I've been going for 20 years now, and while it was always a unique event, it's now bigger and better than ever and looms like a vast, beery ox in a year-round field of chickens. The very anticipation causes me to come up with fucktarded metaphors.
Anyway, the sheer massiveness of it all it can be a tad daunting for GBBF virgins, so following on from my rough guide to British beer festivals, here are a few friendly tips for anyone who perhaps doesn't have an awful lot of GBBF experience:
|Fortunately the year has flown by since GBBF 2013...|
- Bring money. Lots of money. Visitors to London always find it an expensive place and the GBBF is no exception, so come armed with plenty of cash. The beer itself is actually quite competitively priced for the capital, but there's entrance, a glass, food, games and souveniers to think about and if you want to really fit in, you'll need to spend a few quid on a balloon hat in the shape of a huge cock and balls. You can easily spend 20 minutes queueing at one of Olympia's
many, sorry, few cash machines, only to find when you get there that it, like you, has no money left. So, wad yourself up in advance and stop worrying about getting mugged.
- Buy your tickets in advance. A no-brainer, but it saves a little money and avoids the queues. Yet so many people don't. And if you're planning to attend more than two sessions, get a season ticket.
- Plan your strategy... Once you're inside and you've got yourself a beer, have a look at the programme and devise a route around the beers you want to try, perhaps factoring in what particular food you'd like - e.g. a seafood cocktail with your stout or some pork scratchings with a traditional Northern bitter.
- ...but don't get hung up on one specific beer. Look, there are hundreds of beers involved in this deal. Not all of them will be on at all times. The one you want may have come and gone, or it might not be ready yet. Be open-minded, be realistic and don't set yourself up for disappointment by pinning all your hopes on one golden, hoppy horse that might turn out to be non-runner.
- The American beers run out first. Yes, it's the Great British Beer Festival, but for some years now, the US cask beer bar has been the most popular and has very limited choice on the last couple of days, so try to get them as early as possible. Conventional wisdom says to leave the stronger beers until later on, but by doing this you run the risk of missing out on that 9.8% West Coast Triple IPA you had your eye on. (Yes, I know me telling you this will exacerbate the situation!)
- The brewery bars run out last. Sometimes there are interesting beers on the commercial brewery stands. I'm up for trying the Wells & Young's reboot of McEwans IPA this year, for example. But you can leave these until the Friday or Saturday sessions as they are far less likely to run out than any given beer on the main CAMRA bars.
- Measures are pretty generous, especially smaller ones. The overlined glasses and carefree bar staff ensure that you'll almost always get more than a pint, which is great. But the most efficient way to get free beer is to drink smaller quantities. If you get it in a pint glass, a half and a third will usually add up to more than a pint!
- Seats are like gold dust. Expect to do lots of standing and/or sitting on cold concrete flooring. If you're in a big group and arrive earlyish, you'll probably establish a base camp around a table and bag a few chairs. I don't blame you. But be considerate of others and let folks share your table if chairs are left unoccupied for a long time. Good karma'n'shit.
- Check out the entertainment. The entry price might seem steep, but you're getting free admission to a gig or two out of it. Unless you absolutely hate the artist playing, it's worth taking your beer to the main stage and enjoying the music. The highlight this year is Ade Edmonson and the Bad Shepherds on Thursday evening.
- Have a bloody good time! There is nowhere on the planet like Olympia during GBBF week. Nowhere. Or on any other planets. If you like beer, you'll be in your element, so don't be grumpy or grouchy about anything, and don't go badmouthing CAMRA. And don't piss off the staff: They're all volunteers and they work fucking hard, so don't be the pissed-up oik that ruins their shift. It's a far better idea to smile and have fun!
GBBF 2014 runs from Tuesday August 12 until Saturday August 16