Teeshirts at the Great British Beer Festival
It’s Beer Blogging Friday. This one is hosted by the Geistbear Brewing Blog and the subject is beer festivals, a subject I have written about on this blog in a previous post, but also on my other London blog, Feral Strumpet Teatime. I’ve decided to revisit my post about the Great British Beer Festival for this month’s session.
Great British Beer Festival Ad, photo by oiyou on flickr
Upon entering the huge Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre,the first thing that greeted me, besides the overwhelming choice of beer available, was this tasteful billboard. I gave this Bishops Finger booth a wide berth, thinking, I see your finger and raise you a knuckle sandwich. The party mood evaded me from the get-go, even though it was “hat day” and most of the drinkers had on some kind of headgear– cardboard new year derbys, giant guinness pints with plush shamrock brims, white caps emblazoned with the Saint George flag and in the case of one gentleman, disco 45s taped together.
This was my first Great British Beer Festival, and I didn’t have a game plan. I did bring a friend who kept insisting with fatherly concern that I was “drinking too fast” from my third pint glass. (Note to self: don’t bring him this year!) I decided to people watch and became fascinated by the teeshirts on the drinkers and those displayed for sale. There was a strange mix of British nationalism (ie bulldogs pissing) and indulgent self-deprication (the “I ate all the pies” teeshirt.) But ultimately, it was a celebration of liver execration (see Oliver Reed themed shirts on special.)
And it was a dude kind of affair. Where is a woman’s place in this scene? (”If only these were brains” across the bust of a baby doll tee shirt.) There were women there, but we were like some alien race. (”I have the PUSSY. I make the RULES” tank top.) I felt a special allegiance with the women who were not under the arm of a man. Women who had come here because they liked beer, not because they’d been dragged along.
When 4:30 came round and the suits started rolling in, things went in the lad-derly direction– a wink’s as good as a nod–kind of direction. But before then I got some drinking in. Not as much as I would have liked. All my careful planning (light to dark, start with thirds and NO CIDER) failed me.
Having no posse to buffer the culture shock, I tried to take it all in but I needed a drink first, and fast. To get oriented I committed what felt like sacrilege, going to the international counter. It was very small and mostly featured bottled stuff, but unlike the other counters it wasn’t packed with punters. I was looking for Rogue but my country was singularly represented by Sierra Nevada. I shuddered and slid down to the German section. Behind me, all of Britain was represented and I held out my glass for kölsch. It was illogical, ridiculous really.
And then I had a dunkel.
I was about to try the Bavarian Andrechs spezial when my friend convinced me to branch out, go native. Wink wink, nudge nudge, say-no-more. The Hambleton Nightmare Porter was singularly spectacular and worth the price of admission. I only wished I’d had a whole pint of its malty comfort. I sat with two friends on the floor of the utilitarian Earl’s Court Exposition Centre, splitting a plate of buttery Wensleydale cheese and ale chutney with biscuits and a few different ales. It was perfect. For a moment I understood this English pride precisely– the urgent love of the countryside and the bounty of tradition and all that. And I wanted another beer.
My friends were set on cider and I caved– I broke my no cider rule. Why? Cider makes me drunk and does my pallet in. I had something that was quite drinkable if not memorable, and it predictably went straight to my head. I felt an achy melancholy creeping up, like when I drink champagne. The choice was either to buy an Oliver Reed tee shirt and keep up the red-cheeked work or go home. The later course won out.
I even thought of going back to the festival the next day by myself just to undo this grave error. (Does she go? Is she a goer?) This year I’ll start at the Yorkshire counter and work my way widdershins around the island, map in pocket (said the actress to the bishop).