Er, yeah, what it says in the title. The Pembury Tavern at Hackney Downs has a summer beer festival starting today and running until Sunday.
You may remember we were a bit wary about Beer Exposed. A beer festival with a dresscode? £20 entry? Tsingtao exhibiting?
Well, we went on Friday and had a pretty good time.
The entrance area was a Shepherd Neame-sponsored education zone where you could learn about the basic ingredients of beer. The main part of the hall was mostly stands for brewers, with the occasional shop and also a CAMRA stall.
There was an interesting range of British breweries, from the big boys (GK, Fullers, Shepherd Neame), to the trendy guys (Meantime, BrewDog), and a whole host of stuff inbetween. Bailey, Somerset boy that he is, was delighted to chat to the Exmoor people. The Americans were represented by the Brooklyn Brewery (including Garrett Oliver in person on Friday), Blue Moon (didn’t try it) and a stall offering products from Anchor, Goose Island, Great Divide and other US biggies. And there was an assortment of interesting and not so interesting breweries from other parts of the world.
We were delighted to find that Zywiec had brought some of their legendary porter. Having waiting for more than seven years to try this again, we were not disappointed. At 9.5% it has a pleasing sticky treacly feel to it, with great coffee and liquorice flavours. We were going to buy loads of it, but were thwarted by jobsworth security guards (more on that later).
How the beer bit worked: you got given a glass, and you got taster samples, which varied in size depending on who was pouring. While the portions themselves were small, there was huge variety on offer, and lots of brewers had bought their best stuff along (eg Paradox from Brew Dog, Vintage Ale from Coopers) — and you could always go back for more. If you wanted to buy, some stalls accepted cash, whereas others only took vouchers, which you had to buy on the front desk. There was also free water for drinking and rinsing your glass.
Zak Avery took us on an “Extreme Beer” walk, starting with Schlenkerla Rauchbier and covering offerings from Great Divide, Meantime, and Brew Dog, among others. Incidentally, Zak was surprised to find himself on the first page of the Speaker Profiles, but he shouldn’t be so modest. He was extremely engaging, had plenty of interesting nuggets of information for novice and expert alike, and really knew about the beers he was offering.
Garrett Oliver lived up to his reputation — we went to his session on beer and cheese, although interestingly he hadn’t done the pairings himself. We liked his manner, and the way he described what he was drinking, and we’re inspired to set up a beer and cheese tasting ourselves.
We had the opportunity to meet several members of the Young Camra Collectiv — they’re jolly nice chaps. We also got to meet Phil Lowry from Beer Merchants / Cave Direct who got us the tickets (thanks!), and Steve Williams, Greater London Regional CAMRA director and writer of The Beer Justice blog (another jolly nice chap).
Now the whinge about the organisation. The event was scheduled to stop at 9. This meant that they cut the mic on Garrett Oliver when he was still speaking, and pretty much chased us all out of the building.
9pm is way too early to finish on a Friday night. We couldn’t get there until 6:30 because of work, and we’re sure plenty of the target market would be in the same boat. There were quite a few stands that we wanted to visit and couldn’t because we were out of time.
We were also left with vouchers to spend. We were prevented from exchanging them with the nice guy from Zywiec, because it had gone 9, and there was no system for exchanging them back for cash, leaving us a few quid down. We argued in the organisers’ office. They did offer us free tickets for the next day, which I suppose would have been a good deal, but we had other plans for the Saturday.
So a pity that we left an otherwise good event on such a sour note.
All in all, it was a great idea, and we think that a beer novice would have learnt a lot and hopefully come away with a real enthusiasm for beer. We still think the entry fee would have been a bit prohibitive for someone who wasn’t that interested in beer in the first place, but we’d be delighted if the organisers proved us wrong.
There was definitely a different crowd to the usual beer festival bunch. A lot more women, a lot less beards, and people from a whole range of ethnic and national backgrounds. The trendy Islington location also seemed to have lured in some passing trade, including a fair few tourists and a lot of people at a loose end after work.
Overall, a success, we think. I hope there’s another one next year with the wrinkles ironed out. If there is, we might well get a bunch of our “not that fussed about beer” friends and take them along.
Declaration of pecuniary interest: we got free tickets. And Phil gave us some Beer Geek Breakfast to take away!
Wedmore is in the wilds of Somerset, beyond the impossibly ancient, witch-haunted hills beyond Arkham near Cheddar. The beer festival takes place in the church hall and is more of a community knees-up than a CAMRA-sponsored beard-stroking session. The tickers are given a quiet room out the back, in fact, so they won’t get in the way of the people dancing. Tonight, there’s blues music on the menu.
There’s also tons of real ale and some fantastic scrumpy on offer.
Sadly, I can’t make it this year (much to my Dad’s annoyance) but if you’re in the area and at a loose end, I can’t recommend it enough.
We’ve been invited to this Beer Exposed event in London at the end of September. I can’t quite work out what to make of it.
The good side – lots of brewers from around the world will be there. That said, the choice is a little weird — as well as excellent breweries from Britain (Fullers, Exmoor, Harvieston), Belgium (Liefmans, Westmalle*) and America (Great Divide, Goose Island, Anchor etc), there’s also a lot of dull “world lager” — eg Tsingtao, Quilmes, Cristal from Cuba and no less than four bland Polish breweries. Although, if Zywiec bring along some Porter, I’ll be first in the queue.
The mission of the event is to “explore, educate, enlighten”, and to this end there are various talks and walks run by various beer celebs. Star turn for beer geeks must be Garrett Oliver, doing various sessions on beer with food, including beer & cheese and beer & chocolate pairings. Many members of the British beer-writing gliterati are also there, and some of the sessions look very interesting indeed.
But… the whole thing smacks a bit of “beer is the new wine” to me. There’s quite a hefty entrance fee — £14 in advance, £17 on the door, which doesn’t include any of the beer walks or talks. Lots of the talks are focused on beer and food. There’s no-one over the age of 30 on the promotional material. There’s even a bloody dress code. Although if this is mostly to stop the sexist t-shirts, I don’t mind so much…
There’s also no mention of real ale, which is perhaps why I’ve not seen much mention of this in official CAMRA press or on their website. They do have a stand there, though, so hopefully real ale is not going to be entirely neglected in this sensory exploration. While I firmly believe that there are some great non-real beers in the world, real ale is an important and uniquely British part of the beer story.
So — an interesting radical approach to extending the appeal of beer, or a pretentious marketing exercise? Are tutored tastings and food pairings the way to enlightenment? If this kind of exercise helps people learn about wine, why not apply it to beer?
We’ll go along with an open mind and report back…
*are they bringing monks??
Beer Exposed is on at the Business Design Centre in Islington from 25th-27th September. You have to pick a four hour slot to attend. You can find a full schedule of events, plus details about the speakers, sessions and who’s exhibiting on the Beer Exposed website.
Don’t worry — this isn’t a rant about CAMRA or beer festivals — more of a sheepish explanation.
We’re probably not going to make it to the Great British Beer Festival this year because we’re doing other stuff. Boak is in Wales on a wee break (more on that soon). I’m working a lot and have a few long-standing social engagements which can’t be dodged, or relocated to an aircraft hangar in West London where there’s loads of beer.
Nothing dramatic or exciting going on; no big stand being made. Just crapness on our part.
Having said that, there’s surely something significant in the fact we haven’t managed to find the time to go to the most important event in the British beer drinkers’ calendar. Maybe we don’t really like beer very much?
If you’re desperate for coverage of GBBF, we’d recommend Stonch and Pete for a more sceptical angle; Tandleman for the insider’s perspective; Maieb if you want to know what the beer’s like; and Beer Nut for… well, he’s unpredictable, isn’t he? Whatever he comes up with will be good, at any rate.
The White Horse on Parsons Green is hosting an American beer festival, starting today and going through til Sunday. We’ve never actually made it to the Sloany Pony and unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to make it this weekend either. Pete Brown has the beer list.
The Pembury, in Hackney, is hosting another of its festivals from the 16th-20th July. As well as your chance to try forty-odd beers, you can also sample Moravka, which they now have on tap. Their website is here.
The very same weekend, there’s a beer and jazz festival in Greenwich. It seems a bit more pricy to get in than a lot of festivals (£12.50 after 5pm, with a £1 discount for CAMRA members) so interesting to see how this new event will go down. Then again, you are paying for the nice location (Old Royal Naval College) and entertainment, not to mention over 140 ales, ciders and bottled beers. It replaces the Catford beer festival, apparently.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of the GBBF in a month’s time…
Session number 16 is hosted by Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog, and the topic is beer festivals.
We’ve posted about various festivals we’ve been to in the past, from the enormous Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) to a cosy little event in a pub round the corner. Here, in no particular order, are our thoughts on what makes our ideal beer festival;
Size of venue
Small and cosy. Aircraft hangars are great for putting in as many beers as possible, but they make it difficult to generate an atmosphere.
Mind you, large beer tents seem to work in Germany. In fact, outdoor festivals are a great idea, although not so much in Britain with the rubbish weather and the diva-like nature of cask ale.
Range of beer
The range of beer will obviously be related to the size of the venue. We’re quite content to have a smallish range – anything more than about six beers counts as a festival to us! It’s more important that it’s in good condition, so that when you give it to your non-ale-loving mates, there’s a chance they might actually like the stuff and come back for more.
Mixed. It seems to make for a better atmosphere when you have non-beer-geeks there as well. This is why we like small festivals in local pubs.
Reason for being
It should not be a cynical marketing trick, like Heineken’s Identikit Oktoberfests in Spain. Ideally, it should promote real ale to new punters, although foreign beer festivals like the recent cracker at Zeitgeist are also OK by us!
Essential for mopping up all the beer, but also quite a handy tool for drawing in non-beer geeks. I’ve had lots of great food at festivals recently, with events such as the Pig’s Ear being a showcase for local(ish) small producers.
Difficult, this one. Without wanting to descend into predictable folkie-bashing, I’ve seen some dreadful live acts at beer festivals. Live bands can work really well, as Bailey found out in deepest darkest Somerset, but when they’re bad, they’re horrid. If festival organisers are going to bother with live music, they need to make sure they book real crowd-pleasers.
I quite like oompah bands, but I think you can only get away with them in Germany, where everyone knows the words. In Muenchen steht ein hofbrauhaus, eins, zwei, g’suffa!
To summarise: we’d like beer festivals to emphasise the “festival” a bit more – it should be something that’s fun and brings people together.
What better use of a day’s holiday than to pretend you’re in Germany? And how much easier when someone has gone and laid on a German beer festival for you, complete with many beers dispensed Franconian-style out of little wooden barrels.
This won’t be a detailed review, as we drank too much to remember many details — as did everyone else, by the sound of it … there are now no more festival beers left.
We remember a large range of beer from the Bolten-Brauerei from outside Duesseldorf, with their Alt being particularly nice. Hofmann Export Dunkel Lagerbier was a great example of the complexity that Franconian Dunkels can deliver. Our stand-out favourite was a Dunkel-Rauch by SternBrau-Scheubel which had a gorgeous Maerzen-like malt flavour and amber colour, with a hefty hoppiness and a subtle but complex smoke taste.
We thought the mix of people and the atmosphere was great – some tickers, some trendies, some locals, but everyone getting into it. It was the kind of place you could bring non-beer geeks to (we did) without worrying about whether they’d have a good time.
This was easily one of my favourite festivals of all time. Do it again, chaps!
Ron Pattinson blogged about Hofmann here.
I’m sure it doesn’t need plugging from us, but in case you’d (a) somehow missed it and (b) are in London in the next few days, there’s a rather exciting German beer festival going on at Zeitgeist in Vauxhall, with loads of cool obscure Franconian beers.
Our review of Zeitgeist from February can be found here. We still love the place.
Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this up, but we wanted to do it justice. We’re very pleased with both the number (43, we make it) and the quality of responses. We’ve gone back to re-read several of them already. Incidentally, if we have left you off – sorry, it’s not intentional, and do let us know!
It’s been absolutely fascinating getting the insight into the people behind these great beer blogs. We’ve all come to “good beer” from very different places. As well as contributions from all over the US, we’ve had posts from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Argentina, and Lithuania.
However, some themes do emerge…
One of the reasons for suggesting the topic is that our epiphany seemed so sudden — during a week-long holiday.
Al at Hop Talk writes about the moment at a barbecue when he realised that two beers he’d thought were more-or-less the same actually had distinct characteristics. A lightbulb moment.
Maeib describes something similar. He was interested to discover several different styles on one day, in one pub, which piqued his curiosity. He’s been on a quest for the perfect beer ever since.
Kieran Haslett-Moore from New Zealand had his big moment on a train when he drank his first Emerson’s and realised beer could have character. He is now one of the keenest proponents of cask ale in his hemisphere. So that would be a life changing moment, then.
Wheat beer is a great introduction to decent beer, and it was an American version which brought Jon at the Brew Site on board. He describes Widmer Hefeweizen as “thick, yeasty, bready, crisp, bracing, and the most delicious beer to pass my lips ever” and says it opened his eyes. Yes, that does indeed sound very tasty.
The Beer Nut‘s conversion came shortly before he actually drank the fabled beer, when a polemic printed on the back of a menu at the Porterhouse in Dublin roused his passions. Fortunately, the beer was good enough to justify the rhetoric.
Rick Lyke underlines a point that came through in many people’s posts — the beer that turns you on doesn’t have to be that great, just better than what you’ve been drinking before. In his case, he flashed the cash as a 17 year old and spent nearly four times as much as his mates buying a German import which blew his mind. He’s never looked back! The same goes for Chipper Dave (great nickname!) who had his head turned by a humble bottle of Labatt’s Blue and then again, a few years later, by Guinness. And Eric Delia isn’t ashamed to admit that a can of Miller Lite set his heart aflutter. At the age of 10. Crivens.
Stacey at Hodoeporicon (her first Session) tells us that she “got it” when she drank Schooner, a poorly regarded Canadian beer. It’s not that the beer was especially great — just that it was something other than Bud Light. Now she is “the person who brings good beer to the party & orders draft or cask ales when everyone else is pounding Buds“. From little acorns…
Jay Brooks was stationed on Staten Island with an army band (!) when he tried Bass and Guinness and realised that there was more to beer than light American lagers. If you want to read more, see his semi-fictional memoir of a beer drinker, written in 30 days as part of National Novel Writing Month.
Dr Joel tells of his first sip of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the car park at a gig, which left him dazed and confused and in love with hops. If you decide you love hops, you more-or-less have to give up on bog standard beers, right? And, on the flipside, Thomas at Geistbear Brewing Blog tells us that he had his head turned by a malty dunkelweizen, whilst studying the language in Germany.
Another touching tale of teenage experimentation comes from Heath, whose excellent post sees him admit to something lots of us do — choosing his first batch decent beer based on how cool the labels looked! Not a bad way to go about it, if his list is anything to go by.
Knut Albert discovered an interest in beer whilst travelling around Europe with a gang of friends as a young man. Being a friendly type, he got talking to some British lads in a train station on the continent (he shared a melon with them…) and found himself a few days later drinking Young’s Special with them at a pub in Sutton. Sutton!?
And the last of our batch of people turned on by beers they’re not so keen on these days, Pivni Filosof, who was so used to boring Quilmes in his native Argentina that when a new beer came on the market which was brewed to the Rheinheitsgebot (as opposed to containing “who knew what”) he couldn’t help but be impressed. Then he moved to the Czech republic…
For Chela, enlightenment was a gradual process, including formative periods in London and Edinburgh. Immersion in a particular beer culture did the job, in other words, which is also true for Stonch, whose six months in Prague rewired his tastebuds and brain.
Dr Fabulous (not his birth name) was similarly seduced over the course of years by beers from abroad, but consumed most of them at home, finding in them a hint of the exotic which was hard to resist.
Alan at A Good Beer Blog is a bit fed up of the navel-gazing of recent Sessions, but nonetheless tells a fascinating tale of drinking beer, getting to like beer, and then, after several years, discovering that there a beer scene was emerging which he wanted to be part of. He read an article in the Atlantic Monthly which gave him a glimpse of “what beer could be” and hasn’t looked back.
David at Musings over a pint was drinking “better beer” along with the bog standard stuff for ages without making a particular distinction and, after time, just stuck with the good stuff. No blinding light there. And Stan at Appellation beer (founder of the Session) narrows it down to five incidents over the course of nearly 40 years. Lew Bryson also lists several occasions when it might have happened, or nearly happened, but decides ultimately that the terminal moment was when he started to take notes and keep a diary. To note: Lew’s loyal fans have started recording their own “turning points” in the comments, making his post a session within a session. Take a look!
Brewmaster Matt had a few steps along the way, but thinks several years of being interested in beer all came together on a wine-tasting tour of Europe which ended up as a beer-tasting tour of Germany! That’s what we like to hear…
Martin, the Electric Landlord, was slowly converted by repeated exposure to one beer (Holt’s Bitter) in one pub (the Crescent, Salford) as a student. Is there such a thing as a monogamous beer geek? And if so, what does that make tickers and scoopers? The swingers of the beer drinking world?
The Beer Philosopher also got into beer gradually at college, but the best part of his post is about the moment when he nearly got turned off beer for life, drinking a very cheap, very generic beer with a friend as a thirsty 14 year old.
Which brings us to one of our favourite posts, from the Black Cat Brewery in Ireland. Thom not only took a while to get into beer, but worked bloody hard at it, too. He didn’t, stricly speaking, like the beers he was tasting, but really wanted to. Eventually, Erdinger Weissbier took him by the hand and showed him the ropes with appropriate care and gentleness…
The time, the place, the people
Martynas from Lithuania tells us that, despite drinking baltic porter/barley wine for breakfast as a student, he didn’t really get into beer until he found himself working as cheap labout in Yorkshire and got into the habit of washing the dust from his throat with pints of real ale. Incidentally, we bought a bottle of the breakfast beer he mentions today — we’ll let you know how that goes!
Yorkshire seems to exert a magical effect on potential beer lovers. Andy over at Beerbuzzing grew up in Tadcaster, home of Sam Smiths, so just couldn’t avoid decent beer. He joined CAMRA to get into festivals on the cheap.
Rob at Sophisticated Brews had a relatively late moment of clarity at the age of 41 when he joined an outing to a ball game which stopped off at the Goose Island brewery on the way. He says that, there and then, he “realized how crappy the stuff I’d been drinking was”. Mmmmm. Goose Island. Gargle.
Jessica, the Thirsty Hopster, drank beer at first because everyone else was doing it and she didn’t want to be a pain in the arse. And if she was going to drink beer, she might as well find one she actually liked — which turned out to be Magic Hat No. 9.
Mario at Brewed for Thought also got into beer because he was trying to make friends in a new town and the local pub just happened to have amazing beer. If he’d gone to university in a different city, it might never have happened. Shudder. And Buttle got into beer because he lived around the corner from an import specialist called Beers of the World and thought he might as well have a nose around. Those are both great stories of how making the most of what’s going on in your town can change your life for the better.
Finally, there’s Steve, who was taking part in a USC tailgate (it’s like a foreign language…) when, under the influence of a tasty Sam Adams, he rashly agreed with a fellow sports fan that they should try to drink as many different beers as they could. He didn’t realise quite what a commitment he was making…
A number of people have come to good beer via homebrewing. Legendary home-brew guru Charlie Papazian gives his story here. It’s also and important part of the story for Rick at the Brew Blog, Keith at Brainard Brewing, and Wilson at Brewvana, who was also lucky enough to be born with “the beer gene”. Nicolino at Cerveza al sur de Ecuador in a Spanish-language post mentions hombrewing as an important factor, but also credits the Argentinian economic crisis of 2001; apparently this led to overnight cessation in imports of foreign beers, and subsequently a rise in homegrown microbreweries!
Finally, there is the unclassifiable. Troy at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer reports on how his obsession started with fascinating empty bottles he found in garbage trucks (that’s rubbish lorries to us Brits). Rob from Pfiff! tells us that he was bred on the good stuff, and couldn’t get his hands on crappy macro-brew if he tried. Lucky devil. Similarly, Paul Arthur skipped the fizzy lagers, making his way to beer via single malt whiskies and fine wine. The beer that did it for him was Ommegang Abbey Ale, which we’ve always wanted to try but never seen on sale in the UK.
Flying Dog Brewery tell us about their founding here.
Stephen Beaumont wrote a lovely post, but his site is down right now. We’ll update as and when.
Estoy escribiendo este post en español, pero necesito un poco más tiempo…
The next session will be hosted by Thomas at Geist Bear