The best of British and from around the world
- Credit: Archant
Beer will climb Olympian heights in London next week as the annual Great British Beer Festival kicks off with beery pleasures from all round the world. The festival, staged by the St Albans-based Campaign for Real Ale, runs from 13-17 August at Kensington Olympia and, unlike most other major beer festivals, doesn’t restrict its choice to just home-grown beer.
If you go to the Great American Beer Festival you will get just American beers. If you go to the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich, the beers come only from the south German city. But at Olympia you will find beers from the United States along with several mainland European countries, including Belgium and the Czech Republic.
But British beer won’t be neglected. There will be 400 cask ales to enjoy from this country along with a great choice of ciders and perries.
The festival will be a celebration of the astonishing revival of British real ale. In spite of hard economic times, pub closures and cheap supermarket booze, new small breweries continue to open at a rate of knots. There are now more than 1,000 breweries operating in Britain, the biggest number since the 1930s.
Consumption is smaller today than 80 years ago but if the Brits are drinking less they are certainly drinking better. The quality of beer has never been greater and there’s also a stunning choice. In the 1930s drinkers would have been offered just mild and bitter, but today’s beer lovers are confronted by a cornucopia of pleasure, including India Pale Ale, porter, stout, golden ale, wheat beer, barley wine, vintage ale, and beer aged in wine and whisky barrels.
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One of our local breweries, Wells & Young’s of Bedford, will be in evidence with their Bombardier Bus, based on an old London Routemaster. As well as promoting its leading premium bitter, W&Y will also offer a rare chance to drink its Courage Imperial Russian Stout straight from the cask. The beer is a faithful recreation of the strong London stouts exported to Russia and the Baltic States in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The beer was so popular at the court of Catherine the Great that she granted it a royal warrant, hence the “imperial” in the title.
Courage was based at Tower Bridge, handy for the London docks and export to Europe and beyond. W&Y head brewer Jim Robertson brewed the last batch of Imperial Russian Stout at the London site before it closed and he has taken great delight, as well as care and attention, to recreating the 10 per cent beer at Bedford. It’s usually only available in bottle and I, for one, am looking forward with keen anticipation to sampling the version from the cask.
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The beer is featured in my new book 300 More Beers to Try Before You Die, which will be launched at Olympia. The book’s predecessor, 300 Beers to Try Before You Die, has been sufficiently successful to prompt the new title, which is my choice of some of the finest beers I have sampled on my travels. The book includes a wide range of beers from Britain but I have also chosen a considerable number from North America, central and eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand.
The festival begins on Tuesday, August 13, with the announcement of the winner of the coveted title of Champion Beer of Britain. Following that result, I will conduct a tasting at 6pm that will include the champion beer and the winners of the others classes in the competition. I will repeat the tasting on Wednesday at 1.30 and that evening at 6pm I will stage a tasting of beers from my new book.
Other leading beer writers and experts will also hold beer talks during the course of the week. There will be live music at lunchtimes and stands offering a wide range of good food. For full details of opening times and ticket prices go to www.gbbf.org.uk.
You can get to the festival by Underground to Earl’s Court and then a special District Line shuttle to Olympia. Alternatively, from St Albans, take the train to West Hampstead and then catch the Overground service direct to Kensington Olympia.
Don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of the best beers in the world. See you there!
*Follow Roger on Twitter @RogerProtzBeer. He edits the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.