Silly hats, beer themed tee shirts, pork scratchings… yep it’s that time of year again, CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival – hurrah! 

Last year my blog about the GBBF extolled its virtues as a great day out.  I still believe this to be the case as the myriad of food stalls, games, stuff for sale and the family room make the GBBF a great destination.

Upon entering the great hall at Olympia I found it impossible not to feel exhilaration- the smell of tomato ketchup and burgers, the cheers that rung around the entire festival whenever a punter smashed a glass, the fantastic Neville Staple Band AND hundreds of beers ! Utopia indeed.

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During my first visit I stuck to thirds and tried eight UK beers.  Of these the three stand outs were Great Orme’s Welsh Black, a smooth and rich Mild.   Rocking Robin’s golden ale with a prominent hoppy character Rock A Hula was superb although I have to declare an interest here as my friend of more years than I care to remember Stuart Osgood is a brewer at Rocking Robin.   Nevertheless I hope that you trust my judgement when I say Rock A Hula is a great beer.  I was also mightily impressed with Shepherd Neame’s new Spitfire Gold – a sweet floral golden ale that is to become part of Shep’s core range.   In fact on my second GBBF visit on Friday night not only was the Shepherd Neame stand ‘the place to be’ where groups gathered and danced around but their I love beer tee shirts appeared to be the ‘must have’ GBBF purchase as whole groups of people bought and immediately donned them.

Now in the past I have pondered the place of foreign beers at the GBBF. It is the Great British Beer Festival after all so why include beers from places other than Britain?   More than ever we have a wealth of home grown beers to choose from.  I have mixed feelings about the presence of Perry and Cider as these are both very popular but Wine??? Judging by the very bored look on the faces of the staff manning the wine stand I believe my doubts regarding its inclusion may be justified.
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Having spent the Tuesday session sampling UK beers however I decided to stray outside the British Isles metaphorically speaking and try some foreign beers on my Friday night visit. The theme of the GBBF this year was Discovery after all.

So having travelled to Olympia on a typically grey, misty and wet Friday afternoon in August my whistle stop world tour began.

I decided to head south for my first choice so from sunny Italy I tried a bottle of Birrificio Menaresta’s 2 di Picche. A 6.8% black IPA with smokey treacle notes and a sappy aftertaste.

My only quibble is the price of the bottled beers with some as much as £10. Also given that excellent bottled beers are available all year round from many beer outlets I decided to stick to draft beers thereafter.

The ever popular USA stand was down to just four draft beers so for my second beer I went stateside for Deschutes Brewery Bend Public House’s Bachelor Bitter. 5.3% with a nose of candied fruit this bitter had rich toffee and marmalade notes but to my taste a little lacklustre with zero carbonation.

Flying back to Europe I decided to bypass Belgium and go instead for a Dutch draft beer De Dochter van de Korenaar Belle Fleur, a rather nice dark gold cloudy IPA

From Holland I popped over the border to Germany for a Helles from Klosterbrauerei Andechs.  Andechser Vollbier Hell is cloudy gold beer with a creamy head; this Helles has a nice level of carbonation, and is creamy with grainy and malty notes – a smashing refreshing beer.

Finally heading home I paused briefly in Guernsey for a White Rock Pushang.  At 3.8% this golden beer with malt, caramel and a sweet honey finish is a great session beer.   Get this while you can though as it’s a limited edition.

The popularity of beer is global.  In addition to the countries I ventured to the GBBF featured beers from places as diverse as Iceland, Japan and Jamaica.

Of course we are spoilt for choice here in the UK for great beers but I believe it’s good to try the offerings from overseas and different takes on familiar styles.  It makes me proud to see the British influence so often obvious in the beers, the Bachelor Bitter for example contains East Kent Goldings.

It would have been nice to sip the 2 di Picche black IPA on a veranda in Lombardia or enjoy the thirst quenching Helles in a balmy night in Bavaria but for now the refuge of Olympia on a drizzly Friday will more that do!

Cheers

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