For my third test this year it was an early start to catch the 6:48 train to London and head for the Oval, NO, not for the cricket, for BEER and lots of it, as this was the London Craft Beer Festival at The Oval Space, Bethnal Green.
Taking influence from the Copenhagen Beer Celebration, this was to be as far as I am aware, the first UK-based “All Inclusive” beer festival and I have to admit I was sceptical about how it would work. I’m always wary of high-end entry fees for festivals especially when paying for beer on top, not that I expect something for nothing you understand, more that I like to choose what I pay for. Now I have to be completely honest here in that I didn’t pay for my ticket, I won a plus one entry via those fine fellows at Weird Beard, but at £35 a ticket for those who did, was it a step too far?
As with seemingly all the new wave of “craft” beer festivals and I use the term knowing it still causes controversy as it says it on the tin, The Oval Space from the outside looked nothing special. We stood in line waiting patiently (taps foot) for the doors to open, one of our party freshly plastered early having broken a bone is his ankle the day before and needing to find surely to be hotly contesting seating. At last the doors opened, wrists were stamped with dainty “OS” hearts and we filed upstairs, glass and programme in hand.
Even as we did so I thought “a lot of thought and effort has gone into this” as the programme itself was without doubt the finest I’ve ever seen in terms of quality, it just looked and felt good and as a first impression, it worked.
In said programme you found a two page spread on each brewery featured, and a pull out sheet of eighteen perforated beer coupons, adorned with the breweries logos, which allowed you one beer from each. Sadly no beer list which is always useful, but I suppose that did make you have to go and have a good mooch around at least.
Being honest at first I wasn’t keen on this idea, and although I can now see some benefits, I’m still not totally sold. Taking the positive view, it really made you think about what you drank and what to choose when you did. This made you not only explore all of the breweries rather than instantly hitting the well-known high-flyers over and over, but gave you hard choices to make in terms of the final choice of beverage. On the negative side, the tokens were fiddly, cumbersome and at times impossible to manage whether pre-torn or as a full sheet. Worse still though for me thinking of the wider drinking public, taking it back to paying for things you may not want and the steep price tag, punters were potentially paying for beers they perhaps didn’t want, or more importantly, couldn’t handle?
While I’m on a roll and being careful not to make this all smack of a bloody moaning tight-arsed northerner kicking off, lets tackle the only other negative for me, the music… It’s too god damn loud, turn it down for fecks sake!! I’m not here for a bloody disco, nor am I wanting to watch a band, if I do I’ll go to a gig, it WILL be loud and I’ll no doubt enjoy it and face ringing ears as a consequence. But at a beer festival I want to drink, taste and talk about beer, or at least make pleasant conversation. As with Liverpool Craft, the music was pumping, this meant that everyone had to shout and say “EH?” a very lot.. Then as folks had more beer as normally happens they got louder and so as to be heard and so did the bloke next to the first and the lady after that and before long WE WERE ALL SHOUTING!!!
Now that’s off my chest, where was I..? Oh yes beer.
The brewery list was exceptional as were the beers they brought along, an ever-changing selection of delicious “must-taste” brews from London, wider UK and internationally based brewers, a lot of whom were in attendance and pouring at most sessions. As I said earlier, although the beer coupon thing was a little painful, this is where it excelled in that I discovered several new top class breweries and actually came away having not had a beer from one or two firm favourites.
On the newbie front “The Five Points Brewing Co” Pale Ale was an absolute stunner for me, zingy, fresh and bitter as a scorned lover, plus very drinkable at about 4.2abv, their “Hook Island Red” was a quality item too. Crate Brewery provided a high and low (for me at least), the “Butterscotch IPA” I thought was poor, but their lager was superb, and that is praise indeed as I’m not a massive lager drinker.
Other highlights of the day for me were the De Molen “Bourbon Barrel Aged Hemel and Aarde” the standard version is an absolute stunner, but the flavour boost from the ageing process was pure class. Weird Beard’s “Mariana Trench” provided a welcome break from some of the big ABV hitters, jet washing the taste buds clean with a spicy hop blast.
To Øl, with the aptly named “Dangerously Close To Stupid IPA” upping the strength ante yet again with a top class Double IPA, I’d really like to try this one again, it’s bottled too so that’s worth seeking out. Magic Rock “Strongman” was the only barley wine I had all day and is another beer I can’t wait to try again when I have more time to savour it. Finally To Øl feature yet again with their fine collaboration brew with Buxton, “Collaboration Carnage” a brilliant name for a beautiful beer.
There was another beer on offer that although I didn’t try myself, certainly made a big impression with those that did, it was a barrel aged version of the Siren “Limoncello IPA” which was served over a cherry, with ice and garnished with an orange segment to add to the drinkers experience, as ably demonstrated by Greg Irwin here.
Although I didn’t try any of the food on offer at LCBF (this after stuffing my face at Borough Market earlier), it did look really nice with two options of either a pre-booked fine dining experience or variations of a steak, triple fried chips and salad combo, our friends having the latter and giving it the big thumbs up.
So, overall impressions then of the day. Well despite my reservations and minor niggles I have to say I was impressed. For starters any beer festival where I come away annoyed that I hadn’t had enough time to try this and that is a slightly unwelcome bonus as it means the beer list has to have been top-notch. Either that or I was slacking..
Ticket pricing, although I still believe the hefty price-tag could be a little prohibitive to some, especially to folks new to this type of event or perhaps not a big drinker, there is no doubt though that should you be partial to a beer or two, which I am, it was still very easy to get value for money.
Would I pay to go again, yes indeedy!
Congratulations to all involved.