King of Beer Festivals: London Craft Beer Festival 2014

I read with interest last year about the London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF) and the controversy surrounding it being pitched against the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). As I had grown somewhat tired of the GBBF in recent years, I decided this year to try out its hipper, trendier cousin in East London.

I stayed with my friend, and drinking companion for the evening, Tom in Clapton. On the way to his house I checked out his nearest boozers on the wonderful Craft Beer London app. Within a mile of his house he has four 5-star rated craft beer establishments, with a further five within two miles.

My Host

My Clapton host with the most

When I moved to London 14 years ago, people didn’t go to Hackney after dark and, in any case, it was hard to reach by public transport and there was nothing much to see there. It’s testament to the gradual gentrification of London’s suburbs and the craft beer explosion of the past five years that this is now a beer (and food) destination, attracting folks from neighbouring areas, thirsty for the latest and greatest brews.

To the festival

Thursday evening began in a rainy queue outside Oval Space, Hackney’s premier event space. With no umbrella the only consolation was some free beer being handed out by Camden Town Brewery from a smart little van. However, we were soon in and had our hands on five beer tokens, good for a third of a pint each, our festival programme and rather stylish beer glasses.

The glasses were marked with a third of a pint line for your token-based big pours and a taster line, which allowed you unlimited small (90ml – about a sixth of a pint) pours from any of the brewers exhibiting. Before the event, a few people had questioned me on the value of the £35 entry fee and whether I’d get my money’s worth. Let’s examine the difference between the GBBF and the LCBF:

GBBF

LCBF

Entry

£8 for CAMRA members / £10vin advance / £12 on the door

£35
Programme

Free for CAMRA members / £2

Free

Glass

£3 – sale or return

Free

Price of six pints of beer

£21

Free

So in actual fact, price-wise there’s very little in it. Can you drink six pints at LCBF? Well that’s roughly five big pours and 26 small pours. So it depends on your capacity and how much you chat rather than drink. There were 21 breweries with about 70-80 beers to choose from, so there was plenty of choice. And that’s before we even take Visit Flanders into account.

Flantastic

Flantastic

Our ticket to LCBF also entitled us to visit the Flanders exhibition in the ‘Pickle Factory’ across the road. Here there were live beer cookery demonstrations and breweries giving out cheese and yet more free tasters of their beer. Het Anker, with their wonderful Tripel, Westmalle with their exquisite Dubbel and Duvel Moortgat with tasters of Liefmans, Vedett, De Koninck and Duvel made this a wonderful diversion from the main event.

So what’s particularly good about LCBF?

One of the great things about LCBF is that you actually get served by, for the most part, the people who actually brew the beer. This doesn’t thrill me in a celebrity spotting kind of way (although I was oddly star-struck by Stuart Ross from Magic Rock), but actually being able to talk beer with truly knowledgeable people was absolutely brilliant.

Brewer crush?

Brewer crush?

Another nice aspect is that if you don’t like a beer you haven’t actually paid for it, so you don’t feel bad about pouring it away into one of the buckets provided for glass swilling. So if something’s not to your liking you don’t have to nurse a pint of it for half an hour while your companions are enjoying theirs.

And then there’s the entertainment. A backdrop of extremely funky tunes, played by excellent DJ’s accompanied our Thursday night drinking and the line-up of bands and DJ’s for the other sessions looked, I was informed by more knowledgeable companion, stellar.

What of the people? What was the crowd like to drink with? Well, one thing that struck me was the vast array of people there. If I had feared an achingly hipster tone to proceedings, then I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure it was younger than any beer festival I’d ever attended (I felt a bit old in fact – at 35!) and there were one or two impressive beards on display, but generally speaking this was simply a collection of beer lovers. And I suspected that most of them would have been happy to visit the GBBF as well. We were all simply brought together by a general love of beer.

The beers

There were some absolutely wonderful beers on offer, with ABVs ranging from 3.0% to 12%+, styles ranging from lagers to pale ales to stouts and porters, and a whole host of flavours including Dandelion and Burdock, Lemon Sour and Coffee. I tried at least one beer from every brewery and was on my way back round the room again when time caught up with us.

Beer of the festival

Beer of the festival!

My beer of the festival had to be Weird Beard’s Double Perle – a fabulous, much stronger, 100th brew edition of their Black Perle dark IPA. Honourable mentions must go to Weird Beard’s Holy Hoppin’ Hell, Thornbridge Halcyon (kegged only the day before and tasting amzing), Howling Hops’s Rye Gose, Buxton’s Ace Edge (yes – a Sorachi Ace version of Axe Edge) and Siren Sound Wave. I have to say, I didn’t taste a bad beer and some were truly delightful, even exceptional.

Will I be back?

I can’t wait for LCBF 2015. And I’ll be telling all my beer appreciating friends about it too. The only thing I might improve is the range and price of the food. Overall though, this is a wonderful festival, not to be missed. 10/10.

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One thought on “King of Beer Festivals: London Craft Beer Festival 2014

  1. Pingback: Golden Pints 2014 | Strange Brews

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