The Great British Beer Festival, which kicks off next week at Earls Court, inspires superlatives from its promoters. “The biggest beer festival in the UK”? Undoubtedly. “The world's biggest pub”? That might be stretching the definition of 'pub' a fair bit. “Over 700 real ales, ciders and foreign beers”? Well why not?
There's no mystery to this beer festival - you know what you're getting. Hundreds of different fermented beverages, from around the UK and the rest of the world, all laid out for your sampling pleasure around the floor of a massive exhibition centre. Pies, curries, chips, pork scratchings and, incongruously, salads are available for soaking up the booze. So-called 'entertainment' is on offer, although in previous years we've found it to be an unwelcome distraction from the important business of trying as many different ales as possible. Maybe that's just us.
Drink prices are consistent with those of most London pubs, and the beverages are dispensed in pints, halves or thirds. The smaller measures are handy for those who want to sample as wide a variety as possible, but far be it from us to tell you how to drink your beer.
We're happy to hear that the allocation of American beers, with all their hopeful hoppy excellence, has been substantially increased this year. However we're somewhat puzzled by CAMRA's decision to replace previous years' geographically-inspired bar placements with an obtuse approach that seems to combine an alphabetised county list with the names of famous military leaders. Seriously.
The more studied ale-heads will research the beers on offer in advance, with the help of the festival website, and prepare an alcoholic itinerary for their visit. Others will simply take the lucky-dip approach of stumbling around and sampling any beverage whose name takes their fancy. From prior experience we can recommend either approach.
The festival runs from Tuesday evening until late Saturday afternoon, but be warned - the bars close at 10:30pm in the evening, invariably catching out those expecting normal pub opening hours.
Great British Beer Festival, Earls Court, 3rd-7th August. Open 5pm-10:30pm Tuesday, 12pm-10:30pm Wednesday-Friday, 11am-7pm Saturday. Tickets: £8 advance, £10 on the door - £2 discount for CAMRA members, £1 discount for group bookings (10+). More information and tickets available from the festival website.