London Craft Beer Festival 2013 – A Review
Trying to organise a crafty celebration of beer in a city full of brewers might sound easy on paper. But with some recent festivals just not cutting the mustard, London was still waiting for a Craft Beer festival to be proud of. After a whirlwind of rumours in the brewing community, London Craft Beer Festival was finally announced. With a promise of bringing a hoard of the UK’s best brewers together with some European heavyweights, it was lining up to be what we all had been waiting for.
The venue for the festival was an event space in an old Bethnal Green industrial complex, flanked by giant gas towers, and usually playing host to East London parties. If I learnt anything from ‘Liverpool Craft Beer Expo‘ it’s that industrial-hip works for this type of festival. The airport hangar stylings of GBBF don’t cut it when it comes to the new wave.
Looking at the lineup of breweries – featuring Mikkeller, Magic Rock, De Molen, Buxton and Kernel – you may be mistaken for thinking this was a festival squarely aimed at beer geeks. But as we entered the main room it became obvious that there would be far fewer Ratebeer note-takers than first thought. Instead the festival was filled with the young, eclectic crowd that East London has become accustomed to. Less hipster, more just people having a good time. Beer can be as casual or serious as you want it to be, and there was a good mix of both happening here.
The main area was already buzzing and bustling, with the music turned up and a good crowd of people perusing the brewery stands lining the edges of the venue. I popped over to the Siren Craft Brew stand and went straight for their ‘Whisky Sour’, a Limoncello IPA aged in a whisky barrel. It was a complex and smooth affair compared to its former incarnation and the taste was something completely new to me. Ryan, the head brewer, also gave me a cheeky taste of a saison they have been working on. Hopped with the new ‘Vic Secret’ hop and given a refreshing lacto kick, it was one of the highlights of the festival for me.
Buxton Brewery was next on the cards. Having teased the geeks on twitter about new beers especially for the festival, they didn’t disappoint. Brewer Denis was on hand to talk through the offerings and explained a bit more about their collaborations with To Øl, including a dry hopped sour and a double IPA with the same core ingredients as each other. Their new beer named ‘Wolfscote’ also made an appearance, an intriguingly roasty black sour.
We then stopped off at the Mikkeller stand to see what the Danish brewer had brought. As I perused the taps, Bryan from Weird Beard popped up and was given a secret tipple from behind the counter. It turned out to be a red wine barrel aged stout from the new kids of Alpha State Brewery, who was sharing the stand with Mikkeller. I tried my luck and asked for a bit too, to which the guy replied “Didn’t I already give you some?”. I must have a beery doppelganger and he is getting the good stuff before me. Thankfully, he still gave me a pour, and what beautiful liquid it was. Pungent, deep blackberry filled goodness. I want more from this brewery, stat!
We grabbed some air and sustenance on the outside veranda. The onglet from ‘Ginger Pig’ was hands down some of the best food I’ve had at a festival, which should come as no surprise from one of London’s most respected butchers. The food selection was minimal, but hey, if you are going to choose just one thing, make it steak.
After finding our second wind, we headed back in, straight to see my boys on the Weird Beard Brew Co stand. I was excited to get my friends to sample their beers, and selfishly try their new DIPA ‘Holy Hopping Hell’ on keg, which was premiering at the festival. The beer was a powerhouse of resinous Citra hops backed up with a rich and thick toffee coated body. These boys are only getting better and it’s great to see the journey.
We left some of the best beers till last in the shape of To Øl and De Molen’s offerings. Both brought huge beers with them, giving the locals a healthy run for their money. To Øl’s ‘Goliath’ imperial stout was as epic as its name, as well as their bonkers ‘Dangerously Close To Stupid’ DIPA. To Øl was a highlight of the festival for many, including friends who had never tried a drop of their beer before. De Molen took over where To Øl left off and I snapped up another DIPA in the form of ‘Open and Bloot’. I quizzed the guy on the stall what to expect from it, and he replied simply with ‘tropical fruits’. I dislike the bandying around of too many ‘tastes like a lychee with wafts of lemon rind’ comments, but this was a straight-up passionfruit party in my mouth. Astounding stuff.
I could go on about more of the beers we drunk, from Magic Rock’s ‘Strongman’ barely wine, to Kernel’s barrel aged stout that made the whole group of us silent for a moment of pure and utter enjoyment. But there is always a point when all the good beers start flowing into one experience, and you start to just enjoy yourself, rather than analysing everything put in your hand.
The session ended abruptly, with punters pleading to the brewers to pour just a few more drinks. But all good things must come to an end, and the mission of getting through 15 beers in 5 hours was always a tall order. As the partially zombified festival-goers spilled out into Bethnal Green I felt satisfied and happy that finally something like this happened on my home turf. The post-festival analysis has raised some questions about whether the ticket system used was right and whether the music was a bit loud, but these points are nothing to dwell upon. The healthiest outcome of the festival was the reaction from the brewers, which seemed unanimously positive.
There are already talkings about London Craft Beer festival coming back next year, and with this year under their belt, it can only get bigger and better. The breweries that brought something special to LCBF this year were the heros of the event for me. My biggest hope for the next year is that the competitive bug will push every brewer to bring their A game and elevate the festival to where it should be. Roll on 2014, and as Greg the organiser said to me, “let’s push things forward”.