Increased costs of GBBF cause CAMRA to make a loss

gbbf.jpgThis month’s “What’s Brewing” contains the CAMRA financial statements, showing an operating loss of £71K compared to an operating profit of £44K last year. Net current liabilities are also up considerably.

Slightly concerned about the financial position of the organisation, I eventually found some commentary in “Beer”, the other paper that comes out with What’s Brewing. Apparently, the loss is due to not meeting income targets from the Great British Beer Festival. The commentary from the chair, Paula Waters, says that:

…we had to experiment with the amount of beer we bought in in order to judge how much we will require in future…we now know what we need to do to make the event work in 2008 with lower costs and the right amount of beer”

Interesting. I suppose it’s all well and good us members making demands about what the GBBF should contain, but we do need to remember that this is one of the premier sources of income for CAMRA. It’s oviously a fine balance to get enough beers to appeal to the hardened tickers yet not have too much left over at the end.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind a smaller selection, particularly if it was kept better. Let’s face it, even if you sat there from opening day to closing day and had a liver of iron, you’d never get through it all. Other members may disagree.

The Pembury is having another beer festival…

…but you’ve only got a day left.

We somehow managed to miss / forget that the Pembury was having a beer festival, but fortunately happened to be going that way anyway today.

So if you are in the area, as always, it’s worth popping in.  There was a bunch of lovely ales from the Jarrow brewery, which should be enough to get most of you in.  Of interest in the continuing theme of novelty beer marketing was the “Back to Black” Amy Winehouse-inspired beer from Huntingdonshire brewery Son of Sid.  Tasted a lot like Milton’s Nero, and was certainly pulling in the punters with the unusual name / pump clip.

Highlight taste-wise was Dark Star’s Six Hop Ale, obviously a nod to American beer styles with its “extreme” hoppiness.  It does it well, having hop complexity without being overly bitter or grassy.  At 6.5%, it’s not a session beer, but it’s very tasty. There might be room for strong “extreme” beers from the cask if people can get used to drinking them by the half.

So go along if you can. Just try to avoid sitting next to the smelly racists who crashed our table.

Update on the Speaker

We popped along to the Speaker last night. All their guest beers this week are from Somerset. We tried Cotleigh Barn Owl (pleasant), Moor Revival (great) and Newman’s Wolvers Ale (funny tasting, but drinkable). As Tandleman pointed out, this pub is from the 70s — there’s a big tin of Henri Winterman’s cigars behind the bar, ploughmans were on offer, and there was a man drinking at the bar who looked like Peter Sutcliffe.

Somerset beer festival in central London

speaker.jpgThe venerable Speaker, on Great Peter Street, Westminster, is having a Somerset beer festival from today.

This is a great idea and bound to appeal to homesick bumpkins like me.

I’ll admit that Somerset beer isn’t amongst the most exciting in the world, on the whole, but there are tons of small breweries in Taunton, Berrow, Frome, Yeovil, Wiveliscombe, Ashcott and elsewhere. I just hope their beer travels well.

The Speaker itself is a curious place. It’s the traditional haunt of old-school civil servants with a fondness for liquid lunches, and the windows are full of passive-aggressive signs (“This is a real pub! We don’t have music…” and so on). But for all that, it’s rather charming, with surprisingly friendly staff, and a deep commitment to serving a variety of interesting real ales from around the country.


A model beer festival

The Castle in Walthamstow has just hosted what might be the model beer festival.

The pub, which has struggled to attract the same crowds as its sister pub the Nag’s Head around the corner, was absolutely packed tonight.

The landlord was quite emotional: “I never expected it to be this popular. We’ll definitely be doing another one. And I’m going to get more real ales on the bar.

Here’s what worked:

1. Let the local CAMRA types choose the beers and run the festival bar — “leave it to the experts,” as the landlord said.

2. Keep the selection small. There were about 10 beers, which is just the right amount. We tried almost all of them and didn’t leave wondering what we’d missed.

3. Choose beers carefully. All of the beers on offer were decent, though some were better than others. We were particularly impressed by Saltaire Cascade, Kinver Edge and Dark Star Mild.

The CAMRA people running the bar were friendly and plainly delighted to be doing good trade. The rest of the pub was full of locals who were just intrigued to try something new.

If you can, pop down tomorrow (there won’t be any beer left on Sunday). Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled and come to the next Castle beer festival.

Another London beer festival

Sadly, we didn’t make the Battersea beer festival this year (work and family stuff) so we were delighted to notice last night that the Castle in Walthamstow, East London, is having a beer festival. It’s running on the 15-17th of February.

It’s supported by the local CAMRA branch, and promises, in massive lettering, “Ales, milds, STOUTS and PORTERS”. I’m hoping the massive letters mean an emphasis on warming, wintry brews.

The Castle itself is the sister pub of the Nag’s Head, although it’s struggling to build up quite the same level of buzz or custom. Surely worth a visit when there’s a festival on, though, and one of a few pubs in the area with potential.


The Castle is at 15 Grosvenor Rise, Walthamstow E17 9LB.

The picture above isn’t of the Castle — it’s an old one from this post, also about Walthamstow.

Pig’s Ear beer festival, Hackney

pigs-ear.gifWe managed to make it to the Pig’s Ear in the end, and we’re extremely glad we made the effort. The beer lists were impressive, and everything we had was in good condition (unlike GBBF – but to be fair, it’s probably easier to keep things in condition in the winter, and when you’re not in an aircraft hanger.)

There was a good mix of people there for a beer festival – at least 10 women and many men without beards. No, seriously, it was good to see that it attracted locals as well as CAMRA members, as this can only be good for spreading the real ale message. I met locally-based Italians, Australians and Poles there as well, enjoying the beer.

Also a good idea is letting students in free – get’em when they’re young and pretentious, I say.

We had lots of great beers, but some that really stood out for us were;

  • Dark Star’s “Smoke on the Porter” – as you may guess, a slightly smoky porter
  • Dorset’s “Advent-ageous” – awful name, great beer. Described as a “Christmas beer” and subtly spicy, but extremely drinkable.
  • De Ranke Pere Noel – strong flavoured belgium blonde, impressive flavour for “only” being 7%
  • De Regenboog Smisje Kerstbier (in bottles) – at 11%, the perfect nightcap. Had drunk too much by then to give any useful description of what it tasted like, but we sat around going “wow” a lot.

We also picked up a number of interesting takeaways. And the Wobbly Bottom cheese stall was fabulous.

It’s on until Saturday, so there’s still time to visit!


All the details you need are here on the Pig’s Ear website. Even if you live outside London, don’t be put off by the fact it’s “in the suburbs”, it’s only about 10 minutes from Liverpool Street by train.

PS Also want to mention that we popped into the Pembury Tavern for a warm-up drink and the Augustus pale ale is absolutely superb.

Wedmore Real Ale Festival 2007


I spent Saturday evening at a real ale festival in Wedmore, Somerset, former home of Gary Glitter. It’s apparently Somerset’s biggest beer festival and was unlike any other I’ve been to, in a good way.

Wedmore is in the middle of nowhere with a population of fewer than 4000 people, so a three day beer festival is a big deal, and pretty much everyone who lives nearby turned up. I didn’t see one bearded bloke with a notebook, just lots of locals out to have fun and get drunk.

That meant that the atmosphere was genuinely lively. The little village hall was incredibly crowded, which was annoying until we’d had two pints, when it suddenly felt like the cosiest, friendliest place on Earth.

There was loud music; dancing; and there were even some people on the pull. Successfully on the pull. At a beer festival. You don’t see much of that at the Great British Beer Festival, do you? Or is there a special area for it…?

What about the beer? Well, that was great too. There were some 50 beers on offer and, it being Somerset, loads of decent cider.

I had St Austell Black Prince (a mild); something called Trade Winds that, disappointingly, wasn’t the Cairngorm beer of the same name I tried at the Pembury Tavern beer festival; Wentworth oatmeal stout (fantastically fulsome and smoky, if not complex); and a “Black as yer ‘at”. Is that a racial epithet? Hope not.

My Dad had a pint of Thwaites Lancaster Bomber that was mostly sediment but, as the proceeds of the event were going to charity, he gallantly poured it away rather than cause a big fuss at the very busy bar.

He also had something called Dr Hexter’s Healer which was a massively malty strong ale with no medicinal properties whatsoever….

I will be back there next year, for sure.

Bierfest by numbers in Don Quijote country

Boak is on tour in France and Spain.

I was extremely surprised to see posters advertising an Oktoberfest in Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful town in the Castille-La Mancha region of Spain (the dry bit in the middle), famous for cheese, honey, cooking with strange bits of animal… but not really for its beer. A closer look revealed the event to be “sponsored” (i.e. organised) by Paulaner, who have organised similar festivals in other Spanish cities. The Cuenca local authorities then tagged on a tapas festival, where different restaurants and bars have stalls and offer a couple of dishes each.

Obviously I had to go along and have a look. It appeared to be in the car park of a housing estate, with a huge Paulaner tent dominating the proceedings (not in the photo). Inside was the requisite oompah band, Paulaner on tap, a mixture of German and Spanish snacks and some tacky souvenirs.

The outside was definitely where it was at — I got the impression the locals weren´t quite sure what they were supposed to do in the tent. They were certainly slightly bemused by the band. That said, the tent was beginning to fill when I left, and no doubt it turned into a wild fiesta afterwards. Perhaps.

Like the locals, I´m not sure what to make of it all. On the one hand, the combination of good beer and tapas is a match made in heaven. On the other hand, this is not so much a genuine cultural exchange as a mass-marketing technique by Paulaner. If you read Spanish, here´s an article from Marketing Magazine last year, which says that by promoting these festivals, Paulaner want to develop the appreciation of beer in Spain. Well, that´s nice of them. Funny that their generosity doesn´t extend to promoting beers from other breweries. Here´s a link to the London Bierfest, which looks identical.

Do we really want these Identikit beer festivals springing up all over the place? Sure, I dream of a world where every town has a beer festival — but not exactly the same festival wherever you go.


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 (c) 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.