Saturday 31 August 2019

Greene King - again!

There’s more to come regarding Greene King, as we attempt to ascertain how a well respected regional brewery came to be regarded as a "bête noire" in the eyes of many beer drinkers. Before doing so it's worth remembering that over the course of the past forty years, that East Anglia-based Greene King, transformed themselves into Britain's largest, independently-owned brewer and pub company, so they were bound to pick up a few enemies along the way.

Things didn't start out too well between CAMRA and Greene King, as despite the company brewing some distinctive and well-regarded beers, they were very much the “villain of the piece” as far as the Campaign was concerned. Their policy of favouring “top-pressure” dispense in the majority of their tied pubs, was a definite no-no in the CAMRA’s eyes, as despite the beer being cask-conditioned, the use of extraneous carbon-dioxide to deliver it from cask to glass, led to the exclusion of many of their houses from CAMRA guides - both local an national.

This policy was slowly relaxed over the years, and relations between CAMRA and Greene King gradually improved, although it wasn’t too long before the Suffolk company again blotted its copy-book, this time in 1987, with the closure of the brewery of Rayment & Co Ltd.

The latter were a small brewery based in the small Hertfordshire village of Furneux Pelham. (See image opposite). Greene King had acquired the brewery in 1928, along with its estate of 35 public houses, but it continued to brew its distinctive “Pelham Ales” right up until closure.

There was no reason to close it, apart from a small, country brewery not fitting in with the image that Greene King saw for itself, of a modern go-ahead company. Ten years later, the group’s much larger subsidiary brewery, at Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, suffered the same fate.

I mentioned this closure in my first post about Greene King, and I again want to look at my own relationship with the Bury St Edmund’s based company, and note how it has changed over the years.
Fast forward from that article, to the mid 1980’s when I was living in Tonbridge with a new wife, and a new job. I’d become involved with the local CAMRA branch which, in those days, only covered Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. Things were ticking along on pretty much an even keel, when the news broke that Greene King had bought a number of pubs in Kent and Surrey from Allied Breweries.

Not long after, the company opened a depot on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells,  to supply their new acquisitions. As secretary of the local CAMRA branch, I received an invite to the official opening, rubbing shoulders with the mayor and other local dignitaries.

Following the opening of the depot, GK beers started appearing in free trade outlets as well, and were generally welcomed. I certainly had no problems with their beer, and even enjoyed a trip around the Greene King brewery in Bury St Edmunds. The visit was organised by the landlord of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” -  the Tonbridge pub I used to drink at. The daft name came about as a result of a previous landlord being called "Tom," but after his successor started stocking Greene King beers, the opportunity to visit the brewery came about.  

I’m not sure why things began to sour between GK and CAMRA, but I suspect it might have been because of the buying spree the former embarked on during the late 1990’s – early 2000’s. During this period Greene King acquired Hardy & Hansons, Belhaven, Ridleys and Morlands. The takeover of the latter brewery brought Ruddles beers into the fold, because Morlands had acquired the Rutland-based company a few years previously.

Of the breweries listed above, Belhaven is now the only  still brewing. As well as brewing distinctive and much-loved local beers, these breweries were places full of character and steeped history. During the 1990’s, I had the pleasure of visiting Ridleys, Morlands and Ruddles, never imagining they would end up being bought, and closed down by Greene King.

This spate of acquisitions and closures, led to the firm being nick-named “Greedy King,” but now it is the king that has fallen. However, unlike Asahi who purchased Fullers, earlier in the year,  CK Asset Holdings are an investment company, not a brewer. They will undoubtedly seek to recoup some of cash they have paid for Greene King, and the  concern is, they will start selling off pubs; especially some of the smaller and more traditional ones.

We are unlikely to see the fallout from this deal for a while, as I think I’m right in saying it has still to be approved by Greene King shareholders. But with the pound at an historic low, thanks to you know what, we almost certainly haven’t seen the last of foreign investors snapping up British companies, at bargain basement prices.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Digesting England by the pound

I suppose the £4.6bn takeover of Greene King, by Hong Kong-based, CK Asset Holdings, now makes Marston's Britain’s largest brewer, but for how long? In the dog-eat-dog world of a Brexit-driven weak pound, it is anybody’s guess, and more and more a case of "Selling England by the pound."

In the meantime the Wolverhampton-based Marston's group appears to be doing well, and over the Bank Holiday weekend, Mrs PBT’s and I visited one of their newest establishments for Sunday lunch.

Eileen’s brother lives in Gravesend with his girlfriend and, as they hadn’t seen us for a while, we were invited over for a spot of lunch.  We were aware that a table at a local carvery had been booked, but that was all we knew, so on one of the hottest Sundays of the summer, we jumped in the car and drove over to Gravesend.

It’s a pleasant drive which, dependent on the route,  takes you through some really pleasant countryside and some rather attractive settlements. Places like Shipbourne, Ightham and Meopham are real, picture post-card villages, with some attractive looking pubs; most of which are known to an old hand like me!

We arrived shortly after 1pm; the journey having been largely traffic-free, and after the usual pleasantries, cups of tea etc, we set off to find the “mystery” carvery. We took my car for the simple fact that it was the largest, and after a quick thrash along the busy A2 towards Ebbsfleet (that’s where all the traffic was),  we turned off towards the international station.

I was on familiar territory now, as Ebbsfleet International, with its Eurostar services, has been the departure point for company visits to Cologne, in order to attend the International Dental Show. En route, my brother-in-law had dropped a clue, by mentioning the word “Marstons,” so I was guessing that our destination would probably be one of the company’s new-build, eateries. 

I was correct, and after turning off the main road, we turned into a new housing development that I’d noticed back in March. Another turning, at the top of a hill brought us to the “Spring River” pub and the adjacent Marston’s Inn.

This was an hotel and a quite imposing hotel at that. Constructed more in the vein of a Travel Lodge than a Premier Inn, this was the first “Marston’s Inn” I had seen. The pub though looked much more familiar, being similar in nature to the two Marston’s pub-restaurants I have visited in Norfolk.

The establishments in question are the  Copper Beech in Cotessey – close to the Norwich Showground and the much newer Greenstone in Dereham.  Both my parents were fans of the Copper Beech, and I'd visited the pub with them on several occasions, so as we walked up to the entrance of the Spring River, I knew very much what to expect.

It was just as well that a table had been booked, as the place was heaving – despite the heat. Somewhat predictably all four of us went for the carvery option. Equally predictable was the fact that my three companions all opted for beef, whilst I went for pork; a wise move as it happened.

One thing I really enjoy about a proper roast Sunday dinner are the vegetables which make up the bulk of the meal; them and the lashings of gravy! I piled my plate high before sitting down with the others. My roast pork was nice and tender, which was more than could be said of my companions beef, but with all of us nicely full, we didn’t bother with a sweet.

Drinks had of course been ordered, and whilst the selection was pretty much the Marston’s standard range (Hobgoblin, Wainwrights and Pedigree), I am pleased to report that the latter was on top form. I scored it as 3.5 NBSS, and would have given it a 4, had it not been pulled through a wretched sparkler!

As I said earlier, the pub was full and bustling with lots of hot and sweaty people – England at its best, but like their other establishments, Marston’s have done a good job with the Spring River. With further housing development already underway closely, and the area earmarked for more, the group is onto a winner. What’s more,  the strategically sited hotel means travellers using Eurostar services can spend the night prior to catching one of  the first services to the continent, the following morning.

Saturday 24 August 2019

In search of Greene King

The news about the acquisition of Britain’s second largest brewer, Greene King, by Hong Kong-based, CK Asset Holdings broke sometime during the day, last Monday. The first I knew about it was a message appeared on one of the WhatsApp CAMRA groups I am a member of.

As with the takeover of Fuller’s, by Japanese brewing giant Asahi, the news came as a complete surprise, but then I’m not one for keeping abreast of how things are progressing financially with these companies.

There’s probably been  more than enough written about the Fuller’s takeover, and I’m sure the same will soon apply to Greene King, so what I want to do here is take a look at the latter from a personal perspective, and ask why what was once a highly respected and well-regarded regional brewery, morphed into the reviled and un-loved national concern that it is today.

I don’t intend going into the history of Greene King here, as there are plenty of online sources available for those who are interested in the early development of the company. Instead I want to start by revealing how I first became aware of the company and how, at one point, I became determined to seek out and sample Greene King beers for the first time.

Whilst I was in the sixth form at school, I had a friend who, unlike the rest of us, was far more interested in beer and pubs,  than progressive rock music and chasing after girls. I have written about this friend before, and probably mentioned that him and his family were originally from London.

It came as no surprise then to learn that my friend's aunt owned a holiday bungalow at Clacton-on-Sea, and what’s more, she allowed my friend to talk her into letting it out to him plus a small group of school friends. This was to be for a week during the summer holiday, after we had finished at school for the final time.

As you can imagine for four 18 year olds about to go our separate ways, it  turned into a proper “lad’s holiday.” Three of us were due to start university at the end of September, whilst the fourth member of  our group had already started out in the world of work.

Apart from anticipating our “A” level results, we hadn’t a care in the world. We spent our time in and out of the pubs and the amusement arcades; our dream girls, or any girls for that matter, having failed to materialise. On one occasion we hired a couple of two-seater pedal trikes, and set off to explore the surrounding area, which really meant stopping off at a suitable  pub, or two.

Now as my friend knew far more about the brewing industry than the rest of us, he not only acted as our guide, but he also managed to select a pub based on its owning brewery. So in the days long before the internet, and several years before CAMRA first appeared on the scene, our school friend guided us to a pub belonging to a brewery called Greene King.

I’ve no idea what the pub was called, or whether it’s still trading, and to be honest, I remember very little about the place, or the taste and condition of  the beer on sale there, but that was my first experience of Greene King, as a brewery..

Greene King cropped up a year later when, having gone our separate ways, I met up with my old school friend when we were working together as contract cleaners, in a hospital, during the university summer vacation. Roughly halfway through our contract, we took the day off and headed up to London for a pub crawl based on the first ever CAMRA Guide to Real Ale in London. I've written about our experiences here, in great detail, should you wish to take a look.

The crawl took place back in 1974, and towards the end of the day we ended up at the Anglesea Arms; a pub which was probably the first free house in London to capitalise on the growing interest in "real ale.”  The pub offered a selection of beers which could not be found anywhere else in the capital, and my friend's guide informed us that the revered Abbot Ale from Greene King, featured amongst the selection of hand pumped ales available at the Anglesea.

Unfortunately, despite the wide variety of beers on offer that evening, Abbot Ale was not on tap, and it was to be several years later that I finally managed to track down a pint of any Greene King beers, and the chance finally came on a weekend visit to Bedford, some time in the mid-1970’s.

A group of friends from university had moved to the town, primarily because during their time at uni, they had formed a rock group and wanted to keep it together after finishing their studies. They chose Bedford because the lead guitarist’s girlfriend came from the town, and her father – a first generation Polish immigrant, owned a poultry farm in a nearby village. There were several empty chicken huts on the farm, one of which was requisitioned as a place for the band to practice in.

My then girlfriend and I were still living in Salford, where until recently, we’d all attended the local university. We’d been threatening to visit our rock musician buddies in Bedford for some time, so after making the necessary travel arrangements, we took a train down from Manchester. We actually took several trains, as we wanted to avoid the much more expensive option of travelling via London.

I can’t for the life of me remember the route we took, but I do remember our train towards Bedford being delayed sufficiently long enough to prevent us being able to enjoy a drink in the town that evening.

Our friends drank in a smashing little Greene King  pub, called the Flower Pot. It was situated just off the town centre, but by the time we found our way there, “time” had already been called. I began to think my quest to sink a pint of Greene King was doomed, but I needn’t have feared, as the following lunchtime, we all met up at the Flower Pot, where I was able to knock back several pints of GK beer.

The beer was probably IPA, rather than Abbot, and it should also be remembered that the Greene King beers available in that part of the country, came from the company’s Biggleswade Brewery, rather than from Bury St Edmunds. For brewery history buffs, the Biggleswade plant was the former Wells & Winch Brewery, which was purchased by Greene King in 1961. It was used for the production of GK beers until 1997, when it was closed following a “re-structuring” by the parent company.

I enjoyed many pints of Greene King on that weekend and on subsequent visits to Bedford, but before finishing I’m pleased to report that the Flower Pot is still trading. According to WhatPub it is one of the oldest pubs in Bedford, with low ceilings, small windows, dark wood and subdued lighting, which give it a cosy, traditional atmosphere. This is exactly how I remember the place.

Footnote: I have unearthed an old photo of the Flower Pot, taken in 1980. I will add it to the post, once I have scanned it in.

Tuesday 20 August 2019

Hitting the buffers

I picked up a copy of the most recent “London Drinker” CAMRA magazine, whilst at GBBF last week. There’s always plenty of interest amongst it pages, and not all the article are about London.

A particularly sad piece of news from the wilds of Norfolk, caught my eye. It concerned the closure of Buffy’s Brewery, who are throwing in the towel after 25 years of trading. The brewery was based in the village of Tivetshall St Mary, and was founded in 1993. Buffy's beers could be found in several pubs across Norfolk as well as at their own pub, the Cherry Tree at Wicklewood, near Wymondham, which they will continue to run.

The closure was blamed on there being too many breweries in Norfolk, and with over 40 of them all competing for a slice of a diminishing market, something had to give. Like many industry observers, I was more than a little surprised to learn that Buffy’s had gone to the wall, but Roger Abrahams, who founded the brewery, along with Julia Savory, claimed that the micro-brewing sector was close to saturation point, and that competition between brewers “had become very aggressive.”

Mr Abrahams alluded to those pubs who wanted something different every time, and this reminded me of the so-called “badge brewers.” I wrote a lengthy article about this phenomenon, back in 2012. For the uninitiated  "badge brewing" is when a brewery churns out a plethora of different beers, often with silly names which, whilst purporting to be different brews, are just a variation on a handful of basic recipes.

By doing this they are catering primarily for the "tickers" market, and are duping those drinkers foolish enough to believe they are getting something new and different each time. What they are doing of course, is not illegal but at the same time it does push the boundaries with regard to what constitutes a new, different beer, and what doesn’t.

Two companies, in particular were infamous for this practice Cottage Brewing and Archers Ales, both of whom are no longer brewing. The two companies between then produced a staggering amount of supposedly different, “one-off” beers, based around a number of different themes.

Cottage Brewing majored on their “Whippet” series, named after the owners’ dog, whilst Archer’s produced a range of beers with a “locomotive” theme. The connection, in the latter case, was that Archer’s were based in part of the former Great Western Railway locomotive works in Swindon.

Buffy’s, by way of contrast, concentrated on a core range of traditional-style beers, primarily bitter in flavour and mainly brown in colour. This may have been their downfall, especially within an increasingly fickle licensed trade, which expects something new, or different every time.

However, as the examples of both Cottage and Archer’s illustrate, chasing after this “fickle” trade is wrought with its own problems; especially in a market which is already over saturated and over-competitive.

Sunday 18 August 2019

Brooklyn (owes the cut-price beer under me)

Keeping in the spirit of using an obscure album track for a cryptic title - as promoted by Retired Martin, some of you might know this one from classic American rockers, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, and their former band.

Continuing my search for cut-price beer on the shelves of local discount stores, I discovered that whilst Home Bargains eventually exhausted their quite extensive stocks of Goose Island Honkers (I picked up a second load last month, as did one of my work colleagues), they had instead obtained a supply of cans from New York’s renowned Brooklyn Brewery.

Two different types were on sale at just 79p a can, and what’s more being from the USA where, as we all know, everything’s bigger and better, they are 355ml tins, rather than the 330ml cans which are standard on this side of the Atlantic. 

The beers I picked up were Scorcher IPA 4.5% and Summer Ale 5.0% , but then to throw a further Brooklyn beer into the mix, I subsequently found East IPA 6.9% on sale at our local Tesco, for £1.04 a can.

All bargains for cash-strapped home drinkers, but it does lead to the question why are a couple of well-respected US breweries discounting their beers in this fashion? The answer in the case of Goose Island, was that Honkers is being discontinued, by AB InBev, who now own the brewery. But what about Brooklyn Brewery

Although Brooklyn retain their independence,  Japanese conglomerate Kirin Holdings, now own a 24.5% minority stake in the company. Brooklyn Brewery, unlike many of its American craft contemporaries, has long chased after growth abroad, and a couple of years ago was tipped to export around 150,000 barrels. 

Much of the company's  distribution in Europe, is through a  partnership with Carlsberg, but this doesn't explain why they would want to "dump" beer through UK discount stores.

So what about the beers themselves?

Scorcher IPA 4.5%. Golden in colour, rather than amber. Very bitter in a harsh sort of way, with little in the way of juicy malt to act as a counterbalance. Quite a thin beer, but certainly thirst quenching on a baking hot summer’s day. However, on a damp mid-August day in England, the effect is somewhat lost
Summer Ale 5.0%.  A refreshing and flavourful pale ale made specially for warm weather. The English two-row barley adds a degree of “breadiness,” which made me think it also contained a portion of maize.

This is not the case, and the malt is balanced with German and American hops to achieve a clean bitterness and a pleasant floral aroma.  The beer reminded me of certain native “Summer Ales,” in particular Westerham Brewery’s Summer Perle, but also Harvey's Olympia

East IPA 6.9%.  A  strong American-style IPA, despite the blurb on the can about joining the English tradition with spirited American hops, to create a well-balanced IPA.

There are certainly plenty of citrus aromas in this light amber coloured ale, and these combined with the resinous flavours from the hops, make for a very satisfying beer, despite the strength.

Conclusion:  with the possible exception of Scorcher, they are all quite quaffable beers, but like many which have crossed continents to reach these shores,  I suspect they would taste even better in a steamy bar, in downtown New York.

Thursday 15 August 2019

GBBF 2019

Right, let’s look at last Friday’s visit to CAMRA’s annual flagship event, and the grand-daddy of all UK drink festivals, the Great British Beer Festival. It’s an event that needs little in the way of introduction, so let’s cut to the chase by saying that it hadn’t been my intention to go to the festival.

It had been several years since my last visit to Olympia, which took place in 2016, and as that occasion was the opening day Trade Session, it’s difficult to make comparisons with what I experienced this time around. Before describing the 2019 event, it’s worth mentioning that this blog has covered Great British Beer Festivals from 2009, 2012, 2014 as well as 2016. I also did a write-up of 2017’s event; even though I wasn’t actually there!

Two things persuaded me to go along this year, the first being the good report I received about last year’s event from two members of my team from work. Admittedly 2018 was their first ever GBBF, but they came back full of praise. I was several thousand miles away at the time, travelling to a location just outside Washington DC, for the American Beer Writer’s Conference, but the pictures my colleagues posted on Facebook did rather make me wish that I was there, at Olympia, sharing the experience with them.

There were no such clashes this year, but the thing which really inspired me to go along, was the well-illustrated and extremely positive write-up in CAMRA’s BEER magazine; the award-winning, quarterly publication, sent out free to all CAMRA members.

So with my mind made up I decided it was high time to renew my acquaintance with the Great British Beer Festival, with one proviso. I didn’t want to pay the rather steep admission charge, so instead I applied for a Press Pass - something any beer writer is entitled to do. CAMRA, quite naturally, will expect in return, a good write-up of the event, and I feel I have done this without compromising my integrity as a writer.

I don’t feel guilty either  about depriving CAMRA of potential revenue, as not being a life member, the organisation have taken more than enough money in membership fees from me, over the years.  Besides, without the Press Pass, I wouldn’t have attended, and I wouldn’t have spent forty quid or so on beer and food.

I arrived at Olympia, shortly after midday, after a pleasant, but rather slow journey on the Number 9 bus from Charing Cross. Sitting on the top deck gave me views of central London that I would not have experienced had I taken the tube. I joined the queue, which snaked around Olympia, before making my way up to the Press Office to collect my pass. After that, I was in and ready to start drinking!

I’d arranged to meet up with prolific blogger and champion GBG ticker, Retired Martin for what would be his first visit to the Great British Beer Festival. We’d agreed to rendezvous at bar B11, where there was a selection of Cornish beers on sale, although not Doom Bar, much to Martin’s disappointment.  

I started off with an enjoyable half of Kor Dogel, an easy drinking pale, hoppy ale from Padstow Brewery. It wasn’t long before Martin showed up; I can’t remember what he had as I wasn’t keeping score, although I do recall that sometime, quite early in the proceedings, he had a beer from Arkells of Swindon. Arkells of course, are a long established brewery and are one of the few remaining, independent family brewers to have survived into the 21st Century.

Continuing the old family brewer theme, a little later on in the day, I decided on a glass of Holden’s Black Country Bitter; another old fashioned, but very quaffable bitter which brought back memories of visits to the West Midlands.

The pair of us had a good wander around, bumping into fellow blogger Tandleman on the way. We paid a visit to the foreign beer bar he was working on, where I went for a glass of Kellerbier, an unfiltered beer from St.Georgen Bräu of Buttenheim, a large village between Bamberg and Erlangen in the Franconia region of northern Bavaria.

The beer was good, being cool, full-bodied and well-hopped, but somehow it didn’t taste the same as it did the day, nine years ago, when son Matthew and I sat in the shady beer garden, on the edge of Buttenheim, knocking back several half-litres of this delicious beer, served in traditional stoneware mugs. If proof were needed that location and actually being there, adds provenance to a beer, then this was it!

We had a couple more beers between us, noticing that the hall was starting to get quite busy. I still wouldn’t say it was heaving, and there was very little waiting to be served.  Martin was getting itchy feet, and told me he was aiming to catch a certain train. Before he left I had what for me was one of the best beers of the festival in the form of Heart & Soul; a really tasty 4.4% session IPA from Vocation Brewery.

Martin had been drinking Vocation beers the night before, in Leeds, at a special event to commemorate Beer Leeds blogger and writer, Richard Coldwell who sadly passed away at the end of June. He told me Vocation has some rather good beers on tap, including a special one in Richard’s memory.

Martin departed soon afterwards and, as it turned out, leaving when he
did was the right decision, because later in the afternoon, a large chunk of the UK national rail network was knocked out by a massive power outage, leaving trains and their passengers stranded. I, in the meantime, wandered off to grab a bite to eat.

There were plenty of different food stalls to chose from, so I had a pasty from the Crusty Pie Company, plus a bacon roll from the Real Sausage & Mash stand. It was around this time that I too was thinking of following Martin’s example, but a half of Adnam’s 5.0% Dark Side of the Moon, a rather interesting marshmallow and coconut stout, plus the equally interesting Smokin’ Gun Porter, from Big Hand Brewing Company, set me off on a quest to find the group of friends from West Kent CAMRA, who I knew would be sitting upstairs in the gallery area, where there were plenty of tables and benches.

I must have walked past them a couple of times, before a text alerted me to where they were sitting. I sat down and joined them, and that was where the rot set in. It involved quite a few more beers, another pasty and a 9.15pm departure, but on the plus side, there was plenty of interesting, and useful conversation.

One of the beers I sampled was another survivor from the past; this time XXX 4.3%, a ale from the Three Tuns brew-pub in the picturesque Shropshire village of Bishop’s Castle. I’d only sampled this beer on one previous occasion, and that was in 1976, as a student.

A girlfriend and I had driven with a friend, all the way from Rugely in Staffordshire, to Bishop’s Castle, with the express purpose of enjoying a few pints of the Three Tuns “home-brewed” beer. The beer was well worth the long and tiring drive, and drinking it 43 years later at GBBF, brought back fond memories. I have to say though, that this was another example of location and occasion adding provenance.

Some final thoughts, as I’ve waffled on far longer than intended. First I felt that CAMRA really had taken all the criticisms from previous years on-board and addressed them in a professional and positive manner. The bars seemed better laid-out than hey were three years ago, and they were much easier to navigate.

The food stands were plentiful and what they were offering was good. My only gripe was the absence of the Piper’s Crisps stand, or indeed any crisps at all. There was live music, for those that wanted it, and Swallow, the band Martin and I saw and heard briefly, were very good. Another major positive at GBBF, was the beer quality, which was very good. The same could about the range, although once you’ve had six or seven halves, they all start tasting the same, and you’re never going to make a dent in the 1,000 + beers on sale at the event.

There were a few moans about high prices, although I personally didn’t really notice, as I was drinking either half pints or thirds. Also, considering the substantial overheads involved in staging an event like GBBF, in the heart of London, these factors have to be considered when setting the beer prices, and whilst some were undoubtedly on the dear side, there were still a few bargains to be had, if you looked around.

Finally the attendance figures. My friends, who are regular attendees, thought the attendance at this year’s event was again down on previous years. This also became obvious to me, as the evening progressed. I’m not sure why this should be, although perhaps people are becoming blasé towards the event, despite CAMRA’s best efforts.

There may be other factors involved as well, such as conflicting events taking place at the same time, but despite all this I’m still glad I went, even though it will probably be several more years until my next GBBF. 

If you haven’t been, do give the event a try, and despite the odd minus, there are a lot more pluses!

Monday 12 August 2019

An alternative to GBBF Friday?

I’m still working on my article about last week’s Great British Beer Festival. For now, I can report that I enjoyed it, am glad I went and that I also came away with the feeling that CAMRA have listened to the feedback given over the past few years and taken action.

It’s too early for me to answer the question, will I go again but, as this short post demonstrates, I was not the only person asking this question. I’m also keen to learn CAMRA’s opinion of the event; both publicly and privately especially as the numbers attending seemed down on previous years. So as a prelude to my report, and before any post-mortem, here’s an alternative idea that some friends and I came up with last Friday.

I wasn’t the only person at GBBF on Friday, who was questioning their attendance at future festivals. There were several friends amongst the group I was with who were of the same opinion, all thinking that despite the great day out that the Great British Beer Festival offers, there are only so many new or exotic beers you can sample, without ending up totally legless.

In addition, when you factor in the cost of getting there, along with the not insignificant admission charge, a visit to GBBF can leave you seriously out of pocket, and that’s before you’ve even had your  first beer. An alternative day out, for next year’s event was therefore proposed, and it runs as follows.

As several of the people I was with on Friday use the event to meet up with friends or former work colleagues from other parts of the country, why not use the occasion to meet up somewhere on their home territory. So whilst it has become something of a tradition for this particular group to meet up at GBBF each year (normally on a Friday), why not instead travel somewhere outside of London and join them there?

Several people had travelled up from Hampshire or Dorset, so the idea was floated that instead of everyone spending money travelling to London, followed by extra cash for admittance to the festival, it would be good to travel to somewhere with a more central location; a city like Salisbury or Winchester for example. We could then visit several pubs in these localities and no doubt get to sample a number of different beers. 

A decent pub lunch could also be on the cards, rather than the constant “grazing” which seems to be the pattern at GBBF. This would be a much more relaxed day out, and would also afford the opportunity for a spot of sight-seeing, and other tourist activities as well.

It’s early days yet, but the idea certainly seemed to appeal to those present. The prospect of visiting a new location, or revisiting somewhere different, but not particularly familiar, is definitely one which appeals to me. There’s obviously mileage in it, if you’ll excuse the pun, so we might be witnessing the birth of a new early August tradition, albeit on a much smaller scale.