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More Beer than you can Shake a Stick at!!
Great British Beer Festival 2001 (London)
Member Name: tange
Great British Beer Festival 2001 (London)
Date: 22/09/04, updated on 30/10/04 (121 review reads)
Advantages: Lots of Beer!!!!
Disadvantages: Too Many to Try them all!!
A few Friday afternoons ago we attended our first Great British Beer Festival ~ one of the biggest Beer Festivals in the UK. We were quite nervous about going because we had been told how big and busy it was. As it turned out we had a lovely day and really enjoyed the atmosphere.
~~~WHERE IS IT AND HOW DO YOU GET THERE?
The GBBF is held at Olympia in the Kensington area of London. We got a train from Chesterfield to St. Pancras and then took the Piccadilly Line (on the Underground) to Earls Court (you can also go to Barons Court, Hammersmith and High Street Kensington. From Earls Court we got the District Line to a stop right outside Olympia ~ trains were less frequent so make sure you check the times back so you can leave accordingly (it is walkable from High Street Kensington and Earls Court, but a train is preferable as it is about a half hours walk).
A friend of ours went by bus and told me that the buses that serve Olympia are the numbers 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and 391 ~ she got a Routemaster bus from near St. Pancras. For any other information you can visit the main CAMRA website and follow the link to the GBBF (www.camra.org.uk).
The Festival is usually held during the first week in August. It opens on Tuesday afternoon and is then open daily from 12 til 10.30pm from Wednesday to Friday and then 11 til 7pm on the Saturday. This year tickets cost £5.00 for the Saturday and £6.00 for the other sessions. If you are in London for a week you can attend all the sessions using a “Season Ticket” that costs £17.50. If you are a CAMRA member you will also get a £1.00 reduction (and members also get access to a members lounge in the cooler balcony area).
Tickets can be bought on the door (the queues can be VERY long at times) and, up until the week of the Festival, in advance via the CAMRA website. We did this and were really pleased because we didn’t have to queue at all. I would certainly recommend doing this!
If you want it a little quieter the afternoon sessions are preferable ~ it didn’t start to get too busy at the bars until about 4pm. Be aware though that beers can start to run low as the week goes on and sometimes they will temporarily close a bar down to reserve stocks for busier times. I did like my afternoon visit because it was less hectic and not quite so hot as it could have been.
~~~I’M INSIDE…WHAT DO I DO NOW?
Once you’ve got into the main hall and handed in your ticket you are given a programme and directed to the glass collection area. To get drinks you can either hire a pint or half-pint glass (for £3.00 and £2.00 respectively) or take your own glass (which has to be a lined glass to ensure the correct measure). If you hire a glass you can either keep it as a souvenir or get your money back. Just make sure you take care of your glass ~ if you lose it or break it you WILL have to hire another one and pay again!
Once you have your glass you are now ready to hit the beer! Unlike some Festivals beer is purchased using cash ~ usually we have to buy beer tokens; meaning ANOTHER queue…but, thankfully not on this occasion! The bars this year were arranged into regions (mostly in the main hall and some in the smaller hall with the stage) and there were also separate bars for some of the main breweries (for example Batemans, Tetley, Fullers, Hook Norton, etc). There was also a bar for beers from other countries, a J.D. Wetherspoons sponsored new beers bar and a separate Cider & Perry area.
This may sound really complicated, but the map in the programme was very clear and the bars corresponded to either a number or letter.
At certain times during the Festival there are also events and entertainment. These ranged from Chas and Dave (!) and pub games, to tutored beer tastings (although the Beer & Chocolate session was sold out well in advance). The tastings are limited and ticket only, but the entertainment happens all the time and is either on the main stage or around the edges of the halls.
~~~FOOD & FAMILIES & ACCESS.
I was actually really surprised at the range of food on offer ~ it was certainly impressive and very varied. For lunch Alun had a Pork and Leek sausage sandwich from the Real Meat Sausage stall (this was £3.00) and I had a really nice Cheese and Onion Pasty from the Proper Cornish Pasty stand (very large and only £2.50). For tea I went for a crab and salad sandwich (a trifle pricey at 4 quid, but huge and VERY tasty) from the Seafood stall and Alun had an Aberdeen Angus burger from the Splendid Meat Company (£3.50 and massive). As well as what we had there were marinated Olives, Indian food, different cheeses, meat pies, chocolate, fruit and nuts.
Another thing that surprised me was the number of families at the Festival. Children are allowed into the hall for the afternoon sessions ~ be warned though that it is strictly over 18’s after 9pm! Also be aware that children must stay in the family area (a club room known as Half Pints) accessible via a lift to one side of the main hall and must have an adult with them at all times. In this area you will find sweets, soft drinks and lots of entertainment for the smaller visitors ~ they seemed to be having lots of fun face painting, playing games and listening to stories and watching the entertainment. This family zone also has great views down onto the Festival below.
Access for the less mobile is pretty good at Olympia. There are lifts to the upper floor, disabled toilets and ramps for easy entry. There are also quite a few open spaces and seating areas for anyone who needs to escape the crowding and have a rest. Olympia is also air-conditioned so it didn’t get too unbearable even though it was sunny and extremely hot outside. My top tip is to get there early and bag a table and chairs in the middle of the main hall ~ this part of the hall doesn’t get the direct sunlight and stays cooler. It is also best to get a seat if there’s a group of you because it can be a long tiring day and they never give you enough hands for the amount of things you have to carry (programme, glass, bag, money and a burger)!
~~~SO…JUST HOW GOOD WAS IT?
I had a wonderful day and thought the atmosphere and organization were top rate. The staff worked hard (and they are all VOLUNTEERS) and there was lots to do and see. The place was busy but, despite the consumption of alcohol, there was no trouble and everyone seemed good natured. I did see security people about but I didn’t see them having to deal with anything bad (whether this changes later at night I couldn’t say).
Facilities were great too ~ I loved the glass washing machine and, even though lots of people were about, the toilets were really clean and didn’t run out of paper!! Seating was limited, but (especially in the Members Lounge) comfortable and staff came round collecting rubbish regularly. The entertainment wasn’t intrusive because it was in the smaller hall ~ I thought this was good because it meant the music wasn’t too loud. You could still chat and choose whether or not you wanted to listen without being overpowered.
Surprisingly I don’t really have any real gripes about my day (except with Midland Mainline for delaying my train by 2 hours 10 minutes so I only had four hours sleep before work on Saturday!). Beer cost from 90p to £1.50 a half (stronger beers, ciders and the foreign beers cost the most) ~ not bad for London. Everything was well organised and well laid out and we didn’t have to wait too long to get served (be a bit patient at busy times though).
The beer range was excellent and offered a lot of choice for people who like all styles of beer ~ there were even some interesting European Lagers to try (the Black Budwar lager was a good choice). The Festival catered for all palates and gave me lots of scope to sample beers I wouldn’t normally come across at home (my real surprise of the day was the Bananatana…a continental beer brewed with sultanas and bananas!), as well as offering the old favourites like Hook Norton and Bombardier.
So…a great day! I will be booking my tickets for next year as soon as I can.
***PLEASE NOTE - DOOYOO KINDLY (?) ADDED THE GBBF 2004 (THE YEAR I VISITED THE FESTIVAL) ON THE GERMAN DOOYOO SITE BY MISTAKE AND HAVEN'T RESPONDED TO MY EMAILS...SO I'VE HAD TO PUT IT HERE***
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