Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Great British Beer Festival

Where else can you find a Cherry Blonde and a Chocolate Marble in the same room as a Knight of the Garter and Black Beck Belle?

It is, of course, the Great British Beer Festival, the country’s biggest beer festival. It runs until Saturday at Earl’s Court.

The festival opened yesterday and last night was my first ever visit. I’m told it gets packed later in the week, but on a Tuesday night it was busy yet there was plenty of space to get around and no queues to get served (with the possible exception of if you wanted to try the new Champion Beer of Britain, which is Oscar Wilde from the Mighty Oak brewery in Maldon, Essex).

My personal favourite was Cherry Blonde from Enville Brewery in Stourbridge, Staffordshire, but then I like my beers light and fruity. There is a strong selection of cider and perry, too.

As a former Norfolk girl I was pleased to see around 10 Norfolk beers including Flintknappers Mild from the Chalk Hill Brewery, based at the Coach and Horses on Thorpe Road in Norwich, Woodforde’s Wherry from Woodbastwick, Burston’s Cuckoo from Elmtree in Snetterton, Raspberry Wheat from Iceni in Mundford, and Old Stoatwobbler from Spectrum in Tharston, near Long Stratton.

The closest comparison I can make is with the Norwich beer festival held each October. The Great British Beer Festival is bigger but also more expensive (and for CAMRA members, you get a discount but in Norwich you don’t pay anything). Norwich wins hands-down for having a prettier building. Both are well-run by enthusiastic volunteers, and both have more beers than you could possibly try even if you went every day all week.

Naturally I took a close interest in the food stalls. The prices are not as bad as I had feared and a number of the stalls are offering quite tasty options. Highlights include:

- Merry Berry Truffles from Burton Upon Trent. Not just truffles but also chocolate flavoured with spices and other things (lime and ginger works well, I also enjoyed the chocolate with black pepper, and for foolhardy types there is a burning hot chilli chocolate too). The chocolate pieces are £2.50 a bag, £4 for 2 bags. There are lots of samples too.

- Posh pies from the Crusty Pie Co. Pork pies, smoked ham and mustard pies, vegetarian pies and too many others to list. Small pies are £2 each, or 3 for £5. Large pies are £6. They also do traditional pork scratchings.

- Pipers crisps. What goes better with a beer than crisps? They do flavours including Norfolk Bloody Mary, sweet chilli and my favourite, sea salt and cider vinegar. 80p a small bag, or £1 for the parsnip crisps. Plenty of samples.

Four Great British beer festival tips:
1) Check out the new breweries bar – in association with Wetherspoon’s – if you want a guarantee of finding something you have never had before (though unless you are a seasoned pro, most bars will have several beers you have never had).

2) If you have never been to Earl’s Court before, don’t get confused by the one-way system in the toilets after a few beers.

3) Drink halves or thirds (yes thirds), not pints, so you can try as many beers or ciders as possible.

4) Keep hold of your glass – and give it back at the end if you want a refund of your £3 deposit.

The festival is open noon to 10.30pm until Friday August 5, and 11am to 7pm Saturday August 6.
More information at

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