Simon Williams hits the bull’s eye about what’s wrong with GBBF and why the London Craft Beer Festival is so much better

I don’t think I’ve ever read a blogpost I agreed with more than Simon Wiliams of CAMRGB’s take on the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia last week versus the London Craft Beer Festival, also last week, in Hackney. Read it here. Basically, the problem with the GBBF, 40 years on from the very first one in Covent Garden, is that it’s utterly unimaginative, dull, unengaging and uninspiring. Too much of the beer is too samey (mind, that’s a reflection of the state of the British small brewing scene), and while there are interesting and challenging beers to find, it’s a pain in the butt trying to track therm down. What’s more, reports suggest that if you go at the end of the week, all the most interesting beers will be long sold out. It really needs a serious rethink in terms of presentation, approach, purpose: in particular, there should be far more involvement from the breweries supplying the beer than just turning up with casks and pumpclips and then buggering off. At the LCBF, in contrast, the beers are almost without exception challenging and exciting, the stalls are staffed by people from the breweries involved who are delighted to chat. Despite the room the LCBF was held in being far too hot, I enjoyed myself, and enjoyed the beers, far more than I did at the GBBF. I could say much more, but Simon has said it all, and very well.

23 thoughts on “Simon Williams hits the bull’s eye about what’s wrong with GBBF and why the London Craft Beer Festival is so much better”

  1. In the real world where you have to pay for tickets rather than blag them GBBF cost £10 the Craft Beer Festival something like £40. Until the prices are much more equal I’ll stick to the GBBF, although I agree with your comments about the acres of bland golden ales. At times like these my rule is to drink dark ales – porters,, stouts and even milds – as they are generally more interesting.

    1. “GBBF cost £10 the Craft Beer Festival something like £40” – but at GBBF you have to buy all your beers, at the LCBF the (admittedly small-size but generally very strong) beers are free. Disclosure: I had a press pass for GBBF, AND got a free glass, but I paid for all of my drinks, except for two or three bought me by brewers I knew. At LCBF I paid £15 for the trade session ticket, admittedly less than half the “civilian” price, but even at £40 the economics are not going to be that different, taking into account the strengths of the beers – strong beers are not cherap at the GBBF.

  2. I thought the standard of whinging about the GBBF was rather poor this year, and I would include Simon William’s post in that. I enjoyed myself immensely at the GBBF this year and had no trouble finding intersting beers.

  3. Look a the list of beers Simon drank at GBBF. Its the equivalent of going to Paris and only eating McDonalds. How would he know the beer was boring when he didn’t drink any of it?

    1. I think you can gather fairly quickly from prior knowledge and descriptions in the festival handbook whether a line=up is exciting or dull without having to drink every beer, don’t you?

  4. Ah, clickbait. Thought you were better than that.

    Having attended and enjoyed both events, I just don’t recognise your description of the GBBF, they’re very different events with arguably different audiences, just enjoy them for what they are rather than indulging in spurious and divisive trolling.

    1. There we aere, then: one man’s attempt to further a debate about whether or not the GBBF has become tired and boring is another man’s “clickbate” and “spurious and divisive trolling”. I don’t mind if you disagree, but try to restrain the insults.

  5. Yeah, i tend to agree with Ed on this one. Knocking the GBBF seems to be an annual sport these days, but it’s still a lot of fun. No offence but a lot of criticism seems to come from the ‘blogging elite’ who get in on a freebie at the trade session and then spend their time hobknobbing with other crafteratti grandees. The feedback I get from the rest of the plebs in the cheap seats is that it’s as good as ever. Certainly I didn’t have any problem finding lots of good beer.

    The GBBF is far from perfect but then the LCBF wasn’t without its irritations either. The pretentious ‘craft’ small measures, for one. Maybe it’s because we’ve had craft beer festivals up North for some years that I wasn’t blown away by it. I don’t know, but I do know which one I prefer.

    1. I wouldn’t know what a “crafterati grandee” was if one fell on me, personally. I certainly go to the trade session because it’s a great way to meet people I know, but frankly I wouldn’t pay to go because after almost 40 years of visiting the GBBF I find it really doesn’t hold much attraction beerwise any more.

      Oh, and the small servings at the LCBF are sensible rather than pretentious, when yopu’re dealing with beers frequently 7% to 11%.

      1. But not all the beer is that strong, is it. Certainly not the stuff I was drinking, anyway. And at 7% that’s only like many of the ciders available at CAMRA festivals. The small measure is an affectation of the craft beer festival and nothing to do with strength really.

        I’ve been to craft beer festivals where the average strength was only around 5% and they still had small measures. Just a personal view, obviously, but it’s one aspect of the scene that I really dislike.

  6. But doesn’t this take it for granted that the purpose of a beer festival is to present people with a challenge? The GBBF is deservedly popular as a jolly day out, the beer needs to be good but it doesn’t have to be ‘interesting’.The CAMRA / Craft divide seems to be less about method of dispense these days as ways of drinking, with one mode – characterised by small measures, high ABV, high prices, an unusual attentiveness on the part of the drinker and an emphasis of novelty over consistency and intensity over drinkability- assumed by its proponents to be superior.

    I have a soft spot for the Woking CAMRA festival. The beer selection is middle of the road, but the end of session sing-songs are legendary.

  7. The scottish equivalent was the same, started on saturday and sold out late afternoon with the taste of either isinglass? or acetic bacterial infection in the evening.

      1. I wonder about the legality of smaller measures in any case. Draught beer must be sold only in legally prescribed measures quantities and the smallest of these is one third.
        Constructive dodges don’t fool the courts, if you pay money and get beer it is being sold to you regardless of how you make it look. The legal test would be “were it not for the beer would somebody pay this amount of money ?”

  8. The term “craft” is being sadly misused. The beers on sale at the GBBF were craft , the only difference is that CAMRA is dedicated to a method of dispense rather than to the nature of the beers themselves.
    Am I the only one who sees “craft keg” as a rip off? I see what is being charged for it and bearing in mind the losses involved in keg sales are considerably lower then in cask there is no reason to charge more for keg. Yet I have seen what is effectively the same beer being sold for £3 a pint as cask but £4 a pint on keg.

    1. “The term “craft” is being sadly misused.” – translation: “The term ‘craft’ is being used in ways with which I disagree.”

      “Am I the only one who sees “craft keg” as a rip off?”

      A rip-off is in the eyes of the beer-holder. If you think it’s too expensive, don’t buy it – that’s a rule I’ve found to be an excellent one over the years.

      1. What I meant is that “craft” seems only to be applied to the keg versions of beers produced.There is no more craft involved in brewing and rather less in keeping and serving them than there is in their cask equivalents
        When the same beer is sold at such disparate prices on the same bar, the expensive version is a rip off.

  9. I like your column generally Martyn but on this occasion I couldn’t disagree with you more! I spent 3 days at the GBBF and had a great time. Yes there’s lots of similar beers but that just reflects the market. I had no trouble finding interesting beers to drink and managed to taste 63 during my visit, including beers from the USA that I’ll probably never find anywhere else.

    I also enjoyed the atmosphere, the friendly volunteers and the choice of food outlets. I’m not bothered about chatting to Brewers, I just want to enjoy a wide variety of beers. As for the cost, I calculated that adding up flights, hotel and other expenses to get there, each pint cost me around £17 so the few quid to get in was not an issue!

    1. But clearly you’re very far from being a normal punter: I don’t think the fact that a visitor from overseas who wouldn’t normally be able to sample anything like that number of UK beers in one place and who can afford to spend three days doing so liked the festival is relevant at all. And even you only managed to drink 7% of the beers available – the other 93% could all have been rubbish, or all fantastic.

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