My favourite festival of year, hands down, is the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia.
Yep, that is pink beer. More on that in a moment.
If you're new to my blog, or my drinking habits, this is the flagship event in the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) calendar. It's the home to over 900 Real Ales, Ciders, Perries and International Beers for 5 days a year. CAMRA have beer festivals all over the country all year round, but this summer one is always a highlight of the season for me.
Here's how I approach it:
I book the day off work when I want to go. Ideally I go no later than the Thursday, this is because by then there is a risk that some of the ales will have already sold out (there was an incident this year where one of the Fuller's ones sold out in 45 minutes - and that's one from just down the road in Chiswick) and also Thursday is traditionally hat day. I left my headgear at the mercy of my Twitter followers this year:
... decision made. Lots of people enjoyed saying 'Hello Kitty' to me because of this.
Next, I go out for brunch. This is basically the same tactic as lining your stomach with something decent before you go out on the lash on a Saturday night. Not that it's an event where you drink like that, but when I'm in for the day and trying lots of different ales, I don't like to do that on a delicate tummy. Bill's in Ealing was my chosen brunch venue this year.
Then it's down to Olympia for 1pm to crack on with the event. I know, I told my friend Martin I'd be there from 1pm and he basically sent me the Whatsapp version of this:
Look, it's not like I go in there and sink pints. This is a marathon, not a sprint and also 900 DRINKS TO CHOOSE FROM. It takes me 10 minutes at each bar to make a decision.
The bars are usually split up around the two large floor halls in Olympia into regions of the UK, then Europe and further overseas. The cider & perry bar has it's own space too. You're basically visiting a bar with 30 beers on that you have to select from. It's worth buying a £2 guide on the door so you can easily seek out tasting notes and alcoholic volumes to you can make a decision before getting to the bar.
I drink halves in these events, it means I can try more beers. You can do pints, or even thirds, it's all up to you.
So here's my beer list for the day:
Alongside that little lot, I was also trying the beers that all the guys bought in my group. I swear there was a Belgian one that tasted like the nicest red wine you could ever dream of. Yes really, I wasn't trashed.
Oh, really unhealthy food happened too. When in Rome ...
I had a very long day. I was done with drinking by around 7.30pm, but I stayed socialising until 9.30pm and my feet were dead. I was very thankful to get home and get into bed.
I always keep my festival glasses, you can hand them back at the end of the event at get your £3 deposit back, but I like keeping them (I have nine now! One from every year I've been since moving to London) plus the next day it's good to have something to drink big glasses of water out of!
My standout beer for this year was the pHuchsia from the London Brewing Co. Partly because of the name, partly because of the colour and partly because it was a mild sour raspberry beer, and sour beers really are my thing this year.
Quite glad I only do this once a year, though, it's a pretty hardcore day! I'll be ready for another go next summer, though.