Friday, 7 August 2009

Great Big Barrel of Fun

GBBF trip post No3

Tuesday morning should have seen a lie-in, but sadly the cleaning staff seem to think that 8am is the time to start. Oh well, nearly caught nude in a hotel again, at least I was by myself and not up to no good1. However, the rude awakening made me decide to get up, shower and head off for breakfast. I needed to ensure beer soaking carbohydrates after too much protein in the canapés from the day and night before.

I spent most of the morning drinking coffee and reading my newly signed book. I'd been struggling a bit with Pete's historical chapters and was pleased to have got to the start of the real journey, and of course the demise of Barry2. I'm eagerly awaiting the Famous World Beer Smuggler, who hasn't yet entered the piece, but he'll be there there soon.

Finally, it was time to approach Earls Court. A queue? For a trade session? Gee, it's going to be full inside then.

I've been to Earls Court before, for trade shows, where no expense is spared on carpet and decor. It was interesting how different the place looked, but then amazing how many people such a great place can swallow and it didn't get too crowded at all. I was pleased to be able to get a nice tasting glass. Session drinking was not the point of this trip; Networking and beer tasting was. A 1/3 stemmed glass was perfect, not quite as good as an over-sized wine glass, but then I'm not the incumbent Beer Writer of the Year. Off I headed for the Bière Sans Frontières bar, only, where is it? If I had a complaint, then the lack of a map would be it. Carpets would be a complete waste of money, but I like maps.

OK, 5 minutes later and bumping into Adrian Tierney-Jones and I found it. It took me a little while longer before I found a beer I wanted, a slow start, but eventually, I found my feet. A little overwhelmed at first at the size of the biggest beer festival in the country, but, gradually I decided it was a good setup. After a couple of hours there I could find what I wanted and understood the really quite logical setup.

I tried a few beers, and I did have a mission to find out a little bit more about wood aged beers, I suspected I would like them despite my friend Jeff Picthall saying they are crap "I can't say I'm a big fan of wood-aged beers". Confirmed, I like them, sorry Jeff. However, perhaps it's time to thank Jeff for suggesting that not going to the GBBF was a non option, thanks Jeff, you were right on that one. Now all I need to do is convince Ann that the trip was all work, work, work.

I don't want to fill this post with details of all the beers I tried. Except to say that again, I was drinking big foreign beers. My little stemmed glass perfect for trying lots of different ones. I tried lambics and cherry lambics and German Pilsners3 and more Belgian influenced American beers. It was fantastic.

I left the British beers alone, well mostly. It's not that I don't like them, it's just I know what they taste like. I don't need to spend money and time on a trip to London to try beers that are a variation on a theme. Beers that taste more or less like the ones I can get at home. There are some British breweries out there doing more innovative things, but knowing who they are and what they are doing wasn't easy for me to find out. For instance, if I'd known about Pride 'n' Joy, the 2.8% beer, I might just have tried it. I did try Fullers Vintage Ale, which I enjoyed and it made me realise, I'm not a ticker, I'm an explorer, thirsty for new ideas. But, you know, I'm open to new ideas, I'd love to hear from breweries that are doing something different, blogging is the new beer media, apparently, perhaps if I'd heard about things before I went I'd have tried it and then blogged. Just an idea for you brewers out there, BrewDog have got the idea.

But best of all, I caught up with many great people. Of course there was Tandleman. Thanks to Jeff Picthall for this picture4. There was Barm, Beer Nut, Zak, Mark and Jeffo. There were many other people I met that day and for me, the best thing was the fantastic combined enthusiasm by everybody for beer. That's what we were all there for, the beer.

It's easy for us to slag off various styles of beer because it doesn't fit what we want out of beer. I do it I know. But it's only opinion. We all know what we like. Some like to stick within their comfort zone, perhaps straying a little when adventurous. Others, like me, throw caution to the wind, unable to risk the chance that there is something we are missing out on, because life is too short to be bored. But, if you like beer, I'd suggest whatever type of beer it is you like, you're with freinds at the GBBF.

Of course none of this would happen without CAMRA. 1000 voluntary people, that's what it took to get the thing running. 1% of the CAMRA membership directly involved in the staff, presumably giving up holiday time to do so. This was CAMRA at it's best - Thank You.

Sadly it had to end. My train left Euston at 19:30. I left Earls Court at around 18:30, slightly later than perhaps I should have, but I just kept bumping into people. Across town with 20 minutes to spare, a quick Burger King5 burger and a coffee before boarding the train.

Drunk? no, not at all. Giddy with the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people, some of whom my failing memory is struggling to find names for. But not drunk. 10% beers were typical for me on this day and not once in the 28 hours I spent in London did I feel drunk. It's all about pacing and appropriateness. On the train home I even read some more chapters and slept no more than I normally would have done, entertained by the constant apologies from the shop staff; member of the on board team in the singular, about the late "change of set" causing printer problems, stock shortage, coffee machine cleaning and could passengers please remain in their seats while he sorts it all out. We were sure that with his sweet tone of voice, that if he was being mugged we would still get the same calm apologetic explanation and he'd be sure to inform us just as soon as normal service resumed.

So, what is this about 10%, 12%, 15% or even scary 18.5% beers causing binge drinking? BrewDog are right. It's a cure. But why? And why is this notion being poo-pooed. Because it's to do with drinking culture, that's why. It's to do with taste. It's to do with savouring. It's to do with getting around the fact that a 330ml bottle could be shared, no really, I did this and it worked. I'm not sure how I'm going to make James's assertion sound correct; that 18.5% beer is the solution, not the cause of binge drinking, but I think he's right. It just sounds barmy and to be fair, judging by the choices of beer most people made at GBBF, our culture is just not ready for it yet.

Conversely, on arriving home, I drank a pint of my 4.4% American-inspired-hoppy-slightly-above-session-strength-pale-ish-beer. It tasted remarkably like an American IPA.

Oh, and very well done indeed to my Cumbrian colleagues Giles and Howard for Silver in the bottled beers category. Yewbarrow from their Great Gable brewery is indeed a good beer. I can't comment on any of the other awards as I'm not familiar enough with the beers.

1Yes, it did happen once, in my own sodding hotel. Yes, I was with someone on this occasion.

2Well buy the book then and you'll find out who Barry is.

3Which one again Barm? I forgot.

4OK, do your Wurst. Actually, notice two interesting beer creatures here. On the left is a confirmed pub supporter who enjoys nothing better than supping a few pints with mates and is unlikely to be caught being pretentious - note the pint glass. The fine specimen on the right is a bit of a beer scene chameleon. In his own home, strangely, he can often be found swilling pints like a good un, however, on this occasion, not wanting to loose face in front of his pretentious beer writing mates, is joining in with fine gusto - note 1/3 pint stemmed glass.

5Needs must. But, just like British beer, it's great for the right thing. In a pub, with mates, I'd drink a pint of standard British ale. In a restaurant on a special occasion I might well choose fillet steak or venison or corn fed chicken breast filled with organic goats cheese and wrapped with air dried saddleback ham dressed with a jus of white wine reduction. Today for lunch I had leftovers. Filled a gap and was fit for purpose.


Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Pete looks hard in that pic.

Woolpack Dave said...

Wurst nah, looks are deceiving, he's a big friendly softy really. You'd like him if you met him.

Barm said...

That lager would have been Keesman Herren-Pils from Bamberg. It's a great beer and often overlooked due to the fame of other beers from that town.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Wood aged beers? Time to unearth that Colonial Breakfast recipe, I think.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Did I actually say wood-aged beers are crap? Certainly I will have expressed a distinct skepticism about certain brands which loudly proclaim their wood-agedness. I am definitely not disparaging the likes of Rodenbach.

Woolpack Dave said...

Jeff, no you didn't, I was oversimplifying our conversations, sorry.

It's interesting that some seem to like YouLikeMyStout and others really did not. Annoyingly, it was on my list but apart from a small sip from Beer Nut's glass I don't seem to have tried any. My list, with some notes on, has gone AWOL. I thought I'd ticked everything off, which is a bit of weird behaviour for somebody who proclaims not to be ticker.....

In my program I have notes on Allagash Interlude and Odyssey, which I liked very much.

Woolpack Dave said...

Ted, Colonial Breakfast uses wood chips, which Jeff does approve of. I'm planning on doing one aged in a whisky barrel. Caol Ila, hopefully. The trouble is, a butt, which is bigger than a 36 UK gallon barrel, might not fit through the cellar door.

Beers like this most certainly get mixed reports. When beer geeks start disagreeing is when it starts getting really interesting.

Barm said...

I generally prefer my whisky and stout separately, but Bruichladdich-aged Bloed Zweet & Tranen was fantastic. I wish I'd got a glass for myself.

Woolpack Dave said...

Ah, but if you could soak some whisky out of wood that would otherwise be cut up for planters, would that not be good. Reclaimed whisky.

Of course I would never pour Caol Ila into any beer - it's just too damn nice.

Woolpack Dave said...

Barm, I've just found the one you mention in the program. I'd have loved to have tried that. No wait, oh my memory, somebody gave me a taste of something whisky infused - was that Tuesday or Monday night? I seem to remember Jeff P being there at the time.......

I think I need a memory upgrade. Couple of gigabytes should do the trick.

John Clarke said...

For more Tzarina Ezra Reserva and I guess, Bloed Sweet & Tranen, the de Molen Beer Festival on 30 October will be the place - that promises to be a real blast. Here's a link:

Mark said...

Great to meet you Dave. I'll remember sharng those Harvey's with you and Jeff for a while - great beers!

I like that you are now a beer explorer, it sounds a lot better than ticker :)

Woolpack Dave said...


It was great to meet you too. I'm just sorry that there seems to be a whole load more people I must have time I hope.

That Harveys stout was my favourite.

Crown Brewer Stu said...

Dave there is cooper somewhere who will resize your Butt to a 36/18 don't know were but i have heard of it being done

Anonymous said...

"There are some British breweries out there doing more innovative things, but knowing who they are and what they are doing wasn't easy for me to find out."

Too right! This is my main frustration with the GBBF--it's not really a complaint just a realization. The tasting notes in the program have improved greatly, and the website beer list is fab for doing pre-research but it would be nice to have some beer writing in advance, maybe even a GBBF blog where breweries can pitch what they are up to?