on global freight into the bargain.
The majority of our UK beer culture is about the tradition of real ale. There is nothing wrong with this, but it's by far the loudest drum being beaten. There is more to beer than "Trad Beer" as my cellar technician terms it, seemingly with disdain. Even the labels on the bottles of these US beers project an excitement and a cool image that is almost completely missing from the craft beer scene in the UK. These people are about pushing boundaries and making something even more exciting than was done last time. We could learn a lot. If nothing else we could learn that we need to fight the prohibitionist movement, not join in with it.
1Now, I know what you're thinking, and you are right. The totty quality is significantly better in London.