As planned, I made the trip down to London to attend The Great British Beer Festival with cousin Iain. Immediately after dropping my bags at his place on the Friday afternoon, Iain and I headed straight for Earls Court – a fifteen minute walk away.
After joining a short queue and buying a two day ticket, we entered the main hall to be faced with a throng of drinkers and countless brewery stalls. The atmosphere was vibrant, with the occasional pantomime cheer erupting when somebody somewhere dropped a glass on the floor. Although mostly male, the crowd was a good cross section of ages, with a heavy sprinkling of your traditional middle-ages, beard & sandals wearing ale drinker.
We eagerly made for some random stall round to the right hand side of where we’d collected our glasses, and asked for a half pint of the first thing we saw on the stand.
“Is this your first pint?” the bloke behind the bar asked.
“Tonight? Yes.” I replied, making sure to indicate that I was no stranger to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
“Well, you don’t want to start with that – have a glass of this instead.” He advised, selecting an ale that was closer to 4% proof than the rocket fuel we’d naively asked for. It was a good thing, too, as even drinking generous halfs I began to feel quite squiffy after an hour or so.
We tried a whole host of different beers, most of them forgotten for something new the minute our glasses were empty. One really nice one, I’m pleased to report, was called May Flower, which was from Scotland. By the time we got to that I had started thinking that our selection process was proving very successful indeed. Then I went and ruined it all by asking for a pint of Moonraker – a foul tasting half-pint of what can only be described as watery tar. That was the only glass I ditched all night, though.
I was sort of pacing myself, thinking that it would be daft to end up hung-over on Saturday when we’d have much more time to go around all the different breweries. However, as the evening wore on there were tell tale signs that the supply of beer might not be as plentiful as I’d first imagined.
I wanted to try a beer by a brewer called Wensleydale, but when I got to the far corner where they were based I found to my dismay that they’d run out. I wasn’t too gutted, mainly because I had no idea what Wensleydale beer tastes like – I just liked the connection with Wallace & Gromit, but the notices put in place to say they’d run out would be far more common by the following afternoon.
We finished off the evening sitting at a table with an assortment of other drinkers, engaging in general chit chat and just enjoying the relaxed vibe and the strangely muted Abba tribute act on the nearby stage.
On Saturday, Iain had volunteered to go and referee at kids football matches, leaving me to surf the net and get myself ready to go out. I was a little bit disappointed at missing a few hours of the beer festival, but what can you do. With hindsight I should just have gone to Earls Court by myself and met up with Iain later.
In the event I headed to a nearby pub, the Famous Three Kings, just after midday to spend £10 on a pint of shandy and the worst cheeseburger I’ve had in a very long time. I ended up leaving most of the burger, knowing that the Cornish pasties on sale at the beer festival were much tastier and better value for money into the bargain.
When Iain and his friend David turned up we had a quick pint before heading off to meet up with Crazy Uncle John at Earls Court. He’d flown down in cloak and dagger style at the last minute in order to attend the beer festival with us, so I felt more disappointment for him than for myself when it turned out they’d run out of almost everything when we got inside.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, really, as this was now coming on for three o’clock on the final day of the beer festival. Most breweries had notices up that said Time on them, which I understood to be brewery speak for we didn’t bring enough beer. Others had started dismantling their stalls – a disheartening site when you’ve just arrived.
Fortunately, I quite like the beers from Spitfire and Youngs, and, since they were breweries that had not run dry, we ended up concentrating on their wares for the rest of the afternoon. Crazy Uncle John even seemed content with what little there was left for him to sample, getting mildly “ming-monged” as the afternoon wore on to early evening.
At around seven o’clock when the event was drawing to a close, we decided to call it quits and arranged to meet for a meal. The break was a welcome one, as it ends up being a long day when you start drinking early, and allowed us to get a second wind for the rest of the evening.
When we re-grouped at the Famous Three Kings we had a brief drink before going for a meal at Iain’s local Indian restaurant nearby. The meal itself was fantastic, as always from that place – Cousin Iain has it made with such a good restaurant being so close by, especially with the very reasonable prices. Everyone seemed to enjoy their food, and the banter was good, too.
Iain and I called it an evening after the meal, leaving Crazy Uncle John when we left the restaurant and saying goodbye to David when we got back to Iain’s place. I think we probably surfed the internet for a while after we got back, then getting an early-ish night compared to our previous nights out in years gone by.
The next day, Iain came with me up to London Euston to have lunch before I got my train home. What I’d envisaged as being a no-holds-barred lash-fest of a weekend ended up being quite civilised in the end, and I was reasonably content with that. I’ll definitely make the trip down for the Great British Beer Festival next year – maybe traveling down a day earlier to make the most of it before the drought hits.