This week’s trip to the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) gave me time to reflect on just what we should be proud of when it comes to British, and more specifically Norfolk ale.
My annual pilgrimage to this national beer festival at Olympia had a most welcome diversion with a quick stop off at Radio Norfolk to chat to David Whitely about our Moon Gazer Pacific Pale ale – as it was showcasing at the festival as a gluten free beer.
Whilst drinking beer with David at 7.50am is not the norm it did remind me in conversation of just why Norfolk is a county blessed with a brewing heritage which is hard to beat.
World-renowned as a leading barley-growing region – with the sea fret and soil composition providing the perfect conditions for Maris Otter – the premium brewing malting barley.
Maris, the elder statesman of all malts is sort after the world over – with brewers from over 20 countries insisting that when it comes to brewing barley then Norfolk and East Anglia is best.
So, post chat I popped and got on the train to London feeling proud and emboldened. As if I needed reminding that Norfolk is great for brewing and has a fabulous community of pubs and brewers.
However, back to the festival.
Olympia is a vast, cavernous place where even the odd Jumbo jet could go missing – yet when filled with over 1000 beers and countless bars manages to have a comforting level of intimacy you wouldn’t’ expect when walking in.
It truly is a celebration of beer and brewers from across the county and beyond.
However, the reason why I chose to write this blog is that I was asked repeatedly during the day
“do we still need these festivals when the pubs now offer so much?”
Now, while I agree that pubs do indeed offer so much the mere suggestion that GBBF is on borrowed time is so wide of the mark. GBBF continues to go from strength to strength and will be a beer-lovers’ diary event for decades to come.
Looking around the festival – which attracts around 50,000 visitors each year – you can forget any preconceptions which you may have of a stereo typical real ale drinker. The hall is buzzing with beer lovers of all ages, sexes, states of shaveness and fashion sense.
There is indeed a great mix of drinkers and many that are experiencing real ale for the first time drawn to the festival by its sense of ‘occasion’. If it is the ‘occasion’ which is what it takes to attract new drinkers then hats off to GBBF.
But, its more than just an ‘occasion’ . GBBF is a statement of strength about the vibrant beer industry – forget the tiresome, and frankly pointless semantics of what it craft – GBBF showcases 100s of brewers and their beer styles – the sheer volume and diversity says British beer is thriving, and the brewer’s passion for innovation and quality is as high as it ever has been.
Yes, all festivals should and will need to evolve; – comfort, atmosphere, quality of serve, and yes ‘coolness’ should be in all festival organisers’ minds – festivals have a responsibility of making the experience enjoyable and especially for making real ale first timers want to try it again – down the pub.
So, it’s a virtuous circle – great festivals will help great pubs, great pubs will help great festivals. The winner is the drinker, the winner is beer.
Anyway, GBBF – long may you continue and congratulations to the army of volunteers which make this great event happen. See you next year.
By the way, as I headed home I saw plenty of Maris Otter golden and resplendent in the summer sun and I end at my starting point – Norfolk is magnificent for beer!