A tale of two beer festivals: GBBF versus LCBF

If I had wanted confirmation that the “non-macro” British beer scene is now split into two separate camps, serving different constituencies, with remarkably little cross-over between them, considering that both sides are dedicated to the pursuit of terrific beer, two events a couple of weeks back could not have made it clearer.

In West London, the Campaign for Real Ale’s annual Great British Beer Festival at Olympia delivered the products of around 350 different cask ale brewers to some 50,000 people over five days. Meanwhile, over (almost symbolically) on the other side of the city in East London, at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green, the first London Craft Beer Festival, on for three days in a considerably smaller venue, served beers from just 20 brewers, (only four of whom were also at GBBF*), most or all of it dispensed from pressurised containers that would have kegophobe Camra members fobbing with fury.

The most remarkable contrast between the two events was not the rather different attitudes to the idea of how “good beer” could be dispensed, however, but the very different sets of people attending each festival. The GBBF crowds were a wide selection of the sort of drinkers you might find in any pub in a middle-class area, minus the families though mostly male and skewed, it appeared to me, towards the over-40s – indeed, I’d say the number able to get to Olympia using their Boris bus pass (ahem – like me) was considerably greater than in the pub population at large.

The GBBF crowd
The GBBF crowd: older, mostly male. Your dad’s beer festival

The LCBF crowd, in contrast, was in parts almost a parody of hipsterdom: man buns and “ironic” short-back-and-sides with beards, plenty of checked shirts and Converse All-Stars, and with the hipster “ironic band T-shirt” (where you display on your chest the image of a beat combo popular with teenyboppers in the late 1980s) replaced with the “ironic beer T-shirt” (Tusker lager – I must dig out my Foster’s Special Bitter T-shirt from 1994 …). There were far more women as a proportion of the audience at the LCBF, and the age range was considerably narrower (and younger) than Olympia: I was older than 95 per cent or so of everybody else at the Bethnal Green event by a good 20 years, and (unlike Olympia), while there were plenty of beards, I was wearing one of the very, very few showing any signs of grey.

your little brother's beer festival
The LCBF crowd: younger, hipper. Your little brother’s beer festival

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Five facts you may not have known about India Pale Ale for #IPAday

‬IPAday 2013 logoIPA in India in the 19th century was drunk ice-cold

There are several references to “light bitter beer” being drunk “cold as ice could make it, the most refreshing of all drinks in this climate” in the journals and letters of expats in India from the 1820s to the 1850s.

The earliest use of the term India Pale Ale appears to have been in Australia

An advertisement for East India pale ale in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of Saturday, August 29 1829 is, at present, the earliest known sighting of the phrase “India Pale Ale”. Unfortunately the ad didn’t say who the brewer was, buy another advertisement in an Australian newspaper a few months later, the Colonial Times of Hobart in Tasmania on Friday, February 19 1830 lists “Taylor’s Brown Stout, East India Pale Ale (the best summer drink) and XXX Ale for sale”. “Taylor’s” almost certainly refers to Taylor Walker of the Barley Mow brewery, Limehouse, by the Thames in London, which can thus take the laurels as the first named brewer of a beer specifically referred to as IPA.

There are no actual references from the 19th century to the four-month sea-voyage out to India improving the flavour of IPA by the time it arrived in Calcutta or Bombay

This “fact” appears to have started as guesswork by 20th century writers, based at least in part on the fact that Madeira wine DID improve on the journey to India, so it was assumed that beer must do the same. Recent experiments suggest that, indeed, the long, slow heating and cooling that IPA would have undergone as it travelled in the holds of sailing ships from Britain would have altered and mellowed its flavours, but a full-scale trial has yet to be held …

The rise to fame and power of Burton upon Trent’s great brewers, such as Bass and Worthington, as brewers of India Pale Ale was at least in part because of a Russian import ban.

The Burton brewers’ biggest market until the very early 1820s was the Baltic region, and in particular Russia, where they sold a strong, dark, sweet brew called Burton Ale. When the Russians banned imports of ale (but not stout or porter) in 1822, Burton’s brewers were persuaded to replace this lost market with India, and to start brewing a pale, bitter beer for the first time.

Pale ales have been made for millennia

It has always been possible to make pale malt, from which pale ale is made, simply by sun-drying the malt. But that was always a risky affair in a wet climate. The invention of coke-fired maltings around the middle of the 17th century enabled maltsters to have much greater temperature control over the malting process, and from the start of the 18th century mentions of “pale ale” start to become more common.