Session #16: our ideal beer festival

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.


Saison — what’s it all about?

Saison 1900 beer in the Dove pub, Hackney, London

I consider these beers [saisons] truly glorious and endlessly interesting. As with wheels of great artisanal cheese, every bottle of saison is very slightly different — it lives its own life, tells its own tale.”

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table

I’ve only had saison twice — the same one (1900) in the same pub (the Dove) two years apart.

That’s not enough data for me to work with in terms of understanding it as a type of beer.

1900 (like rather a lot of Belgian and French beers) has a somewhat overpowering burnt sugar flavour and, like Altbier, finishes with a kind of metallic, dry bitterness. Garrett Oliver isn’t kidding when he says it tastes better with food: I much prefered it once I’d eaten some flame grilled meat and some salty chips, when it seemed drier and less sickly.

But I’m not blown away. Is 1900 a rubbish example of this type of beer? If not, what am I missing? And if so, which others should I try instead?


Chaos on tube as drinking ban hits London public transport

As you may have picked up from other blogs (including Impy Malting and Knut Albert), there was a party last night to mark the drinking ban on London transport.

It appears to have turned into a bit of a riot, as can (sadly) be expected when large groups of boozy Brits get together. I didn’t go, as I thought it would get nasty. The BBC has the story.

While not wanting to make light of the fact that people got assaulted, trains got damaged etc, I can’t help a little giggle over the fact that new Mayor Boris Johnson’s politicking has already backfired on him. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care about being able to drink or not on the Tube — I’m not an alcoholic. But I don’t think many Londoners would say that people drinking on public transport was one of London’s big issues, and we’ve already got laws and regulations to cover the potential nasty side effects like assault, abuse etc. The whole, unenforceable gesture was to make Boris look tough on law and order, and it’s managed to cause a major law and order incident. Nice one.

Incidentally, drinking is still allowed on national rail services (where they sell it to you), which is where I’ve experienced the worst anti-social behaviour. Worse because people are on it for longer and thus drink more, and because you can’t get off and wait for the next train if it gets bad.