Category Archives: CAMRA & beer

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.

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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:

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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:

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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!

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I18. Rob at the beerfest 040915

Craft Beer, Craft Keg, and Real Ale – a discussion

There’s been a lot of discussion in beer drinking circles about Craft Beer and Craft Keg beers, and whether the latter count as Real Ales. Here are my views on this topic.

Real Ale is defined by CAMRA as ‘a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients which is left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation’. Such ales are referred to as being ‘cask conditioned’, and they can be served either directly from the barrel or via a hand pump (or beer engine). But no additional carbon dioxide is added, and any effervescence the ale might have comes from the fermentation process.

The term ‘Craft Beer’ is harder to define, but often refers to beer brewed by a smaller brewer, perhaps using specialised ingredients and made in smaller quantities. However the important point is that the term doesn’t say anything about the way the beer is produced. If it is cask conditioned, then it is as much real ale as a real ale from one of the national breweries. Examples of craft real ales were available at this year’s GBBF, for example.

So, what about ‘Craft Keg’? Well, keg beer is produced in a different way from cask conditioned beer, in that the fermentation process is completed in the brewery, followed by conditioning, chilling and filtering. Carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen is then added, as there is no natural effervescence because the fermentation process has been stopped. ‘Craft’ Keg refers to beer produced by Craft brewers (as defined above), but using the keg brewing process.  So, although it may have the interesting features of a ‘Craft’ product, as is the case with many craft keg beers brewed in the US, for example, it is still keg beer, and therefore not what CAMRA defines as real ale.

That’s not to say that Craft Keg has no place in the market. Real Ale requires appropriate storage and serving facilities, as well as a lot of attention to detail in serving it well. It also has a limited shelf life, requiring good turnround. Craft Keg is easier to handle in these respects, and where such conditions are not met, it certainly has a place.

To conclude, Real Ale and Craft Keg are very different products, but they are not mutually exclusive, and having both provides more choice, which is surely a good thing.

Great British Beer Festival 2015: 11-15 August 2015

I have just returned from the 2015 GBBF, and can report that it was up to standard, and if anything, better than last year. Once again I attended the trade session on the Tuesday, most of Wednesday, and Thursday afternoon. This worked well, except that by around 4:00 pm on the Thursday it was getting uncomfortably busy. I have commented in the past that the GBBF has become a victim of its own success. Obviously it’s great that so many people are attending now, but it has started to attract some who are less real ale enthusiasts, and more just wanting to have a good time. The result is that you now see visibly drunk people at the festival, which should never happen. It’s an unfortunate consequence of changing times and attitudes, I suppose.

Anyway, going back to the beers, this year I made a target list with Angela’s help before the festival. The beer finder one the web site is a bit clunky, and is really designed for those who are looking for specific beer types (e.g. dark milds), but you can get a list of everything by ticking all the categories. Having a prepared list was a great help, and although not everything on the list was available, most were. Here’s a list of what I tried (mainly half pints although there were a couple of thirds).

Fullers: Oliver’s Island (3.8%)
Charles Wells: McEwan’s IPA (4.0%)
Hop Fuzz: Yellow Zinger (3.7%)
S&P: Topaz Blonde (3.7%)
Dunham Massey: Chocolate Cherry Mild (3.8%)
Rammy Craft: Rammy Ale (4.1%)
Outstanding: Ultra Pale (4.1%)
Atom: Schrodinger’s Cat (3.8%)
Red Cat: Prowler Pale (3.6%)
Clearwater: Honey Beer (3.7%)
Tatton: White Queen (4.2%) (taste)

Wapping: Indian Summer (4.2%)
Burning Sky: Plateau (3.5%)
Fuzzy Duck: Chieftain (3.8%)
Loddon: Hoppit (3.5%)
Treboom: Yorkshire Sparkle (4.0%)
Grafton: Apricot Jungle (4.8%)
Shepherd Neame: Red Sails Cherry Porter (4.0%)
St Austell: Liquid Sunshine (3.9%)
Birds: Amnesia (4.5%)

Salamander: Moaning Lisa (4.2%)
Clark’s: Merrie City Atlantic Hop (4.0%)
Little Valley: Hebden’s Wheat (4.5%)
Ossett: White Rabbit (3.8%)
Teme Valley: The Talbot Blonde (4.4%)
Hawkshead: Cumbrian Five Hop (5.0%)
Prescott Ales: Season’s Best Summer (4.5%)
XT: Pi (3.14%)
Grey Trees: Afghan Pale Ale (5.4%)
Otley: Hop Angeles (4.8%)

Counting the very nice Tatton White Queen, that was a total of 30 ales sampled. They were all good, and it’s hard to pick out any for special mention, but here are a few:

XT Pi for original name and abv (3.14%)
Salamander Moaning Lisa for the best name (and drinkable too)
Clearwater Honey Beer for the best honey based beer I’ve tasted.
Grafton Apricot Jungle for an amazing combination of fruit flavours.
Ossett White Rabbit for the citrus and malt combination.

All in all, GBBF 2015 surpassed expectations, and I’m already looking forward to GBBF 2016!

GBBF 2014

This year’s Great British Beer Festival was held from 12-16 August at Kensington Olympia, and as in recent years I attended for 3 days from the Tuesday to the Thursday, including the Tuesday trade session. The festival was well-organised, and once again the volunteers did a great job.

Last year I didn’t have time to write more than a summary post about my visit, but this year I have a bit more time so I can list the beers I tried, mention some favourites, and say something about the winners of the CBOB competition.

To start with, here’s my list. Comments on the beers were made on my Untappd account (see http://untappd.com/user/robajackson).

Fuller’s Summer Ale (my usual starter), 3.9%
Belhaven Festival Ale, 3.8%
Blakemere Cherry Baby, 4.0% (my joint favourite)
Coastal Summer Blonde, 4.4%
Durham Apollo, 4.0%
Just A Minute Golden Dawn, 4.3%
Pitfield Raspberry Wheat, 5.0%
George Wakering Gold, 3.8%
Maldon English Summer, 4.2%
Twisted Oak Spun Gold, 4.5%

Havant The Foggiest (!), 4.5% (One of the best named beers)
Irving Albion, 4.1%
Oakleaf Quercus Folium, 4.0% (Another good name)
Portobello White, 4.8%
All Gates Gin Pit, 4.3%
Canterbury Pardoner’s Ale, 3.8%
Dunscar Bridge True North, 4.1%
Newby Wyke Kingston Topaz, 4.2%
Peerless Jinja Ninja, 4.0%

Golden Triangle Citropolis, 3.9%
Jo C’s Norfolk KiWi, 3.8%
Castle Rock Black Gold, 3.8% (my joint favourite)
White Horse Camarillo, 4.5%
Adnams Topaz Gold, 4.0%
Geeves Captain Gingerbread, 4.3%
Dorking Gold, 3.8%
Hepworth Summer Ale, 3.8%

The list has been divided into days, and suggests a slight falling off in stamina by the third day, but this was more because I had to leave in time to collect my bag from the hotel and catch a train home! Also, with a couple of exceptions, I’ve kept to below 4.5%. I find this to be necessary for the sake of endurance!

My favourites, as mentioned on the list were Blakemere Cherry Baby and Castle Rock Black Gold. The latter looked like a dark mild but tasted like a golden ale; an intriguing combination! The former was wonderfully sharp and fruity; an English take on a Belgian Kriek!

As for the results of the CBOB competition, full results are here, but the overall winners were:

Gold: Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, 4.0%
Silver: Oakham Citra, 4.2%
Bronze: Salopian Darwin’s Origin, 4.3%

I didn’t try to sample any of these at the Festival as once the results are announced they are usually hard to get. However, I’m not a great fan of Timothy Taylor beers anyway! Oakham Citra is a favourite of mine which I’ve had before, and I’ll be looking out for the Salopian one in the months to come.

Looking back on the Festival, it was as good as ever. This year I brought some light snacks with me each day, which was a very good move. The food stalls are varied and good quality, but not exactly cheap, so this reduced overall costs as well.

Finally, for comparison in the future, a word about the cost of the beer. I was drinking halves or thirds, but the price per pint was typically between £3.50 and £4.00 (depending on ABV), which is good for London, where I was being charged between £4.00 – £5.00 per pint in pubs, even for relatively low strength beers. I love London, but perhaps it’s as well that I live in an area where I rarely pay more than £3 for a pint!