GBBF Trade Day: Do you know where your beard is?

Laura & her knitted beer jumper!

Laura & her knitted beer jumper!

I have concluded that the way to really deal with the Great British Beer Fest is to drink American beers with Irish Craft Brewers.

It is the day after a rollicking beery adventure in extremes, and let it be said I am not hung over.  (I can’t confess to never being hung over because the minute I type this I know my particular superpower will abandon me.)  I skirted the edge of sensibility, starting with a 9% double IPA and continuing with crazy-bold flavors and highly alcoholic brews for six hours before quitting while I was still able to feign a civilized demeanor.  The only giveaway that I was quite squiffy:  I woke this morning in a panic, thinking I’d left my tasting notes under Thom’s bottle of Alaska Smoked Porter.  I was more chagrined that someone might read my absurd ramblings than losing the notes.

After braving the GBBF last year by myself or with non-beery friends, I considered giving it up.  Was it really worth it to be overwhelmed by the dire Exhibition Centre and all those less-than-friendly beery dudes?  No matter what careful planning I made of beer lists, once confronted with the crowded, cavernous space, the experience devolved into a joyless, inebriated wander.  But not this year! The Beer Nut and Bionic Laura had the keen suggestion that I should come on Trade Day, which is the Tuesday before it all kicks off and attendance is limited to media and beer professionals.

I arrived a half hour before the doors opened, thinking I would be one of a few waiting around.  I was amazed to see a massive queue of the UK beer demographic, boomer-aged men, wrapping around the building.  The talk in my point in the queue was of beer– American Beer.  The men behind me were trying to outdo each other with stories of their US beer-tourism and I felt vindicated that American beers dominated my list.

I had printed out a beer list from the CAMRA site, lovingly plotting my tasting sequence based on intensity of hops and alcohol percentage.  All that flew out the window when I arrived at the World Beers section the first 5 of on my list were not on cask yet or were only in bottles.  I went for the Captain Lawrence Reserve Double IPA at 9%.  It was intensely warming with a refreshingly floral nose.  The dominant grapefruit-hop character danced around a hard-candy sweetness.  It immediately went to my head– I was starting in the deep end!

It was then that I saw Mark (who really should have a beer show on Radio 6). His enthusiasm matched my own:  I’m drinking something insane from my homeland!  It’s doing me proud and making my cheeks red! This is going to be so much better than last year!  Mark already had a Father-Christmas satchel of incredible bottles from the US.  Yes!

Then I spy Laura who brought her knitting and has her posse with her, the Irish Craft Brewers.  I find myself sitting next to Thom and Kevin, comparing notes and beer lists and when Boak and Beer Nut show up the party had started in earnest. In the past I’ve had to pour out beers at the GBBF, but not this time.  Everyone around me has such good ideas– every beer I tried was delicious. The other benefit of sitting with a bunch of generous beer geeks is that everyone opened bottles for the table to try and we shared each others’ beers as well.

And it wasn’t just ticking either– Laura and I busted out our knitting and kept our hands busy.  She made me the adorable Beer Jumper in my favourite color green (pictured in the above photo).  At some point during the afternoon that beer jumper was on every bottle we tried, and later it was actually doing some disco moves, too.  And there was Tombola-tomfoolery (Tombolafoolery?): with Sarah winning a false beard.

Dont you wish your Beer Fest was as fun?

Don't you wish your Beer Fest was as fun?

Seriously, though, Sarah could capture a beer in just a few words.  She  had the foresight to buy a bottle of Dogfish Head’s heady Midas Touch for the table.  Based on an ancient Sumerian recipe it was very mead-like, fragrant and earthy.

(At one point the beard ended up on Beer Nut…)

John dons a the Tombola Beard
John dons the Tombola Beard

The other beers I had were:

Crouch Vale Amarillo, an old favourite I had just to add a British mellow in between the intensities.

Alaskan Smoked Porter (Thanks, Thom) which was a synesthetic delight reminding me of an experience I’ve yet to have: eating chocolate smarties on Bonfire Night.

Grain’s Tamarind IPA and Marble’s Ginger (both UK beers), recommended to me by Kevin, one of the Irish Craft Brewers, who didn’t steer me wrong all afternoon.  They were lovely, with the Tamarind being decidedly tannin-y and the Ginger very fresh, juicy and full of spice.

I also tried the Tsarina, which sat beckoning in an old oak cask, its name painted in a contraband-scrawl.  Mark exclaimed, “I don’t know what it is but I want it!” At 11% it was the biggest beer of the afternoon, an imperial porter  (De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva) coating the glass in a treacle veil with intense chocolate-raisin smoothing out with a bittersweet finish.  It was too rich for me, and even though I couldn’t finish even a third it was still delicious.

But there was one beer that surprised me.  It lingered in my mind so that I woke up up craving it– the Allagash Interlude, an experimental ale brewed with Belgian yeast and fermented in oak wine barrels. At first it sounded like there is just too much going on.  I’d ruled it out, having had bad experiences with American beers using Belgian yeast, but after tasting Laura’s I had to have some. Complex fruits and animal scents with an addictive tartness, a demanding puzzle that remained refreshing to the last.  I’ve contemplated going back today in hopes it would still be on, braving the whole thing alone.  That’s how good it was.

If I go back, maybe I could even win myself a mustache in the tombola and my perfect GBBF would be complete.

EDIT: I stand corrected on two counts: it was actually Dave’s Alaska Smoked Porter that I was bogarting.  And Pete Brown was the first to suggest I get myself to the Trade Day.  Thanks, guys.

25 Responses

  1. It looks better on Sarah.

    BTW, the idea to come to the trade session came from this very blog: in one of Pete Brown’s comments here.

    Except he says “It’s not one you can take a big bunch of mates to”: WRONG!

    • You know I totally realized that after the post, that a year ago Pete suggested it. I need to make an edit. But it was you and Laura who told me how to actually get a pass to the event!

  2. That is not a beard. You can’t fool me. That is a MERKIN.

    Seriously, though, I’m glad to see Dogfish Head getting some love. They’re a good brewery, and don’t get the renown outside the US that Rogue or some others do.

  3. Presumably my mental image of Coors or Anheuser Busch when hearing the phrase “American beer” is a preconception, but then I’ve never been to the USA and I don’t see much American beer here in the North West. Perhaps I should look around.

    • Hi Rednev! It’s a shame that insipid lager has come to define American beer to a lot of people in the UK, as there is a huge microbrewery revolution happening in the States. The people who taught me to love beer were all American brewers who were really passionate about real ale & British styles. If I come up your way I will bring some favourites to see what you think.

  4. I had such a great time and it was brilliant to finally share a beer with you! The Captain Lawrence was the best beer for me, I just loved it. And those sexy De Molen casks are still exciting me now – I want one in my garage 🙂

    I managed to get my bag home safely which I’m sure will be a big relief 🙂 The bottles are now sitting like flashing beacons waiting to be opened!

    Why can’t all beer festivals be like it was yesterday; great beer, great people and lots of fun. This is why I blog about beer.

    • Fantastic to meet you! I can’t wait to read your tasting notes and upcoming posts about those bottles. I have to agree yesterday was magic– the perfect combination of great beer and great folks.

  5. I wish i’d been there! So tell me, is there a comprehensive beer directory of where one can get the various ales and porters you have tried and mentioned? It would be a popular site just for reading the names alone!

    • Hi Angeltoad– the GBBF list is here: It is annoyingly organized by region so it’s a bit of a battle to find things. The US section is of course smaller so it’s more manageable.

  6. I’m so bloody jealous. Next year…

    • Yes! You must! The blogger posse will multiply!!!

  7. What a great post about a great day. It was wonderful to finally meet you for real. It was such a fun day of great beers and great people.

    I wonder if Pete Brown is still wondering why two knitting ladies with a bottle dressed up in a jumper and a lady wearing a beard came over to him to get a book signed…

    • Hi Laura, it was fantastic to meet you as well. Thanks for making this GBBF the best one yet. I think there is photo evidence of our crazy bearded, knitting femme flash mobbing of Pete…

  8. It was my first trade day, my first GBBF and what a blast! Didn’t get to meet half of the bloggers and brewers I’d planned to, but it seemed everyone who is anyone was there!

    And – that Captain Lawrence IPA was outstanding. If there are no plans to import it regularly to the UK, I volunteer to paddle some over…

    • It was a lovely beer, wasn’t it? I feel totally different about the GBBF after attending the trade day. Maybe next year we should organize a blogger meet up.

  9. It was lovely to meet you and a wonderful day out.

    I have to correct you about the Alaskan Smoked Porter though, it was high on my hit list and I was involved in getting it to the table, but Dave did the heavy lifting, and got the beer to the table.

    Until next year!

    • Apologies to Dave then! It’s all a blur…so great to meet you & can’t wait for next year!

  10. I look forward to being educated in American beers if you ever visit Merseyside.

    • Sounds good! And I know you’ll know all the good pubs and beers to try. I’m hoping to maybe come up in the winter sometime after my class is done.

  11. Let me just say what I’m sure we’re all thinking: American beers will always rule the day. Am I right?! We’ve taken European styles and made them BIGGER, and full of ALCOHOL!

    But seriously, GBBF Trade Day sounds like a blast, with some of my favorite beer bloggers that I’ve never actually met in attendance. And if you ever need anyone to smuggle in some more of the good stuff from the US, you just let me know. And provide me a plane ticket.

    • E.S.– I’ve never been to the big American beer fest and this saddens me to no end! Why can’t we all have Tardises (Tardi?)

  12. It was a great afternoon – glad you liked the Marble Ginger, it’s one of my favourites since I had it in the Duke of Cambridge.

  13. […] in much better condition.  It also helped that I was drinking in such fantastic company — Ally, Bionic Laura, Beer Nut, Thom and other representatives of Irish Craft Brewer were great drinking […]

  14. I look forward to it.

  15. […] in much better condition.  It also helped that I was drinking in such fantastic company — Ally, Bionic Laura, Beer Nut, Thom and other representatives of Irish Craft Brewer were great drinking […]

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