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.