Beer Travel: London and the Great British Beer Festival

October 28, 2013, by Crafty Pint
Beer Travel: London and the Great British Beer Festival

A few weeks ago, we ran a story on the “Gentleman’s Agreement” between Stone & Wood and London’s Camden Town Brewery. The two were to begin bringing each other’s beers into their respective markets, united by a shared love of good beer (and no doubt eased by the Aussie presence at Camden Town Brewery too).

The first shipment of Stone & Wood landed in the UK in time for this year’s Great British Beer Festival – and a bunch of other events going on around it – so one of the brewery’s founders Jamie Cook headed over there with them. With the first shipment of Camden Town beers set to land in Oz in the coming days, Jamie has been good enough to send us a few words on his experiences in London, where the craft beer scene has exploded beyond all recognition in the past few years.

Where East Meets West

Spending a week in London in early August looks like being an annual affair as the city’s beer scene hots up and gives birth to what could be the iconic capital’s equivalent of our now very familiar weeks of beer.

The Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) has now taken up permanent residence in its new home at the expansive hall at Olympia in West Kensington, and kicked off the week.

Both Stone & Wood Pacific Ale and Stone Beer where available at the GBBF this year and they sat amongst the growing number of new world beers that are wedging their way into this bastion of real ale. As an official CAMRA event, it is the locally brewed real ales that take pride of place on the epic rows of hand pumps, whilst the many beer styles from the rest of the world are squeezed into the edges of the hall.

Massively long bars with pump handle after pump handle lined up like grenadier guards are gushing out ales with names that echo Ye Olde this and Something Quirky that. Eagerly trying to get a pint of what might end up being the Champion Beer are thousands of grey bearded, socks and sandal wearing real ale fans.

The crowd buzz builds throughout the day, as bagpipe bands march through the crowds and then the entertainment kicks off with none other than Shakin' Stevens reverberating into the space above the throng of drenched whiskers.

Meanwhile, in the corners of the hall a much younger group of beer fans are clustered around the bars serving the new world beers. Out of the 850 beers available at the festival it is the new world beers or the classics of continental Europe that are attracting the twenty something drinkers. Whilst they appreciate real ale, and probably have one or two to get in the zone, it’s the often unseen or hot from the kettle new brews they are here to drink.

The Brewers Association from the US is ramping up its presence and this year sponsored two bars, one a bottle bar (Biers Sans Frontiers) where the Stone & Wood beers are available, and the new BA Cask Bar, where they had grouped together some of their membership’s finest beers and shipped them in cask so they could be served on the hand pump as direct comparison to the British brews. Cheeky, yes, but clever, definitely!


GBBF at Olympia


Both bars were so successful that most of the beers sold out well before the festival was finished. This must have really grated on the CAMRA guys, but probably only as much as Shakin' must have to the twenty somethings that were downing the new world beers.

Mid-week Camden Town Brewery held a brew day at their bustling, cramped but striking brewery and bar with beers from Birra Del Borgo, Birrificio Italiano and Brewfist pouring from the brewery taps alongside their awesome line up of beers. It ended up being a bit of an Aussie reunion as well with Jasper Cuppaidge (founder of Camden Town Brewery and ex-Brisbane boy) and Alex Troncoso (Technical Director at Camden Town Brewery and ex-Little Creatures) hosting and Jeremy Good (co-founder and brewer from Australia’s Cowaramup in WA) who was in town – plus myself also holding up the bar.

At the end of the week the inaugural London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF) kicked off in Hackney in the East End of the city. Over three days the small (but only in comparison to Olympia) venue squeezed thousands of new wave beer drinkers into a very happening space, surrounded by bars pouring the likes of Camden Town Brewery, Kernel, Magic Rock, Brodie’s and the odd Mikkeller and De Molen brew. The vibe was upbeat and a succession of gutsy bands belted out tunes as people circled trying to make sure they made full use of their book of beer vouchers.


Drinking under the arches


Just up the road from the LCBF, we held a Stone & Wood BBQ at Climpson’s Arch where the full line up of Stone & Wood beers was being lapped up by an eclectic crowd of interested locals, industry types, and a swag of expats keen to reacquaint themselves with our beers at a gathering that reminded them of home.

The beer scene in London is alive and kicking and the new kids on the block leading the brewing revival are challenging the established traditions. The week was dappled with an array of beery events, and it looks like London is now set to host a fantastic week of beer every August.

Although there are two camps of enthusiastic drinkers approaching their pint glasses from differing angles, they are all meeting at one point – a love of good beer, and the great thing is there is even room for a little brewery from Byron Bay amongst it all.

Look out for a host of Camden Town Brewery Tap Takeovers in the Crafty Events Diary soon.

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