Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The Night Before

On Monday evening I attended the British Guild of Beer Writers Pre-Great British Beer Festival Reception. The event took place at the Loose Cannon, a large cavernous establishment, housed in three adjoining and rather imposing Victorian railway arches, directly underneath Cannon Street station.

This was the first such function I have attended, having only joined the Beer Writers Guild last year, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure how many years this reception has been held for, but it is traditionally regarded as the start of what for many is quite a beery week. With the trade session taking place the following day at the Great British Beer Festival, followed by the festival opening its doors to the public the same evening, the event is an obvious prelude to a hectic five days of beer sampling and enjoyment.

Unfortunately, unless I decide to pay an evening visit, I won’t be going along to GBBF. With two recent foreign holidays under my belt, and a couple of others in the pipeline, I am running low on annual leave. I am not too bothered though, as in recent years I have found the event to be just too large and way too crowded. With a reported 800 beers available at Olympia, it is difficult to know where to start. It may seem perverse to say so, but sometimes one can have too much choice!

The reception in full swing
Returning to Monday evening’s get together, I arrived shortly after the event opened its doors; having travelled up, by train, straight from work. There was already quite a crowd present, including several prominent people I recognised as representing the great and the good amongst the UK’s beer writing fraternity. Without wishing to name-drop too much, I spotted CAMRA Good Beer Guide editor, Roger Protz, Guild Chairman Tim Hampson, veteran CAMRA National Executive members, John and Christine Cryne, journalist, PR person and beer blogger, Sophie Atherton, plus Michael Hardman, one of the original four founders of the Campaign for Real Ale.

On a more personal level it was great to bump into fellow long-serving CAMRA member and veteran beer blogger, Tandleman, who was in town for his usual stint behind the foreign beer bar (Bieres sans Frontiers) at GBBF.  I also made my acquaintance with Dave Bailey, who as well as running the innovative and successful Hardknott Brewery, up in the Lake District, is a fellow blogger of repute. Later on, I spent some time chatting to Martin Kemp who, in partnership with Rob Jones, ran the pioneering Pitfield Beer Shop, and later brewery, in the Hoxton area of north London.

After the two won Champion Beer of Britain with Dark Star back in 1987, Rob went on to form the Dark Star Brewery, which began life in the cellar of the Evening Star pub in Brighton. The company are now one of the biggest breweries in Sussex. Martin stayed with Pitfield and in 2008 moved the brewery out to rural Essex, as rents in London were becoming uneconomic.He also runs a pub in Newmarket, Suffolk.

So what about the beer at the Pre-Great British Beer Festival Reception? There was cask in the form of Dark Star, Ilkley, Okells and Shepherd Neame, alongside an interesting collection of strong bottled beers courtesy of, amongst others, the Left Hand Brewing Company of Longmont, Colorado. Nitro, a 6.0% ABV milk stout looked interesting, but I plumped for the excellent Black Jack Porter. At 6.8% ABV, it certainly packed a punch, but alongside this was a rich, dark chocolate porter, with bags of flavour.

Packing a real punch - Black Jack Porter
I didn’t start on these strong beers; instead I worked my way up through several of the cask ales. Foremost was Summer a 4.0%, refreshing dark golden ale from Ilkley Brewery, bursting with tropical fruit flavours. This was the perfect beer to start on. I then moved on to The Invader, a 4.0% Rye Pale Ale from the same brewery. This was another excellent beer which, as its name suggests, includes a proportion of rye in the grist. I also tried two beers from Isle of Man brewers, Okells; Saison 4.5% and Manx Pale Ale (MPA) 3.5%. Shepherd Neame had a golden version of their best-selling Spitfire Ale on sale, but I gave that one a miss.

An excellent, hot finger buffet was provided to help soak up the beer, so all in all it was a really good evening. It was especially good to meet up for a chat with Tandleman, and also with Dave Bailey and Martin Kemp. I left shortly before 10pm, and caught the train home from nearby Cannon Street station. My thanks to the Cask Marque; the organisers and sponsors of the function, and to the Guild members who helped stage the event. I will certainly be booking my place for next year.

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