Last year saw the first ever London Craft Beer Festival. It brought together some of the best breweries from around the UK and abroad. People came, they drank, they danced and it’s safe to say the festival delivered what it promised – getting people merry on delicious beer while having fun. This year the festival is back, with slight tweaks to the proceedings. We sat down with Greg Wells, the main man behind the festival, to find out what has changed, and more importantly, what we’ll be drinking.

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The festival this year is still happening in the Oval Space just north of Bethnal Green, and is still unashamedly UK centric, with some of the best breweries on these windswept isles making the trip to London yet again. With big hitters such as Kernel, Magic Rock, Beavertown, Siren, Partizan, Thornbridge and Buxton all joining in, and newer upstarts such as Burning Sky, this is still the place to try some of the UK’s best beer. The big-shot names from abroad last year were Mikkeller and To Øl. These prominent Danish breweries has been replaced by two American brewing behemoths, namely Sierra Nevada and Founders. Greg tells us that he’s super excited to have breweries attending that were at the forefront of the whole craft beer wave.

Another new addition this year is the inclusion of an onsite bottle shop, courtesy of the guys at Bottle Shop, one of the UKs most dedicated importers of beer. Greg wanted them to come along to sell bottles and cans to take away, but almost more excitingly, they’re also putting on an import bar filled with big hitters like Evil Twin, Omnipollo and Green Flash. And lucky for all the beer geeks, these beers will be included in the ticket price.

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When it comes to the geek-factor of the festival Greg is keen to point out that although he’s bringing in the best of the best in the brewing world, his ambition is to introduce good beer to a much wider audience. That’s why the festival also focuses on putting on good music and serving good food. The idea is to have a good party, without too much snobbery, where people can meet the people behind the breweries. It’s beer after all. It should be fun. There will be DJs, like Hackney’s own golden boy Ghostpoet, a myriad of bands, and food from the likes of Rita’s and the Ginger Pig. Combine that with some spanking beer and you’ve got yourself a good party. One fact that Greg is keen to point out is that last year about a third of the visitors to the festival were of the female kind. Which is pretty damn close to unheard of for a beer festival of this calibre.

Talking to people after the festival last year it was clear that the token system worked fairly well. Most people got to drink a shitload of delicious beer. As much as most of them could handle. However, this year Greg has kicked the token system in the teeth in favour of a much more free-for-all operation. Every punter gets an unlimited amount of 90ml pours, or small pours. So you can leisurely walk around the venue, taste all the beer, and if you find one you like in particular, well, then you have an additional four bigger pours, the equal of a third of a pint. Greg tells us that this is a part of his plan to remove restrictions and help to encourage people to explore all the different beers on offer. Bless him. This is a model much closer to the one seen at Copenhagen Beer Celebration, which has worked a treat over there, and hopefully it’ll be embraced by the thirsty crowds getting ready for the festival here in the UK as well.

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Another nice little extra treat this year is an additional little festival just next door to the festival space, in the Pickle Factory. It’s a Flanders festival, put on to try and entice hipsters to visit Belgium. You can expect beer and food from Flanders, which you can sample, and then see if you want to go there, or not. Either way it’s free, and Belgian beer isn’t exactly famous for being disgusting, so it might be worth checking out.

The question everyone is asking, especially the geeks, is what will the brewers bring. Some festivals make a big song and dance of announcing their beer list, but Greg says this has been difficult since the breweries often don’t know what they’ll bring until just before the festival. He has however received a few beers that will definitely make an appearance. Sierra Nevada is bringing their imperial IPA Hoptimum, the Single Hop Harvest IPA and their session IPA Nooner. Partizan is bringing a Cuvee Lemon Saison, Siren is bringing their big badass Triple IPA Tickle Monster, Buxton is bringing their super crisp Omnipollo collaboration Stolen Fruit Berliner Weisse and Pressure Drop is bringing a stout made with dandelion and burdock. There will be plenty of delicious stuff on offer.

Last year Greg and the festival received their fair amount of disapproving grumbling over putting the festival on the same week as the Great British Beer Festival. It was seen as many as trying to butt in on what they were doing. How dare he. This year however he has been vindicated with the introduction of London Beer City, a glorious week long celebration of beer and all its joys. Greg is well chuffed to be a part of it and happy that his original vision of offering an alternative to the traditional business of the GBBF is being met with approval. His aim is to put on a festival that has something for everyone. Now it just remains to see if he can pull it off again.

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Greg Wells, one of the organisers of the festival

The festival kicks off on Thursday and will go on until Sunday. If you need to get yourself a ticket you can do so here. Hope to see you all there, glass in hand, with drunken smiles pasted onto your faces. Cheers.

To get a preview of what last year was like, watch our video here

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