Next week sees the start of the Great British Beer Festival at Kensington Olympia in London. If my calculations are correct then this will be the 37th GBBF since the first one was held in 1977 at London's Ally Pally. After travelling out to Leeds and Birmingham the festival went south to the Metropole in Brighton in 1985. This was the first I attended and the pictures below were taken at this event.
|I'm the one wearing the incredibly trendy Gales sweatshirt.|
|A lively crowd|
My only real memories of these festivals in Brighton were how incredibly crowded they were and finding a seat was impossible. Brighton was a great place for cheap accommodation so there were usually a few of us who went down from London where I was living at the time to spend a few days there. The beer choice would probably not seem too impressive nowadays but at the time it was far better than you could find in pubs. Genuine free houses were hard to find and so CAMRA beer festivals were always popular. I don't remember any non CAMRA beer festivals at this time either and CAMRA ones were also far fewer in number than they are today. CAMRA may come in for a lot of stick today but without them and events like the GBBF I wonder what the beer scene would actually look like today.
After three years at Brighton the GBBF returned to Leeds before coming back to Brighton for a year. Then, in 1991, there was one awful year at the London Docklands Arena before it settled at Kensington Olympia from 1992 until 2005. In 2006 it switched to the nearby Earl's Court but when the death knell for this venue was sounded it returned to Olympia in 2012 and here it remains. I think I have only missed three GBBFs since the switch to London in 1991 and it has always generally managed to get bigger and better. Olympia remains my favourite venue and it is spacious enough for plenty of seating nowadays.
There is plenty of things to do apart from the drinking. The music is usually worth listening to but I wish they would get Mad Jocks & Englishmen back again. They were virtually ever present in the early days of the GBBF. The festival games continue to provide me with brewery memorabilia (or old tat as my wife succinctly puts it when I unveil my winnings the following day). My expertise at table skittles and 'ring the hand pump' has won me numerous brewery mirrors, T-Shirts, books, etc over the years. If you don't have my levels of skill you can always try your luck on the Brewery Name Game of course which is a sort of tombola but with a theme of closed and current breweries and you win if you pick out a current one.
If you go on the Saturday there is the pub quiz which has become a competition to see which group of people can google the answers the quickest. If you don't have a smart phone you have no chance! It is about ten years since me and my two mates won this gaining for ourselves a trip round the Hall & Woodhouse brewery which I was boycotting at the time because they had just closed down my beloved King & Barnes. There have been some near misses too since then which has resulted in me winning some more lovely brewery memorabilia (or old tat).
This year I will be there on the Friday so the quiz can be won by somebody else. I hope I am getting over the point that this is an event worth going to for every beer lover. This will be the first year I will not be with my very best mate Wurzel (the bearded one in the picture above). In the past few months he has suffered a stroke and although he is recovering well he will not be attending this year. On the plus side my nephew is now old enough to attend so he will be coming along with my brother for his first GBBF. You start to feel old when your mates fall by the wayside and the little ones grow up and start coming along too. That is the sort of event the GBBF is though. Once you start trotting along and spread the word it becomes an annual meeting point for you and your friends. There are some friends who I only see once a year and that will be at the GBBF so long may it continue.