The clouds are grey and foreboding, Oxford Street has already treated us to some traditional London rain -y’know, the kind that blinds you and makes you feel like you’re being pelted by polystyrene balls- and although that was hours ago we still feel unsettlingly damp. I can only assume this is how every Londoner feels at all times. Stood on a dismal path in the middle of what seems like a trading estate we are essentially a rag-tag group of hipsters queuing in front of a sheet of corrugated metal. Bare in mind that it is a lovely piece of corrugated metal but that’s not really the point.
Whilst we were queuing we spotted the lovely Matt from Oakham Ales who said hello* before he was allowed to walk inside and away from the gloom and melancholy of a Bethnal Green back street. What a… Devil. After 20 damp minutes of waiting, the creak and groan of the corrugated portcullis slowly begins to rise and soon we will be welcomed into the craft beer bubble of the London Craft Beer Festival.
*Every time I spot Oakham during my crafty forays out of Lincolnshire it makes me happy. I suddenly feel less isolated. The east of the country has missed out on a lot of the craft wanker fun but we WILL be part of the craft beer world. It’s not happening quickly but it is happening.
This year marked only the third incarnation of LCBF. Just a toddler in the British beer scene but a precocious and fabulous one. LCBF feels like the founders decided to retcon any memory of other beer festivals and start with a blank slate. And it bloody works. So, what’s different?
Instead of paying a few quid for entry, a few quid for a glass and a few quid for a program before heading into the festival you simply fork out £40 on the door (or £30 online if you’re quick enough) and you get all that AND the beer. Yep, you heard right. There’s no faffing about with change (GBBF, I’m looking at you) or beer tokens (I find tokens from the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival in Nottingham in my coat pockets for months after) you just hand over your glass and get yourself some tasty beer. For a broke-ass beer nerd this was so refreshing. No wondering “can I afford another one”… you can just focus entirely on getting over-excited about beer. The only thing you pay for is the food and merch although there’s badges, beer mats and books galore for use geeky folk (“At least one brewery must be selling totes! I have too many beer mats” Fuck, I’m a dork).
As I mentioned previously the beer is included in the ticket price. Now, technically you’re allowed as many “tasters” as you want (that’s a sixth of a pint) and a certain amount of thirds but no-one’s really counting. For every craft wanker guzzling every sour and saison in sight there’s a craft ally enjoying a couple of pale ales and taking in the atmosphere. But honestly, I drank so many sours my tongue started to hurt. It was amazing.
The selection was phenomenal. As well as some truly ridiculous and quirky brews (did I mention QUITE how many saisons there were?!) there was some classics of the craft beer world, from Thornbridge’s Jaipur and Magic Rock’s Cannonball to the staple presence of BrewDog (with their new busom-buds, Stone). I’m not going to list all of the beers I tried (like my phone battery could have coped with Untappd, I’m not Roberto “pockets full of batteries” Ross) so here are some of mine and Amy’s highlights.
Raspberry Havana Gose – Sori Brewing
Someone said the words “raspberry mojito gose” near me and frankly I couldn’t think of a more arousing collection of words. I pretty much ran over to the bar. The clash of sweet, sour and salty was perfect. Raspberry Mojitos are one of my all time favourite drinks (pomegranate juice instead of soda and a shot of Chambord… trust me) so I straight away loved this drink. I couldn’t quite detect the rum but it has a boozy and herbal essence that really worked. Between that, the sweet and tart raspberry and the sharp salt it was a treat for the tastebuds.
Raspberry and Lemon Saison – Partizan Brewery
Grab some raspberries, chuck some lemon juice and a tiny bit of sugar on them and chuck ‘em gently into your mouth hole whilst in a concrete building in Bethnal Green. That’s it. Yes, I love raspberries, okay. Wanna get into my good books? Just give me raspberries.
Zintuki – Wild Beer Co.
A blend between the gorgeous apply lip-puckering goodness that is Somerset Wild and Ninkasi. Imagine a super silky Somerset Wild with a delicious vinous quality thanks to Ninkasi’s champagne yeast. Definitely an ultimate luxury beer in my books. Must grab a bottle and find a cause for celebration…
Sour Suzy – Lervig Aktiebryggeri
YES THAT’S RIGHT I FOUND A BEER WITH MY NAME. I was frankly giddy when I saw the name of this beer from Norwegian brewery, Lervig. Not only do I see a beer with my odd spelling of Suzy but it’s a sour (specifically a Berliner Weisse) and the pumpclip is a mermaid who is so done with your shit. I’m pretty sure that this is my spirit beer. It’s even a perfect “entry level” sour and everyone that knows me knows how I adore getting people into new and different beer styles. A light and refreshing Berliner Weisse, not too sour and very clean. If I can’t get hold of any more of this I am most certainly going to be pining for the ffjords.
No stage shoved in the corner of a tent on the edge of the festival for LCBF. While the bars surrounded the main room the centre was filled with a stage and a collection of wingbacks and Chesterfields.
On the Thursday night whilst myself and Amy graced the venue there were a few DJ sets going on. I’m really not one to ask about music (unless it’s Queen-related) but is was refreshing to have some great music playing rather than the standard soundtrack of general-beer-festival-hubbub.
The atmosphere towards the end of the evening turned to that of a (albeit pretty chilled) club night. It felt entirely different to any beer festival I’ve been to before where the entertainment and the beer molded together perfectly.
The only flaw I found with LCBF was the food. Now, the food was awesome… I will never turn down a big bowl of rosemary salted chips but I was hoping for more of a selection. Before we headed to the Oval Space we popped into The Sun Tavern, not far from Bethnal Green tube station and nommed down on beetroot pickled eggs and pretzels.
I always hope for a variety of snacks and food at beer festivals but LCBF only really offered full meals (Fancy steak/fancy hotdog and chips or a nice little platter) which, however nice, weren’t super practical for a beer festival. I wanted the option to graze, I wanted pickles and scratchings and jerky and such but I guess my love of pub snackfood isn’t necessarily the only way to go.
The LCBF was a happy bubble of beer celebration, focusing on breweries and innovation and I hope an inspiration for a new genre of beer festivals. The all-in-one price is revolutionary and, even though off-putting when you’re chucking £40 at a festival, it’s wonderful to just enjoy the beers and the atmosphere without thinking “damn, where’s my wallet” “how much did you say sorry i can’t hear” and “omg could you be any slower finding your change i’m waiting for a beer here”. With no beer lists it even becomes a more sociable event for the ticker in all of us (even if I did just spend a while shouting “ARGH WHO BREWED THAT MOJITO GOSE” at Google) and the atmosphere is so much more relaxed than any other festival -yes, even Indy Man- that I’ve been to.
High five, London Craft Beer Festival, see you next summer.