As UK beer festivals go, it does not get any bigger than CAMRA's annual Great British Beer Festival (a.k.a. GBBF) – something of a classic institution in real ale lovers' calendars.
This year's event, which runs for five days from Tuesday 7 August, will take place in Olympia for the first time since 2005, presumably because its previous home of Earls' Court is tied up with some other event. This change of venue may be a factor in CAMRA's decision to reduce the festival's range of beers, ciders and perries to a mere 800 this year (down from a reported 1,000 last year). Of course, this is of no consequence – even the most ambitiously ardent ale aficionado would not be able to exhaust such an expansive selection.
As a CAMRA event, the beer range will be heavily slanted towards cask-conditioned ales; those with a penchant for heavily carbonated or super-chilled drinks may find their tastes somewhat challenged. However it's clear that with fermented drinks from a few hundred UK brewers, plus dozens of overseas beers, most ale-lovers' tastes have been catered for.
Aside from the booze, a wide range of food stalls will provide many options for lining the stomach – offering pies, pasties, burgers, sausages, Indian and Thai food, chips, steaks, seafood, cheese, olives, pasta and, if previous years are anything to go by, big bags of magnificent pork scratchings. All health-conscious fare, of course. Live musical entertainment will be laid on throughout the festival, and will most likely be largely ignored by everybody.
Based on past experience, our top tips for the uninitiated GBBF attendee would be to check out the festival's website in advance to perform some rudimentary research on what to drink and where to get it, and to sample beers in smaller measures (they are usually available in pints, halves or thirds) to allow a wider variety to be consumed before the inevitable limits of time, stamina, physics or finances are reached.
It's also worth remembering that the bars close at 10:30pm (or 7pm on the final day); while the drink prices are more-or-less pub-like, the opening hours are not.
Great British Beer Festival, Olympia (Hammersmith Road, London, W14 8UX), 7-11 August. Open 5pm-10:30pm Tuesday, 12pm-10:30pm Wednesday-Friday, 11am-7pm Saturday. Tickets cost £8 in advance (£6 for CAMRA members), £1 discount for group bookings (10+). More information and tickets available from the festival website.