Sunday, 15 March 2015

London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival 2015

I have to confess that London Drinker has never been my favourite beer festival. There’s nothing wrong with the beers; in fact the selection at this long running event is usually second to none. It’s the venue which I have the problem with.

Now I appreciate that the Camden Centre is an historic (art deco?), building and after talking to one of the festival stewards last Thursday, I realise it’s also one of the few original municipal buildings left within the borough, following its creation in 1965 from the amalgamation of the former metropolitan boroughs of Hampstead, Holborn and St Pancras. The problem I have is its size, and when London Drinker gets busy, as it invariably does, I feel hemmed in; a feeling enhanced by the lack of windows or other sources of natural light.

I had lost track of time when I left the festival last week, but I believe it was some time between 7.30 and 8.00pm, but the fact that people queuing outside were only being let in by the door staff in proportion to the numbers of people leaving is testament to the popularity of London Drinker, but also unfortunately serves to highlight the inadequacy of the Camden Centre as the venue for this festival.

OK, rant over. I was fortunate to have been offered a ticket to the Thursday afternoon “trade session” which was showcasing London-brewed beers. I arrived shortly after 3.30pm, having first called in at St Pancras station opposite to pick up my pre-booked Eurostar tickets for my Brussels trip, later in the year.

The hall was quite busy, but at that stage it was still possible to move around without having to squeeze past people. Only the London Beer Bar was open, although the bottle-conditioned bar did open later on. This was not a problem as it was beers from London’s burgeoning craft beer scene that I had come to try. Being a CAMRA festival, beers were naturally only available in cask form, but as this means of storage and dispense is properly handled, it still represents the very peak of the brewer’s art.

View from the balcony
I started with something light, in the form of an American Pale Ale from Clarence & Fredericks, and stayed with that particular style for a while, before graduating on to some of the more dangerous porters and imperial stouts, culminating in the 10.7% ABV Imperial Russian Stout from Fullers, which had been matured, in cask, for around 9 months. Boy it was good. Also good, but fortunately not as strong, was the 6.2% ABV Smokestack Porter from Tap East, who are based out in Stratford.

I met several beer Bloggers along with the odd brewer. I won’t name drop, but special mention should be made of Beer Viking, BryanB to whom I handed over the limited edition bottle of Guinness Night Porter which I had carefully brought back for him from last years EBBC in Dublin, and which I had been tempted to open on several occasions over the past nine months! I also met the legendary Jeffrey Bell; born-again beer blogger, former licensee of the Gunmakers Arms in Clerkenwell, and now landlord of the revived Victorian landmark pub, the Finborough Arms in Earl’s Court.

Girardin Kriek
I had already surmised from his revived blog Stonch’s Beer Blog, that Jeffrey is a great character, and so it proved. He introduced me to several people he knows in the trade, most of whose names escape me, apart from Steve Taylor who manages  “Mother Kelly’s Bottleshop& Taproom”, in Bethnal Green. I had read about this place on the It Comes in Pints blog, so it was good to meet up with Steve and enjoy a few beers with him. Mind you the bottle of Girardin Kriek he kindly shared with me was enough to finish me off for the evening!

Whilst in the company of BryanB, we shared one of the stand-up tables (converted barrels) with Fuller’s Director of Brewing, John Keeling and some members of his brewing team. This was great for a former home-brewer like me, to be in the presence of someone so knowledgeable and a person with over 40 years experience in the brewing industry. I obviously won’t divulge any trade secrets (not that we were told any), but what I did learn is that there is far more money to be made in the retail sector than there is in brewing; a fact borne out in my own industry of manufacturing dental materials.

So all in all it was a good festival, and a very pleasant way to spend a late Thursday afternoon/early evening. Thank you to everyone whose company I shared, and to those who bought me a drink. Special thanks too to the organisers of London Drinker for their hard work and dedication in keeping this festival, which is now in its 31st year at the same venue, running.

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