CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), kicked off at midday today with the Trade Session. The festival then opened its doors to the general public at 5pm. I stopped going to the Trade Session a few years ago, not just because tickets had become a lot harder to obtain, but also because the session itself had turned into a glorified “publican’s outing”. Ok, I know it’s all about involving the trade, both on the brewing as well as the pub side, but it really wasn’t my cup of tea (no offence to friends in the brewery and pub trades!). Also, like I said, the tickets became much more difficult to get hold of, primarily because CAMRA tightened up on who could obtain them, effectively restricting their availability to those genuinely involved in the brewing and licensed trades. Even so, I know several people not connected with the trade who will have been there this afternoon! They will have been passed tickets from friendly landlords who for whatever reason are unable to attend so, despite all their efforts, CAMRA have not put an end to this practice completely.
I used to fall into the trade category, having run my own off-licence business for the best part of six years, but even then I normally gave my tickets away to friends or customers, and instead would pitch up as a normal punter on the Friday lunchtime/afternoon session. Like I said, the trade session in many cases had degenerated into little more than a pub outing-cum-piss-up. CAMRA of course, will disagree with this assessment, but I stand by it and besides, when one goes along as an ordinary member of the public, there are usually far more pretty girls brightening up the place. (A much more attractive sight than a load of red-faced publicans!)
This year I shall be going along on Thursday, rather than my usual Friday; the reason being is our CAMRA branch has a presentation this coming Saturday to the Caveman Brewery, as their Citra was voted “Beer of the Festival” at last year’s Spa Valley Railway Rail and Ale event. The brewery is currently housed in the cellar of the George & Dragon pub, at Swanscombe, near Dartford, and as the presentation could turn out to be quite a boozy affair, I want to have a day off from the beer in between this event and GBBF.
So far as GBBF is concerned, I’m a lot more enthusiastic, and even a little excited, about the event than I was a couple of weeks ago, when I’d just returned from Annafest. Back then the prospect of sitting in a hall full of people, surrounded by nearly 800 beers, compared to being out in the open air, under the shade of leafy beech woods, enjoying a Maβ or two of tasty Franconian Kellerbier, just didn’t compare. But now, having browsed through the vast selection of beers on offer and made a few selections, I’m much more receptive to the idea.
There’ll be a handful of West Kent CAMRA members travelling up to Olympia on Thursday. My plan of action is to start with a few golden ales, to wet my whistle, before moving on to some stronger, and hopefully hoppier, IPA’s. I will then finish with a few stouts and porters, including amongst these one or two of the more esoteric ales. I will leave foreign beers alone, apart from seeing if I can buy a few bottles of Westvleteren beers to take away. The abbey of Sint Sixtus, at Westvleteren, is the smallest and most traditional of the Trappist breweries and its beers, considered by many as world classics, are extremely hard to come by. Hopefully there will still be a few bottles left, and a visit to Bieres sans Frontieres will also give me a chance to catch up with fellow beer blogger, Peter Alexander aka, Tandleman.
Finally, I plan to visit the CAMRA shop, to treat myself to a copy of the recently published “Britain’s Best Heritage Pubs”, by Geoff Brandwood. All in all it promises to be a good day.