Eighteen for one, not out at The Oval

100x100_50_50For 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.

IMG_6817In 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!!!IMG_6819

Now that’s off my chest, where was I..? Oh yes beer.

IMG_6816The 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.

IMG_6823Other 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.


IMG_6820There 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.


IndyMan, “THE” Beer Festival?

Phew, what a weekend, two glorious afternoon sessions at the first Independent Manchester Beer Convention or IndyMan as it is more affectionately known.

IndyMan was always going to be special, it was groundbreaking, the first of it’s kind and in my view at least an event that strove from the start to examine everything about the average British beer fest, pull out all the best bits and attempt to put the whole shebang together into the perfect beer extravaganza.

So did they pull it off?

There were so many things about this festival that made it such an exceptional event, for starters the venue even before you got through the doors was stunning. An imposing example of Victorian grandeur. Almost scary, conjuring visions of horror movie sets and lunatic asylums of years gone by. A living reminder of how our own class structure has changed over a hundred and six years, with first and second class male, plus a separate ladies entrance. Inside was no different as you are transported back in time, little of the interior having changed in all that time. Winding tiled corridors, steam and sauna rooms, vast ceilinged pool areas lined with individual cubicles and high seated balconies for spectators.

I learned to swim in a place just like this (no, not in 1906) and it held so many memories. The fear of swimming all the way over there (points) a whole width, the first triumph at actually making it and gradually proudly moving on to earn my swimming badges. Now I was standing in a pool exactly like that one from all those years ago, not filled with water of course but something I now prefer much, much more, BEER, how cool is that!!!.

Brewdog were in attendance too. Normally banished from all but the coolest festivals in the land, here they had, in a typical Brewdog stylee, their very own bar, cooler than an extra cold cool thing yes?

Better still Brewdog Manchester-Mini also hosted two (or more) pop up tasting sessions where lucky punters were treated to two new bottle releases, San Diego Scotch Ale (a whisky aged Scotch Ale made with Ballast Point rum soaked raisins, which was one of the stand out beers of the weekend for me and another absolute beauty the latest in the Abstrakt range AB:11 an Imperial Black Barley wine which again was absolutey delicious.

Pop up tastings were not limited to here alone of course as there were several others featuring more breweries spread over the weekend along with food and beer pairing sessions, there were talks and seminars too including the much anticipated “What the hell is craft beer” debate with speakers from all across the beer spectrum in action. Sadly I missed this (video coming soon I believe) but was lucky enough to attend a pretty exclusive tasting session with none other than Kjetil Jikiun (the bearded giant), head brewer from the awesome Nøgne ø..

An experience I’ll remember for a long time as he’s such a lovely host, as well as being a brilliant brewer and generally a top bloke.

The food was pretty awesome too with a range of great beer food available in the cask beer hall over the weekend including the new range of pies by genius pie makers Great North Pie Co, evenings only sadly.

We also had to name but a few, sumptuous slow cooked pork from the Fire and Salt Barbecue, a range of beautifully zingy curries from Sindhoor and a range of ultra popular dogs from Dirty Dogs if the queues on Saturday are anything to go by, these guys no how to griddle a sausage (ooh-err), look at the size of this monster!

Beer, I’ve not really mentioned it much thus far but as you’d expect the beer list was of the finest order and catered for all tastes. The cask room had a range of (surprise-surprise) cask ales, cider and even gueuze all situated on a room wide bar which changed as the weekend went on, this meant that although you may have been disappointed if you’d missed a particular special beer, there was always another there to take its place.

The other smaller bars were all situated in what I’d assume used to be the main pool area and this was where the majority of brewers were on hand to pour their beers in person and chat to punters in real time, if you’d read my post on Friday on “making the connection“, this is the one particular aspect of IndyMan that was most important in my opinion.

As a drinker you’ll remember the conversations had here and be able to put a face to a beer for want of better words. For the brewer to it was a brilliant way to get first hand feedback on the beers they’d presented in a way not normally possible on such a large scale.

Favourite beers of the festival? Wow, that’s a tricky one as they were all really, really good and it’s so hard to pull any out for special attention, but I personally think these stood out:

  • Bitches Brewing – Chocolate, Vanilla and Chilli Stout
  • Magic Rock – Tequila barrel aged Cannonball
  • Lovibonds -Sour Grapes
  • Quantum – Blood Orange Tea Pale
  • Camden – Unfiltered Hells
  • Tiny Rebel – Hadouken
  • Brewdog – San Diego Scotch Ale
  • Wild Beer – Modus Operandi
  • Summer Wine Brewery – Calico Jack and Aoraki Red
  • Ilkley – Green Goddess

Seriously though, there were sooo many fantastic beers on show here, if I’ve not mentioned yours here and I drank it, trust me it was delicious, I didn’t have a beer that was anything other than brilliant all weekend. Looking at that beer list again now, I feel slightly sad that I couldn’t have sampled more.

So, was it “THE” festival, a true benchmark of how beer festivals should be?

In truth I’m not sure it can be really, although it clearly ticks lots of boxes for this drinker. The venue is pretty much unique and not everyone has access to such a grand resource, especially with most festivals operating on much lower budgets. Having brewers pouring beer direct in such numbers too is obviously a non starter in all but specialist events, time is at a premium for these guys who already work 7 day weeks on the whole. If they were pouring beer all the time who else is going to make it.. It could be something to consider locally though albeit on a smaller scale?

If there is one thing this event did really well though that could be replicated over and over all across the land is how everyone involved made the whole thing just plain enjoyable. Because all tastes were catered for regardless of beer dispense method preference, the whole thing was a just happy go lucky joyous treat to the senses where the aromas and flavour of beer was the most important thing, no petty arguments just fun.

It may not be “THE” beer festival in everyones eyes yet, but it’s certainly the one I’ll be looking forward to most for the next twelve months. Thanks again to everyone I met, chatted to and shared beers with, Cheers

Update, check out The Beercasts IMBC12 view here

Leigh at The Good Stuff’s fine take on events

There’s more at Ale GD

and still more from Simon at Reluctant Scooper

and finally from Tandleman one of the craft debate delegates.