how the LCBF knocked me sideways
On Saturday evening I decided to go online and book a ticket for the London Craft Beer Festival at the Oval Space in Hackney. I hadn’t planned to do this but got tempted by seeing the brochure of someone who’d just come back from it.
I intended write a pros and cons assessment of this festival against the GBBF but that’s not possible - they’re not remotely comparable.
This festival is free from any technical definition of beer. Developments in brewing, in its technology and in its process can all be accommodated under the craft banner. This is a project that just makes the sensory experience between you and the beer its goal - all else is irrelevant.
When I entered the main hall upstairs I submitted to some mild panic. This happens every time I hear eardrum-throbbing music or sound in an enclosed space but this is just a reflection on me and my unoutgoingness. I soon got used to it as the rhythm entered the bloodstream but it did have another disadvantage: all the brewers whose beer you’ve been raving about - and whose produce has done things to you you long to thank them for - cannot hear your praise or anything you say.
You end up mouthing the name of the beer to be lip-read or just pointing at it. I took a couple of photographs of brewers I hold in high esteem - I just wish I could have told them at the time. The ones with their backs to the window were slowly being bisqued in their own juices as the panes acted as a magnifier to the sun’s rays.
You get the beer in shots - as many as you want so you can taste beer of all colours, styles and strengths. No money changes hands as all drink is included in the ticket. The dispense is fluid and uninterrupted meaning minimal queuing. I love the thought that’s gone into the little practical details: water butts have been put on the corners of bars so that you can open a tap, rinse out your glass and chuck the dregs into the bin underneath. This way you can switch from a Simcoe IPA to a chocolate coffee porter without their respective foams compromising each other’s taste.
The second half of this festival is just across the road in the Pickle Factory. Your glass needs to be empty before you traverse because of licensing detail - the Oval Space doesn’t lease the road so alcohol cannot be consumed on it.
This smaller venue is cut off from the light and feels clandestine. Fuller’s brewery is running it and has brought together some of the best breweries and a menu of delicious cask ales that span the ale spectrum.
For the first time ever, I had the opportunity to sample the Imperial Stout, 1845, Vintage Ale, Brewer’s Reserve, Golden Pride and other heavy Fuller’s beers rarely seen on cask.
Waddling back to the Oval Space (glass empty for the scrutiny of the security bods), you ascend up the stairs, come back out into the light and are ambushed by one of London’s most beautiful urban vistas. This could almost be an analogy about leaving the constraints of real ale in the little shed behind. Am I talking about the Pickle Factory or the GBBF?
I'm still turning this experience around and around in my head.