Wednesday 5 August 2009
Another GBBF, another splendid cavalcade of characters from the world of beer, old friends, new friends. I find I don’t approach the GBBF with the same excitement I used to. It has — for me — become more of a social and business networking event than an attempt to drink myself around the world (though I always manage to give it a good go). Maybe it’s because I go to the trade session or maybe because it’s part of the establishment now: a media partnership from the Indie, a big piece on the science of beer in the DT and posters everywhere, even people I know in the non-beerwriting world ask me if it is worth going to (whereas once they saw me as a bit odd). It’s become the beer world’s Glastonbury or any number of those festivals that seem to mark the summer’s passage. All that is missing is the rain, though several years ago Olympia got a hammering during a cloud burst. But what’s wrong with that — if beer (and I am not just talking about real ale) is to remain part of the matter of Britain then events like this are essential. From its energetic presence other celebrations of beer (both cask and non cask, British and global) can draw sustenance.
Evidence of ennui though? A peek at the list online last week failed to excite. On the other hand I enjoyed the cask beers I tried — Lord Maples, Cwrw Eryri and Screech Owl. Then it’s over to BSF where I discovered several things: I don’t like every beer that has been matured in whisky barrels (cue handing over Blood Sweat & Tears to a mate); will there come a stage when barrel aged beers become the Emperor’s New Clothes? De Ranke XX Bitter was bitter hop juice, and I normally love it, while Messers Maguire’s Bock was a thin thimble of roast malt and nowt else.
On the positive side, Mummia from Birrificio Montegioco was fun — lambic like, complex and refreshing. Augustiner Helles and Beck Brau Pils were elegant and crisp on the palate, but not Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier Urbock (unsophisticated in its smokiness, unlike its mother Marzen). Lagunitas’ Pils (parma violets on the nose) disappointed, but have bought a bottle home to reassess as it was recommended to me by an American beerwriter. Firestone Walker’s Union Jack IPA was tremendous (as if someone had grabbed me by the back of the neck and plunged me into a hopsack), though the beer from the US that impressed most was Victory’s V12, tasted at a US craft brewers reception the day before — fermented with Westmalle yeast according to Bill Cowaleski, it was rich and spirited, smooth and feisty, and hard to resist.
As for the festival itself I didn’t really take much notice of what elsewhere Pete Brown has talked of ‘freakish volunteers’ (none of us are perfect), though a first sighting of the Hobgoblin made me start (however I have seen a Merlin strolling the streets of Glastonbury) — and then I realised I wasn’t at a heavy metal concert whose adherents swear by their bodkins. It was just someone done up to promote Hobgoblin (10 years ago I remember a man in a budgie suit, I think that was his normal outfit). Someone else, in a shabby shiny suit, wore a lovely damp lock of hair pressed down on his forehead as he staggered from ale to ale. Then a brace of monstrously overwhelming drag queens in coloured tin foil, hellbent on signing up for Melissa’s tours. All very Glasto. However, I suspect as the day wears on and the beers go down, very few people look ‘normal’ when the bell rings (I know I certainly don’t). Which is why, for once fearing for my normality, I reluctantly but resolutely made an exit at 4.15. See you next year .