The web pages of Stephen Penney

Friday, 6th August, 2004
Great British Beer Festival

I left work about 5 last night, just as a big storm was brewing - it threatened to chuck it down, but the only rain I saw was a few drops as I walked to the station. A train and three tubes later, I was at Kensington Olympia tube station. I'd not brought an A-Z, and was thus relying on my own cunning andwit to find where the Olympia was (I'd not been there before). My plan wasto find some people with beards and beer bellies and follow them. None were in sight, however I followed the crowd of a hundred or so people that got off the tube with me to the entrance, which was just across the road.I joined the 100 yard "non members" queue, which went down in about 5 minutes. Kensington Olympia is huge, I had a quick look round for my friends, and then made a couple of phone calls before realising the building was twice as large as I'd realised.
The trick is at these things to get a pint glass (three quid on sale or return) and drink halves - that way you get to try more beers, and they invariably fill the glass way over the 1/2 pint line. However I started offwith a pint of "Mole's Best Bitter" (4.0%) to line my stomach, and to give me time to suss out what was what.
We were stood next to a stall seling burgers at extortionate prices, including lamb, free range pork (do you really get battery pigs?) and Aberdeen Angus beef. They'd sold out of pork and lamb, so I had a beefburger with cider onions for 3 quid with my next half pint (Leek "St Edwards Ale"4.6%).
There were various stools around and about, most of which sold the usual beer festival paraphernalia - t-shirts, beer towels, books etc, and there was a tombola stand next to us where you could win naff prizes. My third beer was Bullmastiff "Welsh Black" (4.8%) - it's from in Penarth, just south of Cardiff. We used to cycle there to a pub which sold Bullmastiff Gold for a pound a pint. Happy days.
Next I wanted Dark Star "Espresso stout", so I went up to the appropriate bar to discover they'd sold out of it, so I had "Sunburst" (4.8%), with which I had another beefburger, with mustard I spilt down my pint glass and had to lick off....
The bars were split up mostly into areas of the country, as well as a few brewery bars, so I tried to cover as much of the land as possible. I'd not had anything from the West Midlands at this point, so I had Teme Valley "TheDark Stranger" (4.4%) next. Some of our groups had got some cheese and olives in, which were very nice but the brie didn't really compliment the beer very well....
Time was running short at this point, and I'd limited myself to 8 half pints, as I'd have to get up for work the next morning. It was 10pm, half an hour before last orders, and I had two halves to squeeze in. So I went up tothe nearest bar and got a half of York "York IPA" (5%), and with five minutes to go Follygold "Drinking is folly" (5%).
I usually keep my beer glass as a souvenir, but didn't fancy my chances of getting it across London and back home without breaking it, so handed it in and got my three quid back. As everyone piled in the tube, a few of us decided it would be better to wait a while, and so avoided the crowds byf inding a nearby pub and had a quick pint of Adnams. I got to Kings Cross about 12.30, and proudly told someone looking at the timetable that I knew when the next train was. He pointed out that I was looking at the Saturday timetable, and I was looking at 11.30, not 12.30. I got a taxi from the station and got home about 1.30.
I can't deny getting up this morning was a bit of the struggle, although I think I'm suffering more from the lack of sleep than from the alcohol. All in all a very enjoyable evening. I shan't be returning again this year -by all accounts it gets very crowded on the Friday and the Saturday - but it's certainly a must for next year.