I’ve never been to the Great British Beer Festival before – yes I know, shocking!  But that duck was broken yesterday, as I happy to join Karl (local CAMRA PR and press guy) who had a spare ticket for the Friday session.

We jumped on a 10.09am train down to London, then walked from Kings Cross to Euston hoping to have a swift one at the Euston Tap before we carried on.  Unfortunately we’d forgotten that London pubs often don’t open until 12 (well the ‘trendy’ ones anyway).. so we just jumped on the tube instead, a change at Oxford Circus, central line to Shepherds Bush, and then the overground train one stop to the dedicated station at Olympia.  Very handy that is too – you can’t get off the train and fail to see the Olympia entrance.

There was a queue, but we were ushered through because we had pre-paid tickets, so we were in pretty quickly.  A £3 (returnable) pint glass later, and a free booklet (free to CAMRA members) later, we were ready to find a beer.

Loads to choose from – the National event puts the beers together by bars which contain the UK’s counties by alphabetical letter – which is a bit odd to begin with.  Due to the sheer number of breweries featured, most breweries had only one beer – apart from the odd one like Salopian, or the breweries who had their own brewery bar dotted around the venue.

The amazing chilli beer

The amazing chilli beer

The brewery bar of the beerfest for me was St Austell – their stand was a huge impressive beast, with video projection making it look very fancy.  Also I had a pint of their “Big Job” – an amped up (7.2%?) version of Proper Job.  It was lovely!

We visited the American cask ale bar – unfortunately as it was Friday, a LOT of the American craft beers had sold out, but I still had some interesting beers.  First a BIG IPA,  Hoptimum by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.  That was a nice assault on the taste buds.  Later I had the most amazing being a beer made with a LOT of pulped chillis (and mango).  Unlike some chilli beer I’ve had before, often dark stouts with some chilli heat, this was a clear golden ale which purely tasted of chilli / plant sap / peppers…  I’d not want pint after pint, but it was quite amazingly different.  Quite HOT too!  That was Habitus Rye with Serrano Peppers by Hess Brewing.  It certainly hid it’s 8% strength well.

Another interesting beer was one of the Brains ‘craft’ beers – ‘The Big Smoke’ – a smoked beer which reminded me of smoked bacon.  It would be a great ale to have with a BBQ, or cured meats.  Again in limited amounts, not sure it would make a good session ale!

I had a great Italian beer in the world bottled section –  Space Frontier by BrewFist.   The Italians are making some great craft beer, and this was no exception.

If you like a wheat beer which tastes and drinks more like a cask lager, I’d recommend Half moon by Hanlons. I could taste some wheat, but it was clear, and tasted to me like it had some noble lager hop in there.  I’m no super taster though, so I could be wrong.

After about eight hours, we set-off back home, but not before visiting the Euston Tap (for a lovely Lagunitas IPA), and then a quick visit to The Bree Louise round the corner, a real ale mecca.  It’s won a lot of CAMRA awards, and serves many beers out of the cask.  Also I counted seven proper ciders served from boxes on the bar.

All in all a great first GBBF experience – it’s big, has LOTS of beer to try – but not many from each brewery so don’t expect to try a lot from any individual brewer.  There was a music stage, but it’s not quite as music orientated as the Peterborough festival with hits HUGE stage and music tent.

I also missed being outside, and the smell of grass/mud/rain 🙂