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Chris and I stood there, unblinking in the bowels of the stadium. Feet ached from morning’s walking. Throat dry; muscles twitching in anticipation of refreshment. In front of me; veteran drinkers of all shapes, ages, colours and trainer size. Behind; more. Way more. The Roar of the crowd, outside. Stomach jumps in excitement as the door opens and daylight floods the waiting area; a friendly tap on my shoulder – the ghost of Bremner. ‘Whatever happens out there today lad, Keep fighting…*Keep Fighting.’ As pure as lambs we shuffle forward into the arena, holding our tickets in front of us like shields…
Well, not quite, but you get the picture. GBBF is clearly the land of the pro, the international, the amateur and those with a penchant for silly hats alike – and this was my first one. Forgoing the trade day in order to get the true, first-hand experience, it certainly left an impression. It’s big; I was prepared for size but it was bigger than I expected. Earl’s Court seemed, at first, to have a lot of dead space, but as the evening wore on and more people flooded in, that space was welcome.
The Holy Grail

My usual festival practise is to get an initial beer – an amuse bouche, if you will – and seriously peruse the programme, which we did, mentally ticking off where ‘our listed beers’ were. Obviously. Lists are majorly important at GBBF; this much was apparent when confronted with the choice. This time, however, the leader on the list was one of my most *sought-after beers; Birrificio Italiano’s Tipopils (5.2%abv). Being somewhat of an Italian beer nerd, I was very aware that this seminal beer had not touched my lips, and I was really, really happy to put it right. Chilled, the beer was nectar to a dry throat; long, flinty but with the slightest peachiness on the nose. I could have quite happily drunk it non-stop all day, to be honest.
Sipping Tipopils, we wandered about and took it all in. The stalls looked great, the food selection varied at least, and the beers were beginning to flow. Personally, I was a bit ‘hopped out’ over the weekend. There just seemed to be a massive range of ‘Pale and Hoppy’ from brewers from all over the world, with not a lot to distinguish them from each other. *Mostly Pale ales with no real quality in the malt bill, hoping that a shitload of high-alpha hops at the end and a high IBU count will suffice. No – for the first time in a long time, I made a decision to stay away from ‘Pale and Hoppy’ as much as I could.
So what did I drink? Well, here are some potted highlights. Pivovar Broumov’s*Opat Tmavé Třešňové (3.5%abv) was a revelation; crisp, bitter lager with an undeniable aroma of Cherries and Almonds. Imagine a really good, unfiltered lager with Black Forest gateaux on top and you’re close. Wonderful and surprisingly unique. I want more of this, and would be wonderful with some salty, smoky Ham.*Thornbridge’s Craven Silk was another ‘flavoured’ beer, this time with an addition of Elderberries. Smooth, subtle golden ale with just the slightest fruity top, it was a great change of pace when we needed something to calm the palate a little. *Speaking of Golden Ales, Morland’s Old Golden Hen (4.1%abv) did the job, too. Nothing fantastically complex, but refreshing enough and very, very clean in the finish. Keep an eye out.
After a brief chat with a super-affable Des De Moor, he poured us some De Molen Hout & Hop (4.6%abv) – after all, who could resist those De Molen casks? Takes a stronger man than me. It turned out to be my beer of the day; wonderfully light in the body, with orange peel, lemon pith and more than a whiff of wild herbs in the aroma, finished with a huge dollop of funky Brettiness, this is one great beer.
Back over to Italy and some kegged (well, some sort of kegging contraption) Revelation Cat West Coast IPA (6.5%abv). Operating in a semi-gypsy way, Revelation Cat were a first for me, tasting-wise, and the West Coast IPA didn’t disappoint. In much the same way as Meantime’s South Pacific Pale, it managed a slightly different mixed-bag of aroma; not the usual Grapefruit juice. Mango, Strawberry Lychee, pineapple and underlying sweetness from the (fairly hefty) body. Super-drinkable. That’s not to say it can’t be done right; Boulder’s Mojo IPA (7.2%abv) was lovely (and, as it happens, a recommendation from a CAMRA guy behind the bar who said that it was his beer of the festival); clear, well-balanced and still delivering that dry, grapefruit and apple IPA hit without killing you. I could taste other beers after it, and that’s what I wanted.
As the day wound on, Baird’s Kurofune Porter (6%abv) made an appearance, given my growing obsession with Japanese beers. I expected a solid show and that’s pretty much what I got; smooth, decent balance of coffee/chocolate and red fruit in the body, no real hop aroma, but a lovely, smooth porter. Keeping things dark, we sampled an Amber Ales Chocolate Orange Stout (4%abv) did that rare thing; actually tasted of chocolate, and smelled of orange. Like cracking open a milk Terry’s Chocolate Orange, it was a real surprise. I’d love some more of this.

Overall, I loved GBBF; the staff were smiling, knowledgable and happy to chat, and my only minor quibble would be how the bars are set out – but really, just because I found it a little confusing doesn’t really amount to much. I’ll be going again next year, and many more, I’m sure. I personally ticked off two or three beers that I’ve been after for a while, and could have stayed for another day. Food-wise, I must mentionThe Crusty Pie Company*- Yorkshire lads who are festival stalwarts now. Always serving with a smile and handing out wonderful pies and scratchings. Top lads. Also, the cheese boards served up by Chris at The Truckle Cheese Co were top, top-notch. Despite being on her feet all day and suitably busy, Chris took time out to ensure we tasted before we chose, and chose an excellent hits-the-spot cheese board for us to soak up the beer. Do check them out, and I can recommend the London Ale Relish heartily.