Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Monday, August 8, 2022

GBBF 2022: Hello, old friend!

Three years is a long time in beer. 

With the 2020 and 2021 Great British Beer Festivals successively cancelled due to some sort of 'pandemic' or other, it's been a long time to wait, but last week the agony of waiting was finally over. GBBF came back!

I first attended the GBBF in 1994 and have been back every year since, so it's pretty much a part of my DNA now, and I've seen it change and evolve gradually over the years.

I particularly enjoyed myself in 2018, and 2019 wasn't bad either, but following two years of missing out, even a terrible GBBF would've been good, if that makes sense.  

So, come on then, how was GBBF 2022?

In a word: Good.

OMG, what have they done to you?
There were a few issues to contend with, like ongoing building works on the Olympia site that reduced the overall space available - this was the 'smallest' GBBF for some years - coupled with the general rustiness of not having staged the thing for three years. Things have changed in the beer scene during that time and expectations may not be the same.

But the army of volunteer staff did amazingly well to make the resumption of the greatest beer festival in the world feel as 'seamless' as possible. A couple of pints into Tuesday's trade session and I was already feeling like I was home.

As always, the US cask bar was a particular highlight and not just because many of these are literally the only casks in existence. Aeronaut 'Blueberry Key Lime Sour Planet' was properly sour with a zesty zing of fresh lime juice, even if, at 5.7% ABV, it was one of the weaker beers on the bar.

Windowmaker 'Blue Comet' (7.1%) was a hazy DIPA in the New England style, with sherbet notes that caused two separate people to enquire what I was drinking because it looked so fucking good. And then Alesmith 'Nobel Empire', a 10.2% Imperial Porter and the 8.8% 'Hoptron' from the Medusa brewery in Massachusetts... and they weren't even the strongest beers I enjoyed.

But inside it's reassuringly familiar!
American cask beer is a rare treat, but there were brilliant British beers too, many of which could and would be quaffed comfortably by the pintful: 

Marble 'Petite', a delightfully hopsome table beer at just 2.8% was a favourite, as was New Bristol 'Cinder Toffee Stout' (4.0%) and the Jolly Sailor 'Selby Kolsch', straight from Cologne in, umm, Yorkshire. Elusive 'Inertia' was also very good, an easy-drinking 3.6% with plenty of Citra hops.

But my favourite beer of the festival - albeit quite narrowly, and in the face of some seriously tasty competition - was Bedlam 'Wilde', which surprised me somewhat as I've had several Bedlam beers in the past few years and they've been OK but unspectacular.

However, this was superb. 4.8%, pale and fruity with tropical flavours bursting out all over. The sort of pale ale one could drink all day long and still feel like another pint of it.


Any downsides?

With the geographic restrictions, there were a few compromises necessary - fewer bars, fewer stalls, fewer food vendors, less musical entertainment and the lack of a private members area, but these are fairly minor concerns in the bigger scheme.

Handpulled Kolsch from Selby, in London!
It was a pleasure to scoff down the Crusty Pie Company's wares - some things never change - and the food offering overall was as good as you could hope for.

Sadly, this year's festival experience wasn't universally enjoyable. There have been some concerning reports about the inappropriate behaviour of customers (and possibly even staff), particularly from the Friday evening session. 

This really shouldn't need to be said, now or ever, but, seriously: Don't be a fucking dick. Everyone who attends the GBBF should be able to enjoy themselves and feel safe there. Don't threaten that. And, no, ten pints is not an excuse.

And I know there will be some that criticise CAMRA's policies, their pricing, their ticketing structure and everything else. Complainers gonna complain.

But I had a great time, was delighted to have the GBBF back in my life, and can't wait until 2023!

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