The Great British Beer Festival – highlights


A quick post on the high­lights of GBBF for us. More posts to come on some of the beers we had there in the next cou­ple of days…

Things we liked about GBBF

  1. The diver­si­ty of the pun­ters. You get a lot of peo­ple here who would not nor­mal­ly come to beer fes­ti­vals. The ratio of women to men is con­sid­er­ably high­er here than at oth­er fes­ti­vals, and it’s not uncom­mon to see groups of women enjoy­ing the beers. OK, so there’s still a queue for the gents but none at all for the ladies… but each time we come back to GBBF (we were last here a cou­ple of years ago) it becomes more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the UK pop­u­la­tion as a whole.
  2. Obvi­ous­ly, the huge num­bers of beers, from some quite obscure brew­eries. Nice to see so many milds, porters and stouts – even real ale pubs don’t tend to stock these as much as “plain” bit­ters styles. Our favourites from the UK were “Old Fred­die Walk­er” from the Moor Beer Com­pa­ny in Som­er­set – a dark strong ale (7.3%) with a love­ly rich, raisiny flavour, and Glen­coe Wild Oat Stout, made by the Bridge of Allan Brew­ery in Scot­land. This lat­ter packed in a huge amount of flavour for its 4.1% – and it’s organ­ic too.
  3. We liked the lay­out by region, and the “new” stalls, such as the veg­e­tar­i­an / organ­ic beer, and the “Bar Nou­veau” – handy for help­ing you organ­ise your ses­sion!
  4. The Bieres Sans Fron­tieres stalls. The beer-tast­ing high­light of the evening was prob­a­bly a cou­ple of Amer­i­can beers – Pen­nichuk Hal­li­gan RyePA (5.1%) and the Portsmouth Brewery’s “Bot­tle­Rock­et” IPA (6.something I think). Both full of aro­ma and flavour­ing hops, but beau­ti­ful­ly bal­anced.
  5. The third-of-a-pint mea­sure. Real­ly nice lit­tle glass­es, fab­u­lous for tast­ing as much as pos­si­ble – and eco­nom­i­cal too. And you didn’t feel bad about tip­ping 60-pence worth of beer down the sink.
  6. The pro­gramme was extreme­ly help­ful to beer-geeks and non-beer-geeks alike, and help­ful­ly priced at £1. The tast­ing notes, basic infor­ma­tion about beer, and inter­est­ing arti­cles about beer and food, and the “local” nature of cask beer, will sure­ly help raise inter­est in good beer amongst the casu­al pun­ters.
  7. The fact that we found some Baltic porters! We bought these for take­away (and lat­er blog posts). Seri­ous­ly impressed that GBBF can deliv­er what even spe­cial­ist beers shops and Russ­ian delis can­not…
  8. The food selec­tion – we thought this was pret­ty decent, with a range of meat prod­ucts, Thai & Indi­an food, and of course “snacks to beer” (pork scratch­ings and pies). Not too over-priced either, con­sid­er­ing this was a “pre­mier venue” in the mid­dle of Lon­don.

Devel­op­ment points

It seems churl­ish to point to weak­ness­es when we had such a good time, but as my line man­ag­er would say, there’s always some­thing you could do bet­ter.

  1. The con­di­tion of the beers. This is prob­a­bly our biggest gripe – let’s face it, a beer fes­ti­val is not the best place to store cask ale, and a lot of the beers we tried (par­tic­u­lar­ly low ABV British styles) were slight­ly off – had to tip a few down the sink. To return to the point of yesterday’s post, it seems a shame to get so many poten­tial new pun­ters in one spot and then serve them stuff that smells like farts and tastes like cider. No, I wasn’t at the cider and per­ry bar at the time!
  2. More seat­ing – or at least make sure the floor’s a bit clean­er. If I was being real­ly lah-di-dah, I’d sug­gest more umbrel­las for the tables – this would help the venue feel more like a large beer gar­den and less like an air­craft hangar.
  3. It would be great to have some water points. You need some­thing to (a) cleanse your palate (b) cleanse your glass © help stave off the hang­over.

All in all, we had a great time, and well done to CAMRA for excel­lent organ­i­sa­tion. Spe­cial men­tion of the pre-fes­ti­val pub­lic­i­ty on the Tube and in the Lon­don papers for rais­ing aware­ness out­side the beer-geek world.

Don’t just take our word for it!

Oth­er blog­gers have some good per­spec­tives on GBBF. Stonch gives us a fab­u­lous descrip­tion of the atmos­phere, togeth­er with a roll-call of the great and the good in UK brew­ing. We loved Pete “the sec­ond-best beer drinker in Britain ” Brown’s view on GBBF, which chal­lenges the insis­tence on cask ale but still rec­om­mends you go. Melis­sa Cole (“Girls Guide to beer”) seems to have had a good time as well.


The GBBF is on until Sat­ur­day at Earls Court, Lon­don. We’ve found that a lot of the beer runs out by Fri­day, so go as soon as you can! Link to GBBF page on CAMRA web­site.

Interview: James Clarke, Hook Norton brewery

hooknorton303_beerhunting.jpgJames Clarke is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of leg­endary Oxford­shire brew­ery Hook Nor­ton, and a great grand­son of the brewery’s founder. He dropped by here a few weeks ago to com­ment on a post which men­tioned Hook Nor­ton. We took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sub­ject him to our first ever inter­view.

B&B: How involved in the brew­ing process are you?

JC: Very. I start­ed at HN as Sec­ond Brew­er in 1991, my first job being to estab­lish an in house lab­o­ra­to­ry facil­i­ty. The brew­ing side is the bit I enjoy most, and I still do two or three ear­ly morn­ings brew­ing, as well as every third Sat­ur­day look­ing after fer­men­ta­tions. I have also been respon­si­ble for new beers such as Cotswold Lion, Flag­ship and Beefy’s Bit­ter.

B&B: Which of your beers is your favourite, and why?

JC: I think my favourite has to be Old Hooky, but I am also keen on the envi­ron­ment where I drink my beer, so for exam­ple a Hooky Gold in the sun­shine, sat out­side a pub is a great expe­ri­ence, as is sup­ping a Twelve Days on a dark night in front of the log fire. Depends very much on how the mood takes me.

B&B: Old Hooky is high­ly regard­ed – it’s in both Michael Jackson’s and Roger Protz’s lists of “essen­tial beers”. What’s the secret?

JC: Old Hooky was first brewed as a cel­e­bra­to­ry beer for the Queen’s Sil­ver Jubilee in 1977. It was very pop­u­lar so we kept it going, and ini­tial­ly called it Old Bill, after my grand­fa­ther. How­ev­er that name con­flict­ed with anoth­er Brew­er who was already using it, so it was renamed Old Hooky. It is a good, sol­id, tra­di­tion­al pre­mi­um beer – it deliv­ers good flavour, and a respectable amount of alco­hol. It is very much the big broth­er to our Bit­ter, which itself is known for hav­ing good flavour for a 3.6% beer, and I think these attrib­ut­es are sim­i­lar with Old Hooky, at a pre­mi­um lev­el. A gen­uine qual­i­ty beer, and I think deliv­ers what is expect­ed – no par­tic­u­lar­ly out­landish type flavours, just what one expects from a good ale.

B&B: You make a very good stout – can Britain’s inde­pen­dent brew­ers chal­lenge the dom­i­nance of Guin­ness in pubs?

JC: I love dark beers, and Dou­ble Stout was res­ur­rect­ed in 1996 from a recipe which hadn’t been brewed since 1917. I would love to chal­lenge the G, but it would be tough! I know a num­ber of region­al brew­ers are try­ing with their own stouts, and maybe we should. How­ev­er we have nev­er kegged our beers, and have no keg­ging plant here, and I do feel it would need to be as a smooth beer to attract the G drinkers. Maybe if it worked, we could then try and move drinkers to cask stout? Would be inter­est­ed to hear your read­ers views on this point!

B&B: It would be great to see cask stout avail­able!

B&B: How did Ham­burg­er Union come to sell Hook Nor­ton Bit­ter?

JC: Sor­ry, where or what is Ham­burg­er Union?

B&B: It’s a chain of slight­ly upmar­ket burg­er restau­rants – there are tons in Lon­don. They only sell two beers: Pil­sner Urquell, and Hook Nor­ton Bit­ter.

B&B: Adnam’s are push­ing the envi­ron­men­tal angle at the moment – what are your plans in this area?

JC: Adnams have done a great job in this area, and are jus­ti­fi­ably proud.We are under­tak­ing some stud­ies to see where we can har­ness sur­plus ener­gy
from the process. The Vic­to­ri­ans had some good ideas, where we re-use cool­ing water which gets heat­ed up dur­ing it’s duty, etc.. We have edu­cat­ed staff regard­ing indi­vid­ual ener­gy use – PCs, pho­to­copiers etc, and we now need to tack­le the big­ger bits. One of our engi­neers has been work­ing with an Oxford­shire Ener­gy forum, and the next step is to get the Car­bon Trust involved. And of course we use shire hors­es local­ly for deliv­er­ies!

B&B: What would be your five desert island beers (not count­ing your own…)?


  1. Youngs Bit­ter – just a great beer, rel­a­tive­ly mod­est alco­hol con­tent, but a great ses­sion beer (if I am allowed to say that with the cur­rent alco­hol lob­by).
  2. Don­ning­ton Bit­ter – a local beer for me, and brewed in the most pic­turesque brew­ery, with great yeast (from HN).
  3. Fullers ESB, bot­tled – prob­a­bly the great­est bal­ance of hop aro­ma on a bot­tled beer I have ever tast­ed – had some last Wednes­day, and remind­ed me of just how good it is!
  4. Coop­ers Pale Ale – I had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing their Brew­ery a cou­ple of years ago, as well as some great beers, there was an amaz­ing Com­pa­ny ethos – some of the nicest peo­ple I have met.
  5. A Czech beer, can’t remem­ber the name, but a small brew-pub just off Wences­las Square in Prague, where they served the beer direct from fer­men­ta­tion tank. Had two great nights there, even had my wal­let stolen, but that didn’t detract from the enjoy­ment!

B&B: What future devel­op­ments can we expect from Hook Nor­ton?

JC: We are con­tin­u­al­ly devel­op­ing our beer range. The next new one will be a lim­it­ed edi­tion to cel­e­brate Oxfordshire’s 1000 years. This will be a beer brewed with Oxford­shire grown Maris Otter malt and Fug­gles hops. A dynam­ic beer pro­gramme is essen­tial, and con­sumers seem to love vari­ety.

B&B: We cer­tain­ly do!

JC: We are also look­ing to increase our pub estate, as well as invest­ing in exist­ing pubs. We are just about to com­plete on our 47th pub, and invest sig­nif­i­cant­ly in The Coach and Hors­es in Ban­bury. It is as much about improv­ing what we have as expand­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly with the cur­rent high price of pubs.

B&B: How do you mea­sure suc­cess? Is it about expand­ing the busi­ness; devel­op­ing a wider range; win­ning awards, or some­thing else?

JC: Ulti­mate­ly, suc­cess is about the bot­tom line, but the gen­er­al mea­sure is beer qual­i­ty, and from that stems every­thing else. Our con­sumers mea­sure us on the qual­i­ty of beer – they are far less con­cerned with how much mon­ey we may be mak­ing, or how many pubs we have etc.. By main­tain­ing beer qual­i­ty, and brew­ing new beers, we can build the rest on this.

B&B: What do you think of beer blog­ging?

JC: Beer blog­ging is great, though I must con­fess this is my first encounter. It is an effec­tive way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. There are so many beers out there, many of which are rel­a­tive­ly eas­i­ly acces­si­ble, that it is real­ly the only way to get up-to-date news.What a great bal­ance of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy and tra­di­tion­al process­es!

B&B: James, thanks for answer­ing our ques­tions, and good luck with your plans for the future of Hook Nor­ton.

Brewing again – trying to solve the stuck fermentation problem

We haven’t brewed for a while. Since mov­ing to all-grain brew­ing last year, we’ve had a cou­ple of suc­cess­es – a tasty mild and a black­ber­ry wheat­beer, for exam­ple, as well as some drink­able if unre­mark­able bit­ters. How­ev­er, we’ve suf­fered stuck fer­men­ta­tions in the last cou­ple of brews, and it’s been rather depress­ing. All that effort, and you end up with sug­ary water.

(Note – a stuck fer­men­ta­tion is where it starts off fine, but stops fer­ment­ing before it reach­es the expect­ed final grav­i­ty. Final grav­i­ty should be around 25–30% of the orig­i­nal grav­i­ty. So our last brew had O.G of 1053, but only got down to 1025, i.e. 45%)

This has hap­pened twice (and in fact, our third-from-last brew only got down to 35%), and we can’t under­stand why this has start­ed hap­pen­ing – we’re not doing any­thing dif­fer­ent with the yeast or aer­a­tion, which seem to be the usu­al cul­prits for stuck fer­men­ta­tion.

We con­sult­ed all our books, and searched the inter­net, and came up with the fol­low­ing the­o­ries (and counter-argu­ments). Con­tin­ue read­ing “Brew­ing again – try­ing to solve the stuck fer­men­ta­tion prob­lem”

Go to the Pembury Tavern beer festival

If you’re in Lon­don or with­in a train ride of Lon­don between now and Sat­ur­day, go to the Pem­bury Tav­ern beer fes­ti­val in Hack­ney.

Stonch has kind­ly post­ed all the details here.

We can echo his rec­om­men­da­tion for Cairn­gorm “Trade Winds” – it has a fan­tas­tic aro­ma (prob­a­bly due to the elder­flow­ers) and a com­plex fin­ish. As they say.

We also loved Mil­ton brewery’s Ely­si­um – a very smoky stout. In fact, we loved almost all of the ten or so beers we tried. And they do good food too. Go on. What are you wait­ing for?