Thursday, 5 August 2010

GBBF: The Evolutionary Spirit*

*With apologies to legendary scouse combo, The Wild Swans

My one day out to GBBF 2010 was the Trade Day. It's changed a lot since I first went in 2000. Then, you had a lot more trade attendees - crisp and snack sellers, hospitality trade businesses - who would check in for the Tuesday afternoon to schmooze with decision-makers then disappear like Wills o'the Wisp before Joe Cask turned up. Brewers and brewery bigwigs showed their faces, bought one another a beer, maybe collected a gong off Roger Protz, and were gone.

A few years back, Trade Day changed. I think it changed as Bieres Sans Frontieres, the GBBF foreign beer bar, changed. The word was out about US craft beer, and canny drinkers and their sutlers, the RB and BA types, knew they could find beer that wasn't coming to Britain outside of the fest. Scandinavia and Japan, The Netherlands, all got in on the act, making BSF the most interesting place to drink. The upshot was that, from opening time on Day One, there were punters in.

These days, you don't see any hospitality tradespeople, and the brewers are the faces of their breweries to increasing numbers of regular drinkers. I think that's a good thing, generally. Shepherd Neame have evolved their space into a brewery 'experience' with brewers on hand to chat about using new hops. There were also plenty of London-area Sheps managers in attendance. Wells & Youngs shared the Boggle 'best tee shirt' prize for their Eagle IPA shirt, along with the striking Moor Brewing shirts. Skinners sent the Falmouth Marine Band to accompany their singers, and the irrepressible John Keeling was generous with his time and the Fullers expense account. He also launched Brewers' Reserve No. 2 and all proceeds from this week's cask sales will go to charity.

Zak Avery and Glyn Roberts have offered their own views. Glyn's is telling, to me. He notes the number of events timed to coincide with GBBF. I've commented before about the effectiveness of Cask Week, which doesn't have a focal point. I suppose if you could take GBBF on the road and give other UK cities the chance to make a week-long festival of it, then we'd be on to something.

CAMRA's GBBF organising team have tinkered with the layout of the bars, but Earls Court is a very defined and constraining space which hampers any significant layout changes. I personally found the new 'alphabetized by region' bars confusing, though I do like the theming. The big change is that BSF now has a whole bar 'island' more or less to itself (it's sharing with glasses this year). The US/RoW bar appears to be the single longest bar in the place, and this year they have 80 casks of beer and fridges full of bottles, some of which are recent arrivals to our shores.

This growth is supported by the US Brewers' Association Export Development Program under the stewardship of Bob Pease. Remarkably, the UK is currently their second biggest market after Sweden, but they are seeing room for big growth, and they are able to smooth the path for subscribing members who want to export, to take advantage of US government and logistical help. Bob says that plenty of brewers are interested, and that he is taking back requests to US brewers like Russian River. When I see what an umbrella body like the BA can deliver for their members, it does prompt a rueful smile. Interests in UK brewing are so splintered and sometimes opposed, that developing something like this seems a long way off. Having said that, a representative from UK Trade & Investment was there. Hopefully he can push at some open doors...

From Left: Doug Odell & Steve Holt; Bob Pease & Martin Hayes from Cask; Don Burgess;
Matthew Waldron, UK Trade & Investment

The CBoB announcement was a bit of an anti-climax, but there was a first gold medal for Thornbridge Jaipur in the Strong Ale category. Once again, no love for Dark Star Hophead, which has never even medalled here. I can't believe there are three better Golden Ales on the day, but it happens most years. What do I know? Castle Rock's delicious (but not as delicious as Hophead) Harvest Pale won CBoB for the second time.

I leave you with this. A snap of the coming wave in British brewing. In shot you have two CBoB gold-medal winning brewers in Mark Tranter from Dark Star and Kelly Ryan of Thornbridge, while standing to my right was Evin O'Riordain of SIBA-winning Kernel Brewing in London. Justin Hawke of Moor Brewing won silver in the Bitter category for Revival, David Bailey of Hardknott (site under construction) and Dominic Driscoll from Marble Brewing are brewing interesting and desirable beers while Phil Lowry attracted my attention here with his efforts at Brew Wharf. These brewers are seeing increased demand, two of them have seen their breweries triple in size, and they are innovating and doing all the things that UK brewers aren't supposed to be capable of. Seek out their beers!

David Bailey (Hardknott), Dominic Driscoll (Marble), Mark Tranter (Dark Star), Kelly Ryan (Thornbridge), Phil Lowry (brewing at Brew Wharf), Justin Hawke (Moor Brewing)
Edit: Thanks to Kelly Ryan for putting names to faces!


Kelly Ryan said...

Cheers for the mention!

The two unnamed chaps are the legendary Phil Lowry from Beer Merchants and Brew Wharf and the brilliant Justin Hawke from the ever-exciting Moor Brewery

Let's put British beer on the world map again!!!

Reluctant Scooper said...

Just think... one dodgy kebab offered to that group and someone could have taken out half of the UK's leading lights in real ale ;-)

Sid Boggle said...

Ah, brilliant, thanks Kelly! I'll update the caption and links, and congrats on Jaipur's success!

Sid Boggle said...

@Reluctant: I hear AB-InBev tried to set up a food concession... B-)

Mark said...

What a great photo that is, and some serious brewing talent too!


Unknown said...

I feel humbled to be included in that group. I do hope I can contribute.