Words - Matthew Curtis, Photos - Justin Mason
So this is probably where you're expecting to read about how terrible and disorganised the 2013 London Brewers Alliance Festival was. Tales of ridiculously lengthy queue times and overcrowding followed by a rant at how the organisers should be burned at the stake. Well I'm sorry to disappoint the gloombringers and the naysayers but I went to the 2013 London Brewers Alliance Festival and had a fantastic time.
I'm not particularly old or wise but what I have learned is that you have to take life as it comes because you're often powerless to do anything about it. I headed to this beer festival knowing full well that it was a sold out event being held in a relatively small space and that it was the first time the LBA were holding an event of this size so there were bound to be a few teething problems. I spent most part of the afternoon reading about how 'terrible' and 'chaotic' the event was and saw some pretty malicious and in my opinion unnecessary tweets aimed at the festival organisers. Be honest with yourself, is giving these guys, who are working around the clock in an attempt to help you enjoy yourself a hard time really worth it? What have you achieved by doing this? Did you expect a nice relaxing experience at a sold out beer festival? If that was the case you could have set up camp somewhere like the Craft Beer Co in Islington where not only do you not have to pay to get in but you'll probably get hold of much rarer and more exotic beers than you would at this particular festival which is simply celebrating the burgeoning London brewing scene.
So I'll say again; I went to the 2013 London Brewers Alliance Festival and I had a fantastic time, here's how it went down...
I finally arrived at London Fields station after taking a needlessly convoluted route that took me well over an hour (I later discovered I could have got there in less than half of that) so I rocked up to the taproom at London Fields Brewery feeling pretty silly and in there I bumped into Nate who had been at the afternoon session with a bunch of his friends. I was joined by Justin who like me was headed to the evening session, Nate and his mates were complaining about excessive wait times and cramped bars but all still seemed happy and inebriated so it can't have gone completely wrong, nothing was going to deter my blind optimism, I simply had to have a good time. Instead of immediately joining the lengthy queue that had formed outside of the brewery I headed to the bar and got myself a half of the stunning Simcore India Black Ale from London Fields, it was liquorice and coffee dancing around with the intense pine sap flavours that only the Simcoe hop can deliver, glorious stuff. We we soon joined by my friend Greg and his party who were joining Justin and I at the evening session and after another drink we went to join the back of the queue.
Waiting a little while before joining the queue was our first masterstroke of the evening as the line was already moving when we joined it and we were thrust inside the festival grounds within 15 minutes of waiting. I had purchased the tasting ticket which at £20 got me a voucher for 9 thirds and a festival glass to drink my beer out of, good value in my opinion. To be honest I think this is the only ticket they should have sold, the £5 ticket while seemingly cheap meant that you ended up paying a lot more for drinks on the day and you had to drink out of plastic beakers and I could see people who had the £5 ticket were clearly disappointed with this. So lesson one, the tasting ticket is clearly the only ticket you needed to sell.
The festival grounds consisted of a small alley with two separate bars, each under a railway arch, they had clearly oversold as there was very little room to manoeuvre and both bars were crowded but we ambled up to the second bar and within about 10 minutes I had in my hand a glass of Redemption Big Chief, a lovely British style IPA with big globs of grapefruit and sweet honey notes, lovely. When I was standing in the queue waiting for my glass of Big Chief I made a decision which potentially polarised my festival experience. I had headed to this festival with the intention of tasting as many beers from London's cutting edge brewers as I possibly could but standing in line for my first beer I just thought, fuck it, to hell with the ticking, let's get drunk and have a good time and so every time I went to the bar I made sure I had my glass filled to the brim. It was a glorious decision. Needless to say, lesson two, you need a bigger venue next year guys.
It was this same decision that led me to my next beer, I've had Redchurch Old Ford Export Stout before, in fact I even reviewed it last year and although I wanted to try some new beers I knew how good this was and besides, I'd never tried it on draught. While drinking this luscious, rich, dark beer which has clearly been atomically dry hopped with simcoe I bumped into the lovely Becky and Jon from Art Brew. Despite it's luscious piney overtones I still consider the Old Ford to be firmly in stout territory but Becky disagreed and said it was a Black IPA. This is the WONDER of beer, glorious, conversation stimulating BEER! Becky, Jon, Justin, Greg and I then joined forces in HAVING A GOOD TIME, it was another solid idea.
Me with the lovely Becky and John from Art Brew.
At some point Justin disappeared into the ether (the other room) and came back with a clutch of bottles, a full glass of Brupond
Tip Top Hop IPA and Dave the owner and head brewer at Brupond. Many people, myself included, have had a bad experience with a lot of Brupond beers and Dave was clearly determined to make amends for this, thrusting a fresh bottle of Tip Top Hop into my hands. The glass of beer I was presented with was certainly a million miles away from the smokey, oxidised beer I'd previously had in bottle and I was ready to give them another chance. Seeing Dave's obvious enthusiasm was encouraging and Brupond may yet make a worthy addition to the London brewing scene.
I admired Becky and Jon's spirit and contemplated this while supping a lovely pint of London Brewing Co Highrise that was zesty and full of fresh citrus but just a little lacking in carbonation. Becky and Jon had been invited to the festival to judge beer but when chaos descended the judging went out the window and although most of the judges abandoned the pandemonium for calmer environments these two stuck it out, determined to have a damn good time and judging from the smiles on the faces and the repeated laughter and merriment they most certainly were. More familiar beer came my way, London Fields Black frost stout which has this lactic sourness going on that I can't get enough of and Hackney Hopster because I know it's good and I want to drink GOOD beer so I did. Jon then produces a pint of Weird Beard Black Perle coffee stout and then proceeds to top up my half finished glass of Black Frost with wonderful results. We didn't care too much what was in our glass by then just that it was GOOD and that it KEPT COMING. The Black Perle was the first ever Weird Beard brew I'd tried, and it was good and so it was that it made me get drunk and there was much rejoicing.
And so the good beer kept on flowing and so I stopped trying to remember what they all tasted like, The LBA collaboration stout was on furious form but didn't quite reach the heights of the Old Ford Export Stout which was the beer of the festival for me. The Clarence and Fredericks Golden Ale was GOOD as was the Crate IPA but Hackney Hopster was better so I went back for more of that. Beer was running out by this point, most of the taps were covered with little plastic cups indicating that they had expired but unlike some it didn't bother me because my glass was full and I was laughing and my face and hands were covered in mustard and ketchup after inhaling a huge Big Apple hot dog. Lesson Three though, is that next year you most definitely need more beer.
The crowds thinned towards the end of the evening, I assumed most people started leaving once their supply of beer tokens had run dry. Now there was space to relax and take it easy, the frantic atmosphere at the start of the evening was long gone. I went to get some Weird Beard Mariana Trench but this is definitely not the beer that came out of the tap, instead of big South Pacific hops I had a delicious wheat beer full of Banana and Clove. If I wasn't a beer geek and was a regular punter I would have had no idea if this was the right beer or not, so that's how I approached the situation, I had good beer in my glass which soon went in to my belly so what's the point in giving someone whose been run ragged off their feet for the past four hours a hard time? None, zero, nada, that's what. Lesson four however, you should probably make sure the right beer goes to the right tap next year.
It was nearly time to go, I stood in the middle of the main room with a huge smile on my mustard and ketchup smeared face. Justin then approaches me with a glass that contained the cloudy dregs from the end of a cask that had run out earlier. It was in fact Beavertown Blood Orange IPA, the one beer that I desperately wanted to try but had ran out before I had the chance... but here I was with some in my hand. I barely had two sips but it was predictably glorious, I could have stayed another hour and sank a pint or two but I was barely standing and so shimmied off home, chock full of glee.
Lesson five? Make sure you do it again next year, I'm confident that this festival will bounce back in 2014 and it will be bigger, better and I'll be there drinking GOOD beer with a smile on my face.