The GBBF17 festival held at London’s Kensington Olympia ran from 8th-12th August, and for the first time I attended the trade session on the Tuesday afternoon. It was great to be near the front of the queue, getting in and grabbing a coveted seat, then viewing the vast hall with nothing more than a scattering of people, ready to enjoy the vast array of ales on offer. I had already reviewed the list of beers available prior to arriving, so after a brief look at my brochure for tasting notes and floor plan study, I set to work armed with two third pint glasses!
There are key words in beer descriptions that I naturally gravitate toward (chocolate, liquorice, caramel, biscuit, toffee, coffee, malt, subtle, floral) and others I tend to avoid, as too much of them can seriously disagree with me (strong hops, citric, tart, lemon, grapefruit, highly bitter, smoke). But I tried this time to mix things up, so deliberately didn’t choose the most obvious ones for me. I also tend to notice “quirky” descriptions and try them out, and GBBF17 was no exception on that front. Thanks to having food sorted (see later) and not going into the high gravity beers until the end of the day, I managed to go beyond my usual 2 pint limit without ill effect, having 9 third samples on Tuesday and 10 on Wednesday.
Everything I tried was nice and a favourite would be hard to pick out, but there are two distinct categories “quaffable” and “memorable”. Here are my summary notes for each section.
Quaffable: You could sup these all day if you wanted.
Golden Triangle: ELDERFLOWERPOWER 4.2% Light and refreshing, delicate yet robust floral taste with a hint of floral essence on the nose. A lovely refined pure flavour.
High House Farm: RED SHEP 4% A smashing dark ruby mild very smooth with light caramel and fruit.
Palmers: DORSET GOLD 4.5% really nice golden ale with the banana heart giving a mellow vague sweet essence, and the mango providing a hint of tropical fruitiness.
Coniston: ASRAI 4 % with light fruit, delicate hops, mellow orange and a hint of herbs (coriander). Beautiful.
Irwell Works: MARSHMALLOW UNICORN 4.4% think toasted marshmallows on the fire. A mellow beer with a warming burnt sugar essence, smooth and tastes very wholesome. Great for a cold autumn/winter day.
Memorable: With unusual ingredients giving the beer a “quirky” personality
Belvoir: WHITE KNUCKLE RIDE 4.3% smells amazing, sweet and inviting. Taste smooth, distinct white chocolate flavour with a harmonious coconut edge. No bitterness rather like a posh barley wine. Looks like a top class smoky quartz with a dark chocolate heart and a clear caramel edge. Tastes as good as it smells, think melted white chocolate infused with the coconut of a Bounty bar. Wonderful but could be rather sickly if too much consumed.
Metalman Brewing: EQUINOX 4.6% a clean yeasty essence, vague fruit and a smooth quality with a distinct pepper aftertaste. Brochure described this as “wheat aged on sun-dried lemon peel and white pepper”.
Sonnet 43: I SHALL BUT LOVE 6.8% has a pungent roast coffee and coconut heart. Heady yet mellow with no real bitterness though a little smoky.
Birrificio Italiano: DELIA 4.5% has a green, fresh resin quality with a hint of sweetness, slight effervescence and mid bitterness. This Italian Draft Pils was described as having “fruity notes, herbaceous and balsamic resinous hints of fresh flower hops with sweet malt”.
Tiny Rebel: MOJITO SOUR 3.9% the taste was as good as the smell. Literally a wonderful “cocktail” beer with the mint and lime perfectly balanced, giving a wonderful fresh palate. I kept thinking it should have an umbrella and straw in the glass. But the mint also made me think I should be chewing something edible!
Drinking the Mojito Sour made me think of two stand-out beers from past festivals at Stoke. Both of them tasted great, smelt wonderful and yet had a weird twist making them unforgettable, for the strangest associations. Wolf LAVENDER HONEY 3.7% screamed pot-pourri and Woodlands OAK BEAUTY 4.2% furniture polish!! All thoughts told me consumption of these drinks should NOT be happening. It seemed my taste and smell senses were turned upside down, an unusual experience.
Looking back at old diaries I’ve concluded this was my 13th visit to the GBBF and it proved “lucky” in many ways. This was by far the most organised visit I’ve ever had, with military precision planning going into the whole four day trip. Knowing I intended spending two days at GBBF spanning lunch and dinner times (nothing gets in the way of me and my food!!), I ensured that I packed suitable foods/drinks to cover lunch and snacks, so we would only need to buy dinner. There was ample provision of foods and snacks at the venue, many at a reasonable price, but you have to seek them out and fight the queues. All those little nibbles eventually add up to a hefty cost, so I packed a rucksack with fruit juice, fizzy drinks, nuts, savoury crunchy snacks, cake bars and protein bars costing about £25 in total. I organised all these things into individual bags for each day (they actually covered all four days in London) and added some fruit from the hotel breakfast bar each morning. I reckon to buy all that lot in London/at the venue would have been about £100. Had the little flask I’ve taken on my travels not malfunctioned, I’d have had a flask of tea for a cuppa as well.
Unusually I took home some wonderful chocolate from the Oddfellows Chocolate Company having been able to taste some samples. These were sold in small bags with enough content to compliment the beers on offer, but I preferred to enjoy them away from the festival. And I bought two great sounding ales to savour at home as well. Ticketybrew ROSE WHEAT BEER 4.7% from Manchester and Lord Chambray FLINDERS ROSE 4.2 % a Maltese Gose were a delicious way of toasting a wonderful Great British Beer Festival. Cheers, until next year.