It’s that time of year, and Olympia in the sunshine is a lovely building.
I’d made my way down to London with my good friend and fellow CAMRGB member, Chris, and on arriving we met up with a slightly hung over Matt (@totalcurtis) in the queue for the Trade Day of CAMRA’s 2014 Great British Beer Festival.
We all had our CAMRGB shirts on and got one or two looks from people as we wandered around the venue.
Shortly after entering the cavernous main hall we met up with a couple of Davids.
Firstly Dave Bailey of Hardknott (@HardKnottDave) and then, after a quick glass of Hardknott’s Cool Fusion (4.4%), David Martin (@rdgmartin) who we caught up with while eating enormous pies coupled with Sierra Nevada’s Single Hop Harvest – Equinox (6.5%) which went down very well, its sharp bitter hop cutting across the mountain of pastry stuffed pork that I was cramming into my face.
With our bellies full we decided to wander the venue to see what we could find and I realised that the whole place was permeated by the smell of pork.
Meaty, fleshy, not entirely pleasant.
We grabbed a glass of Manx Special Pale by Okell’s (3.6%) and then I had a quick catch up with Adrian Tierney-Jones (@ATJbeer) before Chris and I shared a palate cleansing (did I say cleansing, I meant searing) bottle of Gueuze 1882 Black Label (5%) by Brouwerij Girardin.
As we hung around the Belgian/Dutch/German bar and bumped into and chatted with various friends, fellow writers and brewers, it became increasingly apparent that there was a particular strain of beer lover that was being drawn together by the twin gravitational pulls of the American Craft Beer bar and the Belgian/Dutch Bar.
And, as if all of us had taken part in some weird joining of minds, two statements were made by separate people.
One commented on just how many Golden Ales between 3.5 and 4.2% were on offer – bars stretching as far as the eye could see were heaving with them – and the other, when asked where a particular person could be found replied, “Try Craft W*nker Corner,” and absolutely everybody understood that that meant the tables by the American bar.
But I laughed knowingly as that was exactly where Chris and I were heading back to next.
In Craft W*nker Corner – sorry, at the American Bar – I caught up with an unfeasibly large crowd of friendly faces which included Andrew of Revolutions Brewing Co. (@revolutionsbrew) and Otto (@TheOttoDude) who was serving behind the bar.
We took a selfie.
We had to.
And after the selfie Chris and I shared a glass of Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout (6%) which I’ve had before and was divinely thick and sticky and rich, and a rather odd beer by Franklin’s Restaurant Brewery called Psychedelic Smokehouse (5.3%) which was a smoked sour beer.
Its aroma was smoky bacon rashers and it tasted a bit peculiar.
Peculiar in a good way, but peculiar nonetheless.
Initially there was a blast of sour fruitiness, but as that disappeared you were left with the feeling that you’d just eaten a hotdog.
A rich smoky pork aftertaste clung to the roof of my mouth as we wandered back towards the European beers, bumping into David from EeBria (@EeBriaUK) on the way.
He joined us for a while and we had a good natter about the state of beer and beer selling while I had a glass of Opat Mandarin Orange Pilsner (4.7%), which had been my beer of GBBF 2013.
On a tip off from Glynn Davis (@GlynnDavis) the wonderful mandarin beer was followed by Opat Chocolate Dark Lager (5.3%) which was chocolatey with a capital CHOCOLATE.
Both the mandarin and the chocolate beers are brewed by Pivovar Broumov and both are astonishing in their depth of flavour.
By this point the afternoon was drawing on and the announcements for the 2014 awards were being made on the main stage as I finally caught up with Melissa Cole (@MelissaCole).
We’ve known each other for a few years now – since the beginning of CAMRGB – and have been in the same room together on more than one occasion.
But it took us until now to finally stand face to face and have a natter.
Melissa is a warm, friendly, woman with an amazing knowledge and masses of infectious enthusiasm.
We got a selfie.
But then my stomach started rumbling.
Opting for an English beer we grabbed a glass of Moor Beer Company’s Unfined Revival (3.8%) which was drinkable if entirely unexciting and could have been any one of the myriad similar beers on offer, then slipped into the world of double entendre while eating foot long hotdogs, mine with an added cheesy sauce centre that I was warned might, “squirt out,” to much hilarity.
As we sat at a table in Craft W*nkers Corner someone mentioned that a cask of beer from De Molen Brouwerij had just been opened and with barely a word needed Chris and I both got up and legged it across the venue to grab a glass.
We arrived to find there were actually two casks being tapped.
We tried both and immediately I found my beers of GBBF 2014.
The first was a Barrel Aged Citra Pale Ale (5.2%) that was a perfectly balanced glass of beer, crisp and refreshing but with a big woody body from the ageing.
The second was a mind numbingly good Stout.
Hemel & Aarde Octomore (11%) is a barrel aged beer that smelled and tasted warm and peaty and packed with boozy goodness.
This was so good that we needed a sit down in order to take our time appreciating what we were drinking.
Dense resinous woody chocolate and whisky, deep rich plums and fresh espresso, this was what beer festivals should be about.
Discovering something absolutely amazing rather than drinking the same old same old.
And with that we headed for one last drink in Craft W*nkers Corner before we ran off to catch our train home.
We plumped for a Sierra Nevada Hoptimum (10.4%) which was a big mouth cleaning blast of hoppy joy that was never going to come close to the De Molen, but gave it a decent run for its money, before saying bye to various faces and jumping on a train.
GBBF Trade Day is a very good beery day out.
It was a good place to catch up with likeminded people.
It was also a very good place to fill up on pork products.
A special thanks goes to Chris from The Beer Hawk (@TheBeerHawk) who very kindly got me the tickets to attend and who I didn’t manage to catch up with while I was there.
Same again next year?
I do hope so.