GBBF 2019

Last week (from 6-8 August 2019) was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, held as usual in Kensington Olympia. It was well up to standard, and educational, in that it had a key keg (designated ‘kk’ in lists below) bar for the first time, and I learned more about this type of beer – more on that later. This was probably partly the result of the member survey CAMRA held last year, which confirmed support for key keg, although I found reference to a supportive motion passed at a Members Weekend back in 2015. There is also the fact that many of the most innovative brewers are supplying their beers in this way. It’s certainly fashionable now, and I note for example that the Stoke BeerFest will have a key keg bar too this year.

Our arrangements were the same as last year – staying in the Holiday Inn Express near West Brompton Station, and bringing our own food to cover lunch at least. Angela attended on two days – the Tuesday and Wednesday. The CBOB this year was Surrey Hills Shere Drop (4.2% abv), but the queues to sample if after it had been announced were too long to contemplate joining. I’ll look out for it in the year to come. And I didn’t have any particular favourites this year – everything I tried was good.

The beers I sampled (mainly thirds but a few halves) were:

Tuesday 6/08

Five Points Citrus Pale (4.2%)

Salcombe Gold (4.2%)

Anspach & Hobday The Belgian Pale (4.0%)

Bluestone Elderflower Blonde (4.0%)

North Cotswold Jumping Jack Flash (3.8%)

Baker’s Dozen Magic Potion (Loral hops) (3.8%) – not rec. on Untappd, entry ambiguous

Stealth Banoffee Spy (4.4%)

Bull of the Woods Twisted Wheel (4.5%)

Wild Beer Pogo (4.1%)

Boudicca Cherry & Liquorice (Prasto’s Porter) (5.2%)

Mourne Mountains Clan Rye (4.3%)

Also tasted – Moncada Apricot Sour (2.7% kk) which was probably the strongest tasting beer I sampled!

Wednesday 7/08

Avid Raspberry Ripple (4.6%)

Cairngorm Caillie (3.8%)

Old School Headmaster (4.5%)

Oldershaw American Hopquad IPA (5.0%)

Problem Child Tantrum (4.0%)

Beatnikz Republic Tropic Fiesta 4.0%

Beeblefish Pan Galactic Pale (4.6%)

Leigh On Sea Brhubarb (3.9%)

Tiny Rebel Strawberries and Cream (4.5%)

Wild Beer Bibble (4.2% kk)

Magic Rock Saucery (3.9% kk)

Revolutions Swoon (4.5%)

Thursday 8/08

Bishop Nick 1555 (4.3%)

Bishop Nick Heresy (4.0%)

Bradfield Farmer’s Blonde (4.0%)

Five Points XPA (4.0%)

West Berkshire Maharajah IPA (5.1%)

St Austell Korev (4.5%)

Electric Bear Zorbing (4.1% kk)

Gun Scaramanga Extra Pale (3.9%)

Skinner’s Hops ‘n’ Honey (4.0%)

Salcombe Seahorse (4.4%)

Downton Chocolate Orange Delight (5.8%)

Time and Tide Spratwaffler (3.7% kk)

Wimbledon Quartermaine IPA (5.8%)

Once again, I refer to my Untappd account ( for tasting notes on these beers. I should note here that I am a total convert to drinking third pints at beer festivals now!

So, to turn to the subject of key keg, I had some interesting discussions with someone I met at the GBBF, who explained the principles. The ‘keg’ is a plastic bag, not unlike a wine bag, which can come in various sizes (I found references to 10, 20 and 30 litres online). The beer is introduced to the keg, and can be unpasteurised, unfiltered and contain live yeast, so in that case it is real ale according to CAMRA’s definition. The bag is then placed in an airtight box, and CO2 (or another gas, although CO2 is commonly used as many cellars have a supply) pumped into the box, which then squeezes the bag to dispense the beer, but doesn’t actually come into contact with it. One question I have is why some of the kk beers I tried at the GBBF were cold (or at least, cold by the standards of someone used to normal cask conditioned ale). I was told that a cooler is necessary for key keg, but given that the beer is sealed in the keg, I’m not sure why. I haven’t found an explanation for that yet, and this is something I will be looking into. One interesting feature of the kk bar at the GBBF was that there were several low alcohol beers (for example the apricot sour mentioned above), which is a definite plus from the viewpoint of pacing!

All in all, GBBF2019 was very good, and as well as looking forward to GBBF2020, I am planning to attend the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival in January, and possibly the GBBF Winter Festival in Birmingham in February, depending on how busy I am at the time!

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