Lessons learnt at London Craft Beer Festival 2014
What a glorious week London Beer City was. I can feel the reverberations of good times still ringing in my bones. The crown jewel of this celebration of all things beer was of course London Craft Beer Festival. In its second year it promised to bang the drum of beer harder than ever before, and I think it’s safe to say it was pretty damn banging. We tagged along to a few of the sessions and we feel like better people for it – more educated by being exceptionally saturated with good beer. So thanks for that. We’ve finally got our shit together enough to give some sort of summary of what we learnt on that great weekend.
1. The UK beer scene rocks, hard!
As we all know it’s a good time to be drinking beer in the UK. We’re spoilt for choice and it was great to see that LCBF had managed yet again to gather the cream of the crop of breweries from around the country. The main hall was like a dream scenario of good beer. There were the more established breweries, like Magic Rock, Thornbridge, Kernel, Siren, Beavertown, Buxton and Weird Beard. In a dark corner behind the stage the guys at Brew By Numbers and Partizan were holding court for a thirsty audience. Present were also a few smaller breweries that are sometimes harder to come by, like Howling Hops, Pressure Drop, Burning Sky and Alpha State. No one was missing really.
Each brewery manned their own taps, which is by far the best way to go about organising a beer festival. Always good to get some face time with the people behind the stuff you’re drinking. There were so much good beer on offer it’s difficult to pick some to highlight, but I’ll try. The Rye Gose from Howling Hops stands out. Very drinkable, clean as metal and incredibly refreshing. Another blinder was Partizan’s Lemon Cuvee. I think a saw a man do a somersault after trying it. It had depth and sourness and lemonisiousness in buckets. There was also Magic Rock’s white wine barrel aged Circus Of Sour (I love me some barrel) and Buxton’s collaboration sour with Omnipollo Stolen Fruit (citrus sour face punch). I could go on.
It makes me proud to be in the midst of all this deliciousness. That the UK can now consistently produce a wide variety of truly amazing beer. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
2. London Craft Beer Festival has many faces.
We got to go to a good few of the sessions and it was interesting to see how different they were. The Thursday session was pretty quiet. Only the most dedicated had turned up to get a taste of what the festival had to offer. It was smooth and you could slowly get drunk and chat to people at your own leisure. The trade session was also fairly quiet, with a wide range of different people from the food and drink spectre turning up. I even saw a couple of people tasting and spitting, like wine. How vulgar. The rest of the sessions were sold out. The daytime session on Saturday had a good mix of people and good atmosphere, but it all got turned up to party mode in the evening sessions. It was crowded, loud and warm, but people were smiling and drinking. Maybe there were less beard stroking, but I don’t think people enjoyed the beer any less. It’s one of the things that, to my knowledge, no other beer festival has managed to do – create a big badass party, where people are drinking the best beer available, dancing the night away. It was great. It chipped away a bit of the manly geekiness that goes with the whole beer scene. More of this please.
3. Saisons and sours are the name of the game.
Drinking my way through all the different beers on offer (I didn’t taste them all, I’d be dead), it was interesting to see that a lot of breweries are brewing styles beyond the traditional hoppy pale ales. And doing it well. My top picks above is a reflection of that. The good things with these styles is that they’re clean, relatively low alcohol and very quaffable. You can drink them all night long. It’s interesting how brewers follow each other, and you get different trends, but this season you’re not at the top of your game if you can’t bang out a decent saison or a sour beer.
4. Volunteering is a great way to see a beer festival from a angle.
We got to see LCBF from many angles over the weekend – from the trade day session to a more boisterous and musically inclined evening session. We were also asked by Buxton if we wanted to help them out behind the bar in one of the sessions, an opportunity Josh welcomed with open arms. He had a great time. The comradery between breweries and stalls were excellent. At one point Logan Plant from Beavertown was manning the Buxton taps, serving up beers to the likes of Tom Hutchings from Brew By Numbers. If you want to get a new perspective on the beer scene, and get social with a few brewers, give volunteering a go next time.
5. Sours are the great divider.
Josh had a front row seat when it came to gauging people’s reaction to some of the beers. One contentious brew he poured was the Buxton and Omnipollo Stolen Fruit, a sour beer that’s one of the best beers I’ve had this year. It’s got heaps of grapefruit and lime, but isn’t necessarily the type of beer your average human expects to be served at a beer festival. Some of the reactions were, shall we say, interesting. One couple said they couldn’t respect a brewery that’s making this type of beer. Two old guys stopped by the stall to berate one of the guys at Buxton for even producing anything like it. However, by far the best reaction was from a group of people who run the well respected Ceviche and Andina restaurants. They came back to the stall over and over again, saying it was the highlight of the festival for them.
6. Small servings are great.
When it comes to the logistics of getting the beer from the taps and into people’s mouths most festivals opt for a token system. Hand over a token, get a measure of beer. LCBF had taken a different approach this year. It worked like this: Hand over the glass, scream and point at the beer you want (especially at the evening sessions) and receive a sample of 90 ml, although most brewers were more generous than that. It worked a treat. It’s similar to how Copenhagen Beer Celebration is organising their pours. It lets you walk around and try a lot of different beers, however many you want. LCBF also had some tokens, if you wanted a full glass, and I know a few people used them just so they didn’t have to constantly keep scrambling for new beers. I just ended up with a whole bunch of them on my bedside table where I emptied my pockets after the festivities.
7. America didn’t bring their A-game.
There were two American breweries present at the festival. Both of them giants in the world of beer – Sierra Nevada and Founders. They were brought in to work as the big recognisable breweries that could draw in the masses. Personally I was more excited that The Bottle Shop, who were on hand to sell cans and bottles, had brought a tap that was pouring the likes of Evil Twin and To Øl. The disappointing thing for me with the Americans was that they hadn’t brought the most exciting beer. Founders served up a few of their core beers, but they were not the freshest. I’m pretty sure they weren’t happy bringing old beer to this kind of party. Sierra Nevada had brought cask ales, some of the only ones in the room. Maybe they thought they had to. Their Hoptimum double IPA and Harvest Single Hop IPA were both nice and in good condition, but failed to have me jumping up and down in excitement. I think it’s fair to say that the show was thoroughly owned by the local breweries.
That’s what we got for this year’s festival. We had a remarkably good time. It was joyous, it was heavy, it was social and it was most definitely delicious. It’s great to see that we finally have a proper beer festival in London. One that we can be proud of and that is unlike any other. We’ll definitely be back next year. Can’t wait.
Video by Tamas Olajos
Photos by Josh Smith, see more photos from the event here