Category Archives: CAMRA & beer

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!

A month ‘on the wagon’, 10 December 2018 – 9 January 2019

I have always felt the idea of ‘Dry January’ was somewhat ludicrous, especially as many people who do it fixate on coming off, and then go totally mad on 1 February, undoing all the good done by their month’s abstinence in one go. This post is not about Dry January, but about my own enforced absence from drinking for other reasons.

In November I got the first symptoms of what turned out to be sciatica (see post on ‘My Annus Horribilis’), but it wasn’t until 10 December that I was prescribed some painkilling drugs which specified ‘no alcohol’ (amitriptyline and later tramadol). So, I have been off the booze since then. I actually came off the medication about 10 days ago, but made the decision to stay ‘dry’ for a month, which takes me neatly to my birthday on 9 January. It means I didn’t drink alcohol for the whole of the Christmas/New Year period. It certainly made everything much simpler (no need to get wine supplies in etc.), and we discovered some excellent non-alcoholic alternatives, drinking the New Year in with a non-alcoholic mulled punch, for example. We are even thinking of doing the same next year, although I hope it won’t be under the same conditions!

I haven’t noticed any difference in the way I feel, probably because the sciatic pain was always there in the background, but it did seem a good opportunity to give my system a rest, and maybe recalibrate it. I’m an enthusiastic beer drinker, as well as enjoying wine and the odd whisky, so a month’s abstinence must have made a difference, especially as it has been my first ‘dry’ spell since I started drinking alcohol at age 18! Angela tells me that I will really notice the effect of the alcohol when I have my first drink, and that a little will go a long way. It will be interesting to see!

I have been paying lip service to ‘Tryanuary’, which counters ‘Dry January’ by encouraging support for the beer industry during January. I’m looking forward to making my support more real in a few days’ time!

GBBF 2018

Last week I had my annual pilgrimage to the Great British Beer Festival. I’m pleased to report that it was as good as ever. As with last year we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Earl’s Court (near West Brompton station), and also as last year, we took food to sustain us during the day while at the Festival). Angela joined me for the trade session again, which is really the best part of the event (less people there and generally a more knowledgeable crowd). The Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) was announced then; this year it was Siren Craft Brew Broken Dream (6.5% abv), which I didn’t try to sample at the Festival (a bit high in abv for my carefully paced drinking!), although it’s one to look out for in the year to come. This year I exclusively drank one-third pints, which made it possible to sample more beer without risking after effects. Last year I mainly drank halves, so this is progress! I should record here that it was Angela’s sensible persuasion that converted me to this. An entire beer festival without drinking a whole pint of any beer is something that should be recorded …

This year I tried so many good beers that deciding on a favourite or favourites is near impossible (although a few notable ones are starred). Instead I list them all below (as usual fellow beer aficionados will find full details on my Untappd account).

Tuesday 7/08/18

Black Iris – Snake Eyes 3.8%

Castle Rock – Black Gold 3.8%

Good Chemistry – Kokomo Weekday 4.3%

Great Western – Alpha Centauri 4.37%

Bristol Beer Factory – Espresso Martini 4.5%

Bowland – Bumble 4.0%

Ossett – White Rabbit 3.8%

Adur – Hop Token: Citra 4.0%

XT – HopKitty 3.9%

Thornbridge – Salted Caramel Ice Cream Porter 4.5% *

Crafty Beers – Sauvignon Blonde 4.4%

White Rock – Pushang 3.8%

Baker’s Dozen – Electric Landlady 5.0%

Wednesday 8/08/18

Milk Street – Taiheke 4.3%

Turpin – Golden Citrus 4.2%

Prescott – Super 6 #3 4.5%

Staggeringly Good – StaggerSaurus 4.0%

Great Newsome – Elderflower Power 4.6%

Rother Valley – Ruby Wheat Beer 4.4%

Cerne Abbas – Watercress Warrior 4.5%

Colchester – Brazilian Coffee & Vanilla Porter 4.6% *

Lacada – 9 Rubies 5.5% *

Brass Castle – Hazelnut Mild 4.2%

Purple Moose – Elderflower Ale 4.0%

Rudgate – Brew No. 34 Dinga Dinga 4.0%

Panther – Berry Bite 5.5%

Brewster – Hophead 3.6%

Three B’s – Pinch Noggin 4.6%

Thursday 9/08/18

Incredible – Coriander & Lime 5.6%

Elliswood – Just One More 4.2%

Fuzzy Duck – Bramling Cross 3.7%

Tillingbourne – Surrey Sour 4.2%

Thornbridge – Strawberry Lucaria 4.5% *

Thornbridge – Jessamine 4.7%

Enville – White 4.2%

Rat – White Rat 4.0%

Saltaire – Triple Chocoholic 4.8%

Knockout – Irish Red Ale 4.5%

Potbelly – Pigs Do Fly! 4.4%

Budvar – Dark Lager 4.7%

This year on each day we attended (including Thursday, which was just me), we set up base camp in the seating area to the right as you come in to Olympia. This is a good location, as it is within fairly easy reach of most of the bars including those in the National Hall, and is worth remembering for future reference.

Finally, a few words about the GBBF itself. Although it is too early to say what the overall attendance was this year, it was very busy while I was there, and each morning the queues to get in at the 12:00 opening time were long. My impression is that it continues to be a very popular event, showcasing cask ale in all its many forms. But CAMRA and the GBBF seem to be an easy target of the press, although it often appears that those writing the articles are not cask ale enthusiasts anyway. During the Festival, I came across a piece in the Morning Advertiser entitled ‘London Craft Beer Festival v GBBF: which came out on top?’ Comparing these two festivals is pretty pointless in my view as they feature different products and probably cater for different audiences. But I definitely take issue with the implication in the article that the UK’s most exciting brewers are those producing Craft Keg! You have only to spend a few hours at the GBBF, and sample some of the diverse range of beers on offer to appreciate that there is plenty of excitement and innovation in the cask ale market. Long may it continue, and here’s to GBBF 2019!

GBBF 2017

The Great British Beer Festival 2017 took place from 8-12 August at Kensington Olympia. It was as good as ever, and this year for the first time Angela attended the Trade Session with me on the Tuesday afternoon, as well as joining me on the Wednesday. I was pleased that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) was once again announced during the opening ceremony on Tuesday afternoon, instead of leaving it to an awards dinner later in the day. I would like to think that my representations to CAMRA about this after last year’s Festival made a difference, but no doubt I was just one of many people expressing this particular view. Incidentally, this year’s CBOB was Church End Goat’s Milk (3.8%). I didn’t sample it at the Festival (the queues were considerable once the announcement had been made), but I have tried it before, in 2011, at my local bar in Keele.

We did a couple of things differently this year, which made quite an impact on our enjoyment of the Festival. The first was to stay in a much closer hotel to Olympia than previously. Having stayed in the Holiday Inn Express Earl’s Court on two previous occasions for another event at Olympia, we decided to stay there for the GBBF this year. It’s about 10 minutes’ walk from West Brompton station, which is one stop by overground train to Kensington Olympia, and it is a comfortable, friendly hotel (with a good breakfast included!). Staying there meant our journey time to the Festival from the hotel was about 20 minutes, significantly less than travelling from one of our usual hotels in Bloomsbury. Secondly, Angela did a great job of bringing snack and lunch items with us, so we could concentrate on the beer! The food provision at the Festival has increased and improved greatly in the time I have been attending, but it is relatively expensive (this is not a criticism as the quality is generally very high). We saved a significant amount doing this, while still having our dinner there before leaving in the early evening.

In order to enjoy any beer festival, pacing is of the essence. Having one-third pint glasses means one can try more beers within one’s own limits. The Festival is at its best when it opens each day and for the first half of the afternoon, so it is best to arrive early and leave in the early evening when the after-work crowds arrive and it becomes busier. Having said that, I did stay for Thursday evening as a friend was having a birthday celebration there, which was a great success, although my pacing went out of the window then!

And so to the beer itself! As with last year, I won’t list every beer I tried (they are all logged on my Untappd account anyway), but this year I will give my top 5. It was quite hard to narrow the list down to 5, but the following were all outstanding, and in some cases a bit unusual.

Belvoir – White Knuckle Ride (4.3%) – the beer equivalent of a milky bar – bounty bar combination! Definitely a dessert beer

Mauldon – Blackberry Porter (4.8%) – a porter with strong blackberry notes. The tasting notes refer to ‘the blackberries coming through like a sharp and jammy compote on a warm sticky brownie’.

Metalman – Equinox (4.6%) – an intriguing wheatbeer described as having been aged on sun dried lemon peel and white pepper! The savoury notes certainly came through in abundance.

Tiny Rebel – Mojito Sour (3.9%) – I like sour beers anyway, but this was something special, with strong hints of mint and lime giving it a strong mojito flavour.

Yeovil – Hop 145 (4.2%) – A hoppy, citrus beer. Enough said! The tasting notes mention blackcurrant flavours, but they were not in evidence. However, the overall effect was very much to my liking (and I recommended this to friends later, who also enjoyed it).

In conclusion, GBBF 2017 was excellent, and with the CBOB announcement restored to the opening ceremony, it is really back to its best. I’m already looking forward to GBBF 2018!

August 2016: Culture, Beer and Pokémon Go

As we come to the end of August, and I suppose (sadly), the end of the summer, I thought it would be good to reflect on my activities over the last month.

June and July were characteristically busy, with an EPSRC Panel Meeting, exam boards and External Examining at NTU in June, and a conference in Lyon (see previous post) in July. I also spent some of July starting preparation of a new module I’ll be teaching in the Spring Semester 2017, on Digital Forensics. When August arrived I was ready for a break, and I was in London (with Angela) for most of the week of 8-12 August. The main event of the week was my annual visit to the Great British Beer Festival, but it was not only a week of imbibing (!), as I will describe. On 8 August we travelled to London, and booked into the Tavistock Hotel, which has become our main ‘base’ in London (although the County Hotel is still good for overnight visits, as mentioned later). We had tickets to see ‘The Go-Between’ at the Apollo Theatre, and when we got there we were upgraded to better seats, which was an unexpected bonus. Michael Crawford, who was due to play the main role, was indisposed, but the understudy did a great job. It was a musical version of the book, and very effective too. The GBBF took centre stage for me on Tuesday (although Angela went to the Sicily exhibition at the British Museum, followed by a musical based on the Titanic story at the Charing Cross Theatre, before joining me at the GBBF in the evening). On Wednesday morning we went to the Tate Modern to see an exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. I was glad to see it, but found that I liked some of her work more than others. After the exhibition, I headed to Olympia for the GBBF, and Angela went to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum. It was very nice that Angela was able to join me at the GBBF on both Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

Regarding the GBBF, it was as good as ever, with an interesting beer selection, and good food provision. I won’t put my list of beers tried here, but they have been recorded, and are also on my Untappd account, for any fellow beer connoisseurs reading this! My only disappointment was that the Champion Beer of Britain (CBOB) announcement wasn’t made at the opening ceremony on the Tuesday afternoon. Instead we just got the list of finalists, and the results were relayed to us in the evening after they had been announced at the awards dinner. This was a great disappointment, because the Tuesday afternoon session is the Trade session, attended by many from the brewery and pub trade. They don’t all stay for the evening session, and so won’t have been present for the announcement, which when it came was a bit of a non-event. I hope very much that CAMRA return to the previous tradition, as it was a great start to the festival, and something that made the Trade session special.


Going back to our week, Angela returned to Keele on Thursday, taking our suitcase (for which I was very grateful). I attended the Thursday afternoon/evening session at the GBBF and stayed at the County Hotel on Thursday evening. On Friday morning I went to the British Museum to see the Sicily exhibition, as this was due to finish on the coming Sunday. It was very good, and I learned some new things, including the fact that the Normans ruled Sicily for a while! It was then time to return to Keele.

I then had a week of catching up on administrative tasks, but on the following week, on 23 August I was back in London for a meeting with my old postdoc supervisor, Richard Catlow, about a 70th birthday meeting I am organising for him next year, followed by another night in the County Hotel. The following day I managed a bonus trip to see the Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, a couple of weeks after Angela. It was simply amazing, and runs until the autumn, so I recommend it if you have a chance to go!

Finally, in the title of the post I mention Pokémon Go. Having heard a lot about it since it was launched in July, I thought about giving it a try, with encouragement from Angela. So I installed it on my phone on 7 August, and have been playing it ever since. It fits in with my enjoyment of travel to different places, and is actually quite educational, since many of the Pokéstops are at places of interest! Angela then joined on 21 August, so we are both dedicated ‘Pokémoners’ now! I suspect I will be writing a further post on the specific subject of Pokémon Go before long.

CAMRA’s Revitalisation Consultation exercise: the view of a long-time member

CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) is currently indulging itself in a navel-gazing exercise that it has called its ‘Revitalisation Consultation’.  You can read all about it here if you’re interested. Meetings are being held all over the country with the aim of consulting members about what they think of the organisation, where it’s at, and what it should be doing.

I attended one of these meetings last night, at the White Star pub in Stoke-on-Trent. It’s a Titanic pub, and not one I had been to for nearly 4 years. It had certainly improved a lot since my last visit, and for the record, the Raspberry Wheat was sumptuous.  The meeting itself lasted 2 hours with a beer/comfort break. There was a good discussion, led by Michael Hardman, a founding father of CAMRA, assisted by CAMRA staff. It was a ‘good’ discussion in that lots of points were raised, but there was plenty of nonsense in the mix. The meeting used clickers to record peoples votes, and that worked well. Maybe I should reconsider using them in my teaching?

But, at the end of the day, is this consultation necessary? In my view CAMRA still needs to carry on much as it is. Yes, it should update its communication with members, improve use of social media etc. But as someone who joined in the late 70s (1977 or 1978), my view is that no, the battle for real ale has not been won. Just because it is so widely available in so many pubs doesn’t mean we can be complacent. And what about the ‘craft ale – craft keg’ debate? Well, I posted about that very topic last year; you can read my thoughts here. My conclusions still stand. CAMRA should not accept craft keg – it doesn’t matter how ‘interesting’ it is, or if it is made by a self-styled craft brewer. At the end of the day, keg is keg!

Of course, there was a lot more to the consultation than this. We discussed pubs, beer prices, and the detrimental effect of supermarkets. These all affect beer drinkers, I agree. But I firmly believe CAMRA should not change fundamentally.  We will see what happens in the coming months – the exercise has some time to go, and then any recommendations will be considered by the executive, and finally voted on at the AGM in April 2017. I will attend if I can, because I am concerned that long term members like myself should not be ignored in the quest for progress.  As with so many other things, we live in a time of change!

Belgian Beer Weekend, 4-6 September 2015

By coincidence I happened to be in Brussels at the end of last week – we had booked a short break. We stayed in a hotel near the Grand’ Place, and on arrival there on Wednesday, discovered that the Grand’ Place was being set up for the Belgian Beer Weekend:


Of course, we had to take advantage of this lucky coincidence, and set about finding out more about how it would work (in comparison, say, with the GBBF).

One important feature of Belgian beers is they should be served in unique glasses, and I wondered how this would be achieved at a beer festival, where one usually tries beers from more than one brewer. It turned out that you bought a ‘glass token’ for 3 Euros, and this would be used to get a glass for a particular brewery stand. If you wanted to move to another brewery stand, you had to return your glass and get a new token to use there. This seemed OK in theory. To pay for the beers you had to buy tokens, 10 for 10 Euros. The beers, typically served in 25 ml glasses, cost between 2-4 tokens (Euros). This seemed reasonable since in bars one was typically paying 4-5 Euros for 50 ml (and more for higher gravity beers).

So, how was the festival? Well, we were only there on Friday night, and by the time we arrived it was very busy. There wasn’t a lot of space inside the fenced off area in front of the beer tents, as you can see:


It was quite a challenge to get to a particular bar and get served, and the process of continually having to return your glass to get a token before moving on to another bar was difficult given the crowds. But we managed somehow, and tried 5 beers before the congestion got too much. Here’s a list:

Bon Secours Brune (Brasserie Caulier) 8% – a strong dark beer with chocolate notes.

Filou (Brouwerij van Honsebrouck)  8.5% – a classic Belgian triple with fruit notes

Gauloise 10 (Brasserie du Bocq) 10% – a heavy triple allegedly with banana notes.

Limburgse Witte (Brouwerij Sint-Jozef) 5% – a rather bland wheat beer

Pink Killer (Brasserie de Silly) 5% – the best of the bunch – a fruit beer made from malt, wheat and pink grapefruit. Angela particularly enjoyed this one:DSC_0062

Overall it was an interesting experience, but the logistics of getting the beers, and the crowding slightly detracted from it all. The best beer I had during the visit wasn’t actually from this festival either. But I was glad to have had the opportunity to attend, if only for a short while.

Finally, here are a few more photographs from the festival. The first one shows the Silly bar, where Angela got her Pink Killer from (as well as an extra glass for her complimentary remarks!). The second is a panorama of the festival, and the third one confirms I was there!


I16a.Belgian beerfest crop 1

I18. Rob at the beerfest 040915