Phill and Mike head to the Great British Beer Festival 2013

On Wednesday, with a cohort of hardy drinking companions we went to the Great British Beer festival at Kensington Olympia. Here are our thoughts, apologies for the lack of photos, but sometimes beer is just more important.

Mike’s Thoughts

I had been to this event before, but it was my first in a few years. Given this, I had very high hopes for this festival. I am pleased to say they were met and exceeded over the course of one very beery afternoon/evening! Festivals can be hard to get right, as London Fields found out to their cost, however the Great British Beer festival managed to score a win on all counts.

Let’s cover the boring things first. Kensington Olympia was easy to find and there were no queues going in to the event. To be honest, with the exception of the queues at the Bratwurst stall, there were no queues at any of the stalls (or toilets,thankfully )in the event. Be it food or drink you could usually find a willing server within 30 seconds of turning up at a stall. This was a refreshing change to other beer festivals. To add to this there was a range of food outlets which gave more than enough options to ensure everyone was well fed. I had a quite sublime Pork and stuffing pie, which will be remembered fondly for quite some time!

Now that I have covered that, I will turn my attention to the main event. The beer, which was excellent. Not only was there a very exhaustive list of British ales, which were wonderfully arranged by geographical location. I loved being able to work my way around regions, for example being a Sussex boy I got great satisfaction from exploring beers from both East and West Sussex. But there was a diverse range of foreign beers, which you could enjoy in cask, keg and bottle form. Sadly, I never got around to the American stand, however I spent a lot of time enjoying the German stand. To say I filled my boots with Helles, Kolsch and Heffe Weise would be an understatement! On top of this though, I had a Dutch Rye IPA and Cantillon Geuze and these were just two out of hundreds of Italian, French, German, Belgian, Dutch, Czech and American beers available.

Due to some excellent company,food and beer and I had a truly wonderful day. I took lots of great memories away from it, even if sadly some memories were lost to the beer. This really is everything a festival should be, slick service, well run and ultimately full of interesting, quality beers. For any beer lover out there, this is an event not to miss.

Phill’s Thoughts

I didn’t reach the festival until the evening so had to deal with a few more queues than Mike, but nothing that lasted longer than a minute or two. I also didn’t have the time to enjoy proper pints and instead skitted about trying thirds of as much as I could.

The presence of pub based games are always fun, even if we won nothing due to lack of strategy when shutting the box. The presence of an RSPB tent did mean that friend of the Mule Steph is now a member.As I’m now sure has been said many times, Olympia is a much nicer venue than Earls Court has been in the past.

You’ve got Friday and Saturday left to go and I strongly recommend a visit, it’s £10 entrance and the beers inside and reasonably priced (as long as you avoid high ABV american beers, unlike me).

Mike’s festival picks:

Reissdorf Kolsch: I am a sucker for good German beer and this beer was delightful. A vibrant gold in the glass,the nose was biscuity and the palate thoroughly cleansing. This is a beer to revitalise even the most weary of travellers.

Andechser Spezial Helles: another German beer, I know, but another great beer. This was Helles as we know it, but with more depth. Not quite the power of a Marzen but not far off. It had a real intensity of flavour but at no point did it feel unbalanced. A pint of this on a hot evening is something I will dream of.

American Pale Ale by Dark Star: a local brewery to me, down the road in West Sussex, and one of my favourites. This is exactly what a pale ale should be. Packed with citrus and stone fruit, as well as a hoppy bitterness ,there was just enough malt influence to balance it all out. Brilliant.

Golden Tipple by Long Man Brewery: another Sussex beer, but this one is from East Sussex. Golden Ale in my opinion is the easiest beer style to love and like. Always refreshing, packed with the fruit of the pale ale but usually without the harsh bitterness. This beer was exactly that, a wonderfully restrained hoppy flavour full of fruit and subtle floral notes. It is a beer I hope I will be seeing in a pub near me soon!

Phill’s festival picks:

Spirit of Kent by Westerham Brewery: Because Mike kept wanging on about being from Sussex, I went for my parent’s local brewery in Kent. This was a lovely golden ale which hit a balance of hoppiness with citrus notes, a shame I only had a half.

Hoptimum by Sierra Nevada: This is a ridiculous beer, incredibly bitter with a 10.4% abv, whilst also surprisingly drinkable. If you want to avoid being so ridiculous with your beer then I would recommend…

Wild Swan by Thornbridge: a might lighter and thinner beer, it has hints of lemon and grass and is the perfect pint for a summers day, even if stuck inside a large hall and not in the sun.


Mike on Biere De Garde

I was lucky enough to be on holiday last week in Provence. The weather was hot, the wine was excellent and the beer was cold. What more could I have wanted? Well after my tenth Kronenbourg I craved a beer with a bit more punch. So when at the intermarche I was lucky enough to stumble across some Jenlain Ambree and some La Goudale. These beers are a under appreciated style of beer called Biere de Garde.

Biere de Garde roughly translates as “beer for keeping”, historically it was brewed in winter months to a high alcohol level so that it would keep all year. It originates from French Flanders and can be seen as a French equivalent to Saison. However, stylistically it is quite a different offering with spice taking a back seat and a more rounded malty character dominating. Also, Biere de Garde tends to be stronger, with an an average ABV of 7.5%.

Sadly, this style tends to get forgotten about and very few Biere de Gardes are available in the UK. However in France, with the rise of craft beer, it is slowly rising in prominence. Typically it is sold in 75cl bottles with a Champagne cork, which has resulted in it becoming a fashionable drink, especially in Lille where it is seen as an alternative to Belgian beers.image (2)

I have been fortunate to try a few style of Biere de Garde, and for those of you who are a fan of quality Belgian beers they are a must. However they should be respected as beers in their own right not just as poorer cousins of Belgium brewing. They have a wonderful freshness and a terrifying drinkability considering their strength. Despite an often heavy malt presence on the palate they are never cloying. Also, as to be expected with French alcoholic produce, they are great with food. My Jenlain Ambree was perfect with steak and the La Goudale went perfectly with roasted cod.

So with this in mind I urge you to look out for this style of beer and try a massively underrated style of beer. Vive la difference!

Ones to try:

Jenlain Ambree

La Goudale: in the 14th century top beers were called “Goudale” or good ale and what was true then is true now. A golden and flavourful beer, with a long finish. Well balanced hops and a touch of spice. Perfect before a meal or with fish.

Angelus: contains 30% wheat, which makes it quite different. Wonderfully spicy, a complex and intriguing beer. For me this is best enjoyed on its own, so that all of the flavours can be enjoyed uninterrupted.

Jenlain Ambree: Brasserie Duyck,who pioneered the Jenlain brand,are the fathers of Biere de Garde. They introduced the 75cl bottle, the champagne cork and the higher alcohol content. Jenlain Ambree  was the beer that implanted the style in people’s minds and livers. A copper colour in the glass, it has a robust malt nature that makes it a very satisfying drink. Perfect with your red meats or cheeses. It is very easy to love this beer!