Sunday, 8 August 2010

GBBF Week: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good: The beer (obviously); the pork scratchings (obviously); seeing friends, old and new; third measures; the volunteers who deserve a standing ovation each evening; the location (big, brilliant); the speed to enter is incredibly good if you have a ticket; despite the hoards of people, the gallons of beer and mountains of food, it somehow never seems dirty or messy in there; the waves of Cheers which growl around the venue as the days progress.

The Bad: I think water should be freely available and encouraged, perhaps on a free water bar; on Saturday there was no cask US beer left and much of the other beer was sold out by 5pm (good for the festival, not so good for the drinker who can only attend on Saturday); and does anyone really listen to the music? (these are all minor - there's little to complain about, in my opinion)

The Ugly: The gents’ toilets towards the end of the day (a long time queuing followed by standing swaying-shoulder to swaying-shoulder with two other guys, aiming with considerable difficulty into the white hole surrounded by a frog chorus of farts and barely-stifled giggles).

The Best Beers: Portsmouth Brewery Bottle Rocket IPA was my favourite overall beer, a fruity, tangerine-juiced IPA, so deliciously good that it’s got my tongue doing excited somersaults just remembering it; the Portsmouth Oatmeal Stout was also exceptional and the smoothest mouthful of beer of the week; Fyne Ale’s Jarl was the best UK beer I had, its bright flavour blinds its bland 4% peers, firing out fruity hops and pithy bitterness; a passing gulp of Birrificio Italiano Tipopils was excellent and I’m glad I picked up a bottle to bring home; Fuller’s Chiswick and ESB were both in remarkably good condition and reaffirmed to me just how good their beers can be, while the Brewer’s Reserve No.2 showed the other side of Fuller’s, a side worthy of considerable attention (Kelly Ryan writes this great piece about it); Durham’s Hopping Mad, Arbor Beech Blonde, Marble Manchester Bitter, Thornbridge Kipling and Moor’s Revival all really hit the hop spot, vibrant and full-flavoured UK ales; Opa Opa King Oak Milk Stout was a great example of a style I don't drink often enough; a few good lagers were served to me by Tandleman, all excellent and cool with crisp flavours and just what I wanted as a little refresh from the US hops, even if I can’t remember what they were (there was a Zoigl and an unfiltered Kolsch among them...); De Molen’s Tsarina Esra Reserva was ridiculously delicious and dangerously good.

Photo by Jonas Smith
The Other Memorable Beers: Saltaire Triple Chocoholic really is a cocoa lover’s dream; four bottles for 50p each, two unlabelled, one from 1980 and one from 1981, all perfectly drinkable, all showing the results of careful aging, all interesting to try; Revelation Cat’s Single Hop Lambic was unforgettable in a bad way, clashing sour with big, citrus hops; Rogue’s Chipotle Ale had three of us all exclaim ‘smoked paprika’, which, while it may be my favourite spice in the kitchen, is not something I want in my beer (this was one of three bottles which Mark writes about, which had us talking for an hour about beer and food pairings for three out-there beers).

GBBF week is done. It’s a crazy, intense and brilliant week. It’s a time for meeting up with friends and drinking good beers, just because we can. If you went, what was good, what was bad, what was ugly?! The best beer you had was...?

I got the images from the CAMRA website.


  1. My head was spinning all day from talking to so many people but from what I remember - Loved the Smuuty nose Big A IPA and the Simcoe dry hopped Levitation as much for its low alcohol as its flavour, although it was gone by tea time on tuesday. It would be nice if they could put a few of the american beers on gas as they really don't suit being gravity served. Enjoyed a couple of lovely de-molen beers and Thornbridge Hopton and Kipling but a bottle of Toccalmatto "Zona Cesarini" shared with some italian journalists was probably my most memorable beer of the day.

  2. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the GBBF. Under the 'Good' I'd add to all the things you mentioned the seafood and indian food stalls. Aside from the beers, one of the things I most look forward to at the GBBF is the rollmops from the seafood stall and they didn't disappoint. The service at the bars was very good every time despite the staff being volunteers rather than full-time barpeople. I liked the way the bars were set up so it wasn't one bar per region.

    Constructive suggestions for improvements in the future: I second your suggestion of having at least one 'water' bar. Could maybe have other soft drinks (orange squash?) readily available for a low price as well? Phone charging points would have been very handy for me as using Twitter on my phone drained the battery before the end of the evening. My biggest bugbear was people standing chatting - with no need of a drink - in front of the bars, getting in the way of those trying to get their next beer. Not sure what the organisers could really do about this last one though.

    I've blogged all of the beers I tried over at The Hand & Mouse. I had some very good milds, including Caythorpe Dark Gem, Surrey Hills Hammer Mild, and Cannon Royal Fruiterer's Mild. Stouts & porters I enjoyed included Amber Chocolate Orange Stout, Devon Ales Thick Black and O'Hanlons Original Port Stout. Of the golden ales and bitters, the Breconshire Cribyn, Liberation Mary Ann Best, Williams Bros Fraoch Heather Ale and Country Life Pot Wallop were all very good.

    If I had to pick a personal favourite beer of the festival it would be between Caythorpe Dark Gem and O'Hanlons Original Port Stout.

  3. I've learned to bring a refillable water bottle with me to the GBBF-- if you go to any bar they will fill it for you with lovely cold drinking water. They should really let people know though that this service is available.

    I've had the Chipotle Ale, fresh in Portland and it was good stuff-- especially paired with Mexican food like mole. I've never had it in bottles, and I imagine after a day of intense beering it wouldn't make sense to a palate coated in hop resins!

  4. The good for me was meeting friends old and new, beating off the Rorke's Drift like hordes at the German bar, the Thornbridge cask beers which were all great and Cantillon Kriek which was my beer of the festival.I always love the general buzz and finding beers that people like is always a pleasure.

    The bad - the muggy,sweaty atmosphere in the hall, the queues for the toilets which made the long trek to the staff area worthwhile and beer wise missing out on Dredgie's recommendation of Jarl. Sold out by the time I got there.

    Overall it was fantastic though. I also agree with the watering station idea.

  5. Third of a pint measures are the work of the devil. At least you can get a full pint at the GBBF, unlike those infuriating geek festuvals with thimble measures where you spend more time queueing up than drinking.

  6. Rich, I didn't try the Stone Leviathon but probably should have - their Vanilla Smoked Porter was excellent. Between my mates and me we worked our way through all the Thornbridge beers and they were all very good, I was particularly surprised by how good Craven Silk was as I didn't expect it to be my kind of thing! I've got a bottle of the Toccalmato so look forward to that.

    Ian, nice set of beers you got through. I didn't have any fish although the curries looked and smelt great! Glad you had a good time.

    Impy, I took a big bottle of water in with me but it'd be nice to have a dedicated place where it's advertised. As for the Chipotle... I can't imagine ever really enjoying it that much!! I like a bit of spice in a beer but that was pretty hot!

    Tandleman, that Cantillon was excellent and I had it on the Wednesday after your recommendation on Tuesday.

    Anon, I like thirds! The good thing about the GBBF glasses is that you've got three choices of measure depending on what you want and that's a good thing IMO.

  7. I found the third useful for trying a beer (well, a proper old fashioned ale actually) that I thought might well be a bit rubbish but I wanted to try anyway.

    As to my beer of the festival, much to my surprise it was a mild, the excellently named Oscar Wilde mild. I'd have happily had a pint of that, though I stuck with the traditional half.