Like in 2016, this year’s British Guild of Beer Writers pre-Great British Beer Festival Party, took place on the Tattershall Castle; a converted former river ferry moored on the Thames just off London's Victoria Embankment. Once again the ship proved the perfect setting for this social gathering of beer writers and bloggers.
This year’s party was preceded by a special event held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of Michael Jackson, the pioneering and hugely influential Beer Writer. Michael was not only the inspiration for a whole new generation of beer writers (including me), but was the person who almost single-handedly turned a drink which had long played second fiddle to wine, into the global phenomenon it has become today.
It is no exaggeration to say that Michael was the man behind the dramatic rise in craft breweries, particularly in the United States (over 5,000 now), but also increasingly in other parts of the globe. Veteran beer writer Roger Protz, who was a good friend of Michael, had put together a special presentation in honour of his achievements and, as this kicked off at 4.30pm, I took the afternoon off work, and caught the train up to London Charing Cross. From there it was just a short walk along to where the Tattershall Castle lies moored.
The presentation took place in a large room, below deck, at the stern of the ship. I don’t want to say too much about it at this stage, as I am planning to include part of what was said in my own tribute to Michael; but one thing worth noting is two of Michael’s favourite beers were available in cask for attendees to enjoy. The beers were Fuller's Chiswick Bitter (now sadly reduced to a seasonal special) and Batemans XB. The latter was ably dispensed by none other than Jacqueline Bateman herself.
Like all present, I found the presentation a very fitting, and at times very poignant, tribute to a man who was not only a real legend, but a very accomplished journalist, who was meticulous in his research and who had the knack of bringing out the best in people. This was the point which was emphasised over and over during the presentation; Michael always tried to bring a human element into his writing.
After inviting comments and memories of Michael from the floor, Roger rounded off the presentation just after 6pm. This allowed time for the chairs to be cleared away, ready for the party to begin. Shortly afterwards the room started to fill up, with those guests who had come along for the evening's festivities.
Unlike last year, when we had the choice of above or below deck, we were confined to the latter, as the upper deck remained open to the paying public. The self-serve beer stations, with the portable "keg-machines" were also absent, leaving the casks of Chiswick and XB as the sole draught beers.
There were plenty of chilled bottles and cans though to go round, including examples from Wadworth and Brains. The latter had a dedicated stand, offering samples from their"craft" range in canned form. They even handed out presentation packs, at the end of the evening, for people to take home with them.
There were also a number of interesting bottles from the Brewers Association (United States). I only got to try a couple of these, but the 9.2% Hardywood Raspberry Stout and the 11.0% Eclipse Barrel Aged Imperial Stout were both well worth tasting. Most of the bottled beers were presented nicely chilled in ice-buckets, although as glasses seemed in short supply, it was necessary to rinse my glass out using the bottle of water I'd brought with me to stop myself becoming dehydrated.
There were quite a few familiar faces at the party, including Peter Alexander (aka Tandleman), Ed Wray, BryanB, Steve Lamond and Matthew Curtis; most of whom were in town either to work at or attend GBBF (or both!). There were several other people I caught up with as well, over the course of the evening, including quite a few new faces. The only downside was as well as being rather warm below deck, it was also rather noisy. I often have difficulty in hearing what's being said, in such situations; almost certainly the result of attending too many loud rock concerts during my youth.
Food arrived in the form of mini-beef burgers, scotch eggs and fish and chips, in paper cones. Unlike last year, there seemed plenty to go round. I was certainly full by the time I left. This was after people had started drifting away; some had other functions to attend, whilst others, who'd spent the day helping set things up at Olympia, headed back to their accommodation for a well-earned rest.
I left some time after 9pm, stopping off on the upstairs deck on the way out for an uninterrupted view across the Thames towards the London Eye. I made my way back to Charing Cross for the train home. I fell asleep on the journey back to Tonbridge, but fortunately woke up just as the train was pulling into the station.
Like the year before, it had been an excellent evening, made all the better by the setting, the people, the food and of course the beers! I would like to thank the British Guild of Beer Writers, the brewers who provided the beer, and Cask Marque, who are the event sponsors.
Footnote: I decided not to attend this year’s Great British Beer Festival, as for me the event is just too large, and too busy. I prefer somewhere smaller and more intimate, and last night’s party on-board the Tattershall Castle was just the right size. The event afforded the opportunity to mingle and socialise, without feeling part of some gigantic merry-go-round.
Don’t get me wrong, I think CAMRA do a fantastic job each year in putting on this flagship festival, which showcases the very best British cask-conditioned ales, plus some excellent beers from abroad, but these days I prefer something a little quieter and a lot less hectic.