Category Archives: Festivals/Events

Hitting the bottle – bottled beer tasting at the BBC Good Food Show

Ah, the BBC Good Food Show. This pageant of gluttony has become a bit of a family tradition for Pip of ICIP; the annual pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham a signal that Christmas is nearly upon us.

Typically, this joyous occasion is a day for lusting after kitchen appliances we can’t afford (we’re looking at you, Thermomix), trying to avoid people dragging around those old-lady wheeled shopping bags, and eating a lot of cheese samples. The fact that the night after the show Pip had a dream about her sister trimming Joaquin Phoenix’s toe hair is testament to this epic cheese consumption (really).

ICIPglassesThis year there was an extra little treat in store – CAMRA were sponsoring a series of events under the banner of the Great British Beer Experience, and ICIP was lucky enough to grab tickets for a tutored tasting by Jeff Evans, Inside Beer founder and author of CAMRA’s Good Bottled Beer Guide.

We took our seats, excited by the list of five upcoming brews we would be trying. The beers started light with a golden ale and worked up to an much heavier oak-aged speciality brew. A quick glance around the tables showed that there were around 17 women to 46 men taking part in the tasting, which was better than expected (if still a bit lame).

Jeff began by giving any novices a quick rundown of where beer comes from and how it is made while the CAMRA team filled our first glass. We were a bit taken aback when he began describing the different ways beer could be kept – and damned anything kept in a keg as lacking depth of flavour and quality. This was a bit of a disappointing generalisation, but given CAMRA’s general hostility to “craft beer” perhaps we shouldn’t have been too surprised.

bitterbullyUnperturbed, we got stuck into our first beer, Cheddar Ales’ Bitter Bully (4%). The tasting notes for this golden ale described grapefruit and floral aromas, although we were only able to detect the latter despite the treble whammy of Simcoe, Cascade and Amarillo hops. Despite not packing much on the nose, Bitter Bully was light and fresh with a satisfyingly bitter aftertaste. All in all, a good session beer.

wheatNext up was Little Valley’s Hebden’s Wheat (4.5%), a Belgian-style wheat beer with Hallertauer and Hersbrucker hops. This beer had a sweet clovey, bubblegum nose, and the sweetness really carried through into the taste. Mild whilst retaining that sour finish familiar to wheat beers, this one really divided opinion across the group – including Pip’s mum who poured all of her portion into Pip’s glass. OH WHAT A SHAME.

southvilleBristol Beer Factory have been an ICIP favourite since we first discovered them at a beer festival at the Old Tobacco Factory in Bristol a few years ago, so we were very excited to see their name next on the list with their Southville Hop IPA (6.5%). Packed with IPA favourites Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe, this beer reeked of that classic “craft beer smell” – citrus and pine; hops coming out of the wazoo. The aroma was really fantastic, and the beer had a sharp bite backed up with a decent malty body. This brew was dry-hopped, giving that lingering bitter finish. Tasty.

wholesome stoutBy this point Pip was gagging for a dark beer, so you can imagine her joy when our glasses were filled with Wye Valley Brewery’s Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout (4.6%). This ruby stout had a rich, toasty, chocolatey nose, and backed it up with a rounded, smooth coffee flavour.  Liquid pudding and after dinner coffee rolled into one. Heaven. You simply cannot beat a good stout.

reserveWe ended with a bit of a treat – Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve Number 4, a speciality oak-aged beer coming in at a hefty 8.5%. This beer was aged in armagnac brandy casks and had a serious spirity aroma that nearly stripped your nose hairs (in a good way). Despite the booziness there were tantalising notes of raisin and vanilla. My friends, this beer smelled like Christmas. The beer itself had that firey warmth you get from a brandy or whisky, with just a whispered memory of the plain old beer it once was. Pretty amazing – wouldn’t like to try drinking a whole bottle of it, mind, for fear of losing the entire holiday season in a drunken haze.

All in all, a good session with a really interesting mix of beers. Despite the keg hostility (has this man never tried Kernel Export Stout on keg?!), Jeff’s talk was really interesting and we enjoyed hearing his tips for tasting beers and what the different elements of the beer brought to both aroma and flavour.

There was plenty more beer to be had at the NEC that day, and amongst others we visited stalls run by Purity (we really love UBU!), Hop Back, Kingstone Brewery (Jingle Porter is a thing of beauty), and Thwaites. Pip was especially pleased to see Thwaites as she tried the sublime 13 Guns at Nicholson’s Autumn Beer festival last month and had since taken delivery of a bottle of both that and Big Ben in her latest Beer52 box. Sadly, on approaching the stall to procure samples for Mr Pip, the salesman on the stall would neither look at nor talk to her, and only made eye contact with the husband despite his repeated assertions that “my wife says this beer is really good”, “yes, my wife recommended this”, “MY WIFE FRICKIN’ LOVES BEER GODDAMMIT”.

Luckily the Thwaites man acknowledged Pip’s existence just in time to prevent her swiping all the bottles on his tasting table into her handbag and running away with them cackling manically.

Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.

– PS

Nicholson’s Autumn Beer Festival

Ah, the autumn beer festival season. Pavements run with beer, plastic pint glasses crunch underfoot, air thick with the smell of barbecuing street food. You’re more likely to be rained on than you are at a summer festival, but you’re also less likely to keel over from dehydration after the 11th pint.

Two of Britain’s biggest beer chains have run “beer festivals” within weeks of each other this autumn: Wetherspoons (ran October 16-31) and Nicholson’s (running 21 October – 17 November).

DSC_0023

“Beer festivals”, we say: by nature, they’re short, packed, ticketed, temporary affairs. Pilgrimage-spots for the beer-lover. Part of the fun is sampling a one-off brew and, for the London-based boozer, luxuriating in the week when some of the best ales in the country come to you (travel outside the north circular? Me? What?). Can big chains recreate the magic of the summer beer festival? Can you have as much fun sprawled on the floor of your local ‘spoons as you can in the long, lush charred remains of grass, cigarette ends and syringes in London Fields?

ICIP went to the White Horse in Soho, a Nicholson’s pub, to find out.

White Horse-13This year’s autumn festival marks the chain’s 140th birthday and showcases 50 cask ales (and ciders) on rotation. Your local will change the beers it has on offer every week or so – and will do so in consultation with nearby pubs to make sure one area isn’t flooded with the same IPA. Nicholson’s Cask Masters, the company’s trained beer experts who select the beers on sale in pubs, are on hand in each pub to talk punters through the range and offer recommendations.

The brand does a great line in nostalgia, buying up old British pubs in prime locations for (at least in London) the ultimate Dickensian drinking experience. It’s given them some fantastic locations in London – Soho, the West End, the City – but, as Nicholson’s Assistant brand manager Ben Lockwood tells us when we meet him for a glug-through the beers on offer, it doesn’t always make it easy to accommodate events us excitement-hungry Londoners require, like a real ale festival. And it is these excitement-hungry young drinkers that Nicholson’s hopes to attract with its IPA-heavy festival. Sales of cask ale are on the rise, Ben tells us, and the chain has seen a shift in the age of its punters to a younger, 25-34 audience.

DSC_0024Set around an old-style public bar, which dominates the centre of the pub, the White Horse creates what Ben describes as a traditionally British experience, particularly when coupled with the expertise and local knowledge of the landlord – Nicholson’s well-trained staff, who Ben says are encouraged to talk to customers and offer them samples. But – in the White Horse, at least – you run the risk of entering through the wrong door, having your view of the festival obscured by the bar, and leaving none-the-wiser. This is one potential pitfall of holding a festival in this kind of environment. This is the tradeoff, we guess, for holding a modern beer festival in central London in an environment built for 18th century gin-sippers.

However, this certainly doesn’t affect the quality of the brews. We kick off our tasting with a half of the stunningly delicious Great Heck, an American IPA (5.5%). You can taste America in its breadth of the “c” hops – Cascade, Chinook and Columbus among others – but it’s well-balanced and warm enough to earn a place in an Autumnal line-up. Next up is Thwaite’s 13 Guns, another 5.5% stuffed with New World hops but brewed in Blackburn. It’s lighter than Great Heck – despite being the same abv – but as there’s a lot of halves ahead, this is no bad thing.

DSC_0021We wondered if Nicholson’s beer choices reflect the average punter’s beer taste – and particularly if they are mindful of the ever increasing number of women beer drinkers. “Times have changed,” Ben tells us. “Women drink what they want.” He isn’t surprised to hear we like dark beer – and remembers when a half of Guinness was the quintessential lady’s tipple – but says he would probably recommend something blonde and lemon-y, around 3.8%, to a first-time festivaller.

We move on to Nicholson’s own Porter, brewed by St Austell to a recipe from 1910, which makes an interesting change. Hopped with Fuggles and Styrian Goldings, it’s a rich, dark toasty beer. We were interested in the brewer’s choice of British hops, but Ben told us that a popular taste for zingy, new world hops is endangering home-grown varieties.

Feeling slightly guilty, ICIP tucked into his next suggestion – Broughton’s Hopopotamus (3.8%). Following the Porter it feels a bit lighter – this would make a tasty session beer. Although now the Amarillo, Cascade and Chinook taste less like grapefruit and more like GUILT. We finish off with a half that isn’t part of the festival – Cameron’s Gold Bullion (4.3%) – but makes for a light beer with a citrus-y finish.

Avowed cider newbies, we weren’t sure what to do when Ben offered us a parting half of Orchard Pig’s Explorer Bib (4.5%). ICIP wondered what we were missing when we walked straight past the wall of ciders at the GBBF – and, turns out, we were missing quite a lot. This cider is fragrant and smooth, packing more punch than you’d expect from it’s 4.5%.

We staggered out of the White Horse pub-based beer fest converts. It’s all too easy to sniff at big-brand endeavours like Wetherspoon’s festival – but corporate dollar, at least in Nicholson’s case, has devolved to local expertise (in the form of its Cask Masters), a great spread of beer. You’ve got almost a month to enjoy them – meaning there’s less of an excuse for panic-downing eight halves of whatever you can reach – and, crucially, you can have your fill without fear of being swept into the Thames by a passing seasonal hurricane.

Nicholson’s Autumn Beer Festival runs until 17th November.

– ED

Swotting up at the School of Booze

To celebrate the release of her two new books, Beer Sommelier Jane Peyton has collaborated with Brewsters Brewery to produce a special green-hopped beer. ICIP got their hands on the books and went along to the launch party to find out more.

DSC_0032Jane Peyton is a bit of an hero of ICIP’s. She’s one of just eight female Beer Sommeliers in the UK and has founded two alcohol-related events companies – School of Booze and Operalicious. She is also an author, after-dinner speaker, tasting tutor and occasional Fuller’s brewery tour guide. Summed up – she is our kind of lady. So we were very excited to find out she had not one but two books coming out this October.

DSC_0029Beer O’Clock: Craft, Cask and Culture (Summersdale, 2013) is a true celebration of beer, and an excellent addition to any beer drinker’s bookshelf. Jane’s passion is evident from the outset, describing beer as a “priceless gift to humanity, begetter of happiness, sociability and companionship”. She believes that beer, more than any other drink, brings people together, acting as an international language.

Her historical section on “beer’s early years” is fascinating, reporting that beer may have been produced as early as 7000BC. This section pays particular attention to the role of women throughout beer’s history, from early brewers to the female gods of beer such as Ninkasi (Sumerian), Ceres (Roman) and Mamasara (Peruvian).

Jane breaks down the brewing process into a summary easily understood by newcomers to beer. She takes time to explain the importance of each of the key ingredients – water, malt, hops and yeast – and also discusses the best way to taste beer to get the full benefit of aroma and flavour. One of our favourite chapters focuses on the health benefits of beer. High in antioxidants, B-vitamins, potassium and silicon, and offering protection from breast cancer, heart disease, gallstones and Parkinson’s, beer now seems an even more alluring option (in moderation!).

But the crowning glory of the book, as far as ICIP is concerned, is the whopping sixty pages dedicated to beer styles. This explains the characteristics of nearly seventy different beers, from Abbey to Witbier, and everything in between, also giving you examples of brands to try, recommended serving temperature, glassware and ideas for food matching. This section is so comprehensive that we wish we could carry it around with us everywhere (and given the neat design of the book, at a weeny 18x14cm, we probably could). It really is a beer-lover’s bible.

Jane’s second new book, School of Booze: An Insider’s Guide to Libations, Tipples and Brews (Summersdale, 2013) expands on some of the areas touched on in Beer O’Clock, but extends the scope to cover all alcoholic beverages. She traces the history of alcohol through Mesopotamia, Egypt, Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, tells us why we get hangovers, where we get cork from, and explains the process behind everything you’d find behind a bar, from absinthe to wine. It is a dizzying trip, packed with enough trivia to make you popular down your local for a long time to come.

DSC_0026Beer O’Clock is dedicated to Sara Barton, founder of Brewster’s Brewery in Lincolnshire, and Jane and Sara collaborated to make an eponymous green-hopped beer for the launch party. For the uninitiated, when a beer is green-hopped fresh hops are used instead of the traditional dried ones (or pellets). This means that there is more oil left in the hops and more of their flavour is evident in the final product.

The beer obviously went down a storm in The Mad Bear and Bishop, the Fuller’s pub in Paddington station where the launch party was held. A whole firkin was sunk during the lunchtime session and ICIP was lucky to grab two halves before the pumps ran dry once again in the evening. The pub was heaving with beer fans – interestingly, predominantly female – snapping up signed copies of Jane’s new books while supping pints.

Beer O’Clock (4% ABV) is a golden ale, single-hopped with First Gold and made with three different malts. It has a sharp, citrus aroma, a hoppy hit balanced with a good level of bitterness. The result was a light, session ale with a pleasing astringent mouthfeel and decent body. ICIP overheard other drinkers getting marmalade on the nose – very appropriate for Paddington station!

For anyone wishing to try Beer O’Clock, The Rake in Borough Market will have some in on October 23rd – be quick, it is very exclusive and this will be your last chance.

– PS

Beer festivals: it’s time to make space for women

Standing beside the man with the giant inflatable penis hat, beneath the poster that informed us that we – like computers – were useless unless turned on, It Comes In Pints decided to try and count how many other women we could see at the Great British Beer Festival, held between 13th and 17th August 2013 at London’s Kensington Olympia.

We didn’t get far before our conversation was swallowed up by a swollen roar that started spontaneously on one side of the cavernous hall and gathered voice as it rolled over the hundreds of taps serving Real Ale; the sound of hundreds and hundreds of men simultaneously – exuberantly – raising their branded glasses and roaring: “cheers!”

We can roar with the best of them – but it felt like our voices were lost in the cacophony.

Festival organisers Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) told us that men make up 80 per cent of their 150,000-strong membership. It looked to us like men made up more than 80 per cent of punters at the GBBF. But, as craft beer fledglings, we got to know beer in a world where a woman has been voted Beer Sommelier of the Year; where women brew beer, sell beer, talk beer, and drink beer.

What we found out about women and beer, over the course of that Saturday happily spent at the GBBF, blew us away. Scores of the young women we accosted admitted to crippling insecurities about beer drinking. They worried they didn’t know enough about it to be taken seriously. They worried what people (men) would think of them. So they stopped ordering beer. And as their stories about being snapped at by bar staff got lost beneath the background noise, we wondered – what can the beer industry do to attract more women?

For a start, it can stop giving space to vendors who trade in sexist posters and images. It was fairly pointed out to us that CAMRA has no affiliation with, nor condones the content of, merchandise traded at its event. But we’re pretty sure no one would get away with the racist equivalent of some of the posters we saw on sale, showing:

  • an overweight woman rendered skinny and borderline pornographic by an empty pint glass. Tag? “Warning: Alcohol seriously affects your judgement”

  • “What do computers and women have in common? Both are useless until they’re turned on.”

  • “If a man talks dirty to a woman, it’s sexual harassment. If a woman talks dirty to a man, it’s £1.95 a minute.”

Charming.

Charming.

Women at the event were greeted by a wall smothered in slogans telling us that we’re fundamentally useless; scheming opportunists; objects. Desirable unless you’re fat, in which case, men need to be warned to STAY AWAY, because DEAR GOD. As well as being wearily sexist, this poster also won the hypocrisy prize, given the number of larger men (the stereotypical beer drinker) crowded around the stall. You know what? It was intimidating, and women feel alienated by that kind of macho beer culture. It’s an alienation that self-perpetuates, because it subsequently takes a mighty effort for us to insist that we have as much natural right to our pint as a man.

We were overwhelmed by the number of women at the GBBF who told us they would never order a pint on a date. Between sips Emma, 25, told us she would never drink pints on a date – or at a work do. “I think it’s just laddy… it’s really male,” she said. She and her two girl friends were hiding from their boyfriends so they could enjoy their turkey drumsticks shame-free. We wondered what their boyfriends made of their beer drinking. “They think it’s really laddy,” Sarah told us. The boyfriends made a reappearance. “Tell them we’ve been eating salad,” she pleaded. On the other side of the hall Jess, 26, worried that ale wasn’t seen as particularly feminine. She wouldn’t order a beer on a first date, she said – and her friend Andy, 28, agreed that women might do so only to make a point. “You’re quite guarded on a first date,” he said. “What you drink shows something of you as a person. As a guy, I wouldn’t order a sherry. Ordering a beer is a statement – like ordering jagerbombs.”

Acquiring taste – or being criticised for their lack of it – was another concern of the women we spoke to. Hayley, 31, was still reeling from being snapped at by a barman because, she thought, she “didn’t know the lingo”. She told us that she wanted to do a beer course – to help her keep up with male drinkers. “I don’t know what’s good,” she said. “I think we’re all bullshitting a bit… but guys get away with it because they lie to each other. But girls can’t fake it because they’ll be like… she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. So I’m just trying to learn as I go along!” But all the women we spoke to knew what they liked and didn’t like – Emma told us she hated dark beer, Lizzy said she couldn’t stand beers that were marketed as “raspberry flavour” but weren’t; Jess said she preferred the taste of ale to lager. For women drinkers, shouldn’t preference alone be enough?

“If I was a girl and my boyfriend propositioned me to come to a beer festival I’d be like, no, I’m washing my hair,” Alex, 28, told us. “But if I was propositioned to go to a nice bar on the Thames – I might be drinking the same beer but in a different environment.” Similarly, Jess gave us food for thought by suggesting improving women’s experiences could be as simple as providing an array of drinking glasses – she doesn’t like the standard pint glass, but wouldn’t mind a wine-glass-shaped half, or a tall “Peroni”-style glass. Emma said if she did commit to a beer when socialising with work it would only be out of a bottle. Does a pint glass feel like a commitment to drinking a certain amount or is this just an image thing?

We got the sense that both men and women felt that beer was a bit rough and ready for delicate women-folk; the advertising and image a bit heavy-handed. Would we really prefer a “nice bar on the Thames” or smaller glasses to fit in our soft little hands? If image is so important to women, it was surprising how hostile those we spoke to were about the less traditional craft movement, with its halves and thirds and trendy bars. “I think [GBBF] is a bit more authentic. Craft beer is a bit Hackney, a bit East London, trying to be cool,” said Hayley. “It’s all about being seen rather than the beer.”

It was notable that the older festival goers we chatted to seemed less aware of the gender disparity, whereas younger drinkers confided their lack of confidence around beer and their concerns about how it would affect their image in front of men. It is all too easy for some to laugh off the posters and cock balloon hats. We are sure that for many women, it doesn’t stop them enjoying their pints. But it can take many years to develop this kind of self assurance. To hear young women so afraid by what men will think of them for buying a particular drink in a particular volume was kind of crushing for us. We think this is at the crux of the issue with sexism in the beer drinking world – it’s all to do with confidence, and too many women are having their wings clipped at a young age, while older drinkers shrug off their concerns as trivial.

D - not scared of pints!

D – not scared of pints!

Of course, we weren’t put off. We love beer, and it would take more than dull stereotype and sarcastic comments to phase us. And we must remember that women are not invisible in the beer-verse, by any means. Dea Latis, an organisation dedicated to promoting beer to women, states in its mission statement that “what unites us is our passion for beer and a belief that it’s far too good to be enjoyed only by men”. Women run tastings, run breweries, run beer blogs (ahem). The message is getting out… slowly.

We will definitely return to GBBF next year. But we hope that, when we do, some things will have changed: we hope there will be more women. Beer festivals should be a starting point, a place to jump in and develop your love of beer, not the end of the line. It’s time to take down the posters – and let the women roar.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this story, either in the comments below on on our Twitter or Facebook pages.

– ED

Great British Beer Festival 2013 – festival report

As we entered the yawning aircraft hangar-like space that is London’s Kensington Olympia, a Mexican-style cheer rushed towards us from the far end of the venue. Raising our snazzily-branded pint glasses, we roared with approval as the wave of noise hit us. We had arrived, and our Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) experience had begun.

The Great British Beer Festival 2013

The Great British Beer Festival 2013 at Olympia.

Despite our beery love affairs, we have only recently become CAMRA members, and this was our first GBBF. Our previous experiences of beer festivals were more on the craft side – smaller, more “trendy” affairs in London’s Shoreditch and Hoxton – and this was to be a very different animal. As feminists, we hate stereotypes, but CAMRA and real ale festivals certainly conjure up certain images for most people – beards, beer bellies and a whole lot of MEN. We wanted to find out if the festival – and its patrons – had been unfairly typecast. Also, most pressingly, we wanted to try some delicious beer.

“I go to real ale pubs with my boyfriend – it’s great to come here and try something new together” – Hayley, 31

The obvious downside to coming to the last date of a five-day festival is that many of the casks had predictably run dry. Additionally, the dizzying variety of ales available meant that we had to be selective even out of what was still on offer. While this was a bit of a disappointment after spotting some favourite breweries in the programme (Thornbridge! By The Horns! Bath Ales!) it meant that we tried a lot of beers that we otherwise wouldn’t have done, and we discovered some breweries we didn’t even know existed before.

Some of our favourites:

Pip:

  • Marble’s Ginger Marble (4.5%). I’m a fan of Bath Ales’ Ginger Hare and this was of a similar ilk – a light, fresh, summery ale with enough sharp hop to keep it tasty. Really like how they get the ginger bite in the mix without it taking over or tasting gimmicky. Big thumbs up. (@MarbleBrewers)
  • Bristol Beer Factory’s Sunrise (4.4%). I visited a beer festival run by BBF in 2011 down at the Old Tobacco Factory and it’s always nice to spot their stuff in up in the capital. This had a really sour, citrus tang on the nose but gave way to a light, refreshing flavour. (@BrisBeerFactory)
  • Three Tun’s 1642 (3.8%). Really biscuity on the nose but with a cracking spiced, bitter kick. Reminded me of tasting daddy’s beer on hot summer days when I was a kid. Surprised to see its middling reaction on Untappd as I was really keen on this one. Traditional British bitter at its finest. (@ThreeTunsBrewer)

 D:

  • Fyne Ales’ award-winning Jarl (3.8%) was chosen for me by a barman upon whom I’d heaped much pressure. “It’s my first beer of the day!” “I only like dark beer!” “But you must select me a beer that isn’t dark so I don’t overload my tastebuds”. Jarl, you answered my prayers. Light, floral, extremely refreshing; this would make an excellent lo-o-ong summer session drink and would pair well with food. (@FyneAles)
  • Kelburn Brewery’s Dark Moor (4.5%) So, right, everyone knows that boozy chocolates don’t work. Chocolate is chocolate, not some liquored-up chemical spill. So how come chocolate-y booze DOES WORK? Ask Kelburn. Dark Moor is what those dark, cherry rum-filled Christmas chocs should taste like – with incredible liquorice endnotes. Try it – even if you don’t usually like liquorice. (@kelburnbrewery)
  • Stocklinch Ales’ Black Smock (5%). If smoked meat tasted this good, I’d ditch Veganism. I kid! But really. Thick, dark beer that tastes like Autumn air, all hazy with woodsmoke and bonfires.

“We’ve been coming here for years. There’s always a really good mix of people, all demographics” – Heather and Andy, “mid forties”

So what of the atmosphere? Were the stereotypes justified? It has to be said that we immediately noticed that the demographic at GBBF was very different to the craft beer events we had been to. For example, last February’s Craft Beer Rising seemed to have around a 50-50 male female split, and everyone looked under 35 (to our eyes, at least). At GBBF, men outnumbered women at least three to one, possibly more (we corroborated this statistic when we went to the toilet and DIDN’T HAVE TO QUEUE. For the FIRST TIME EVER). There were many older men (and women) there, including Pip’s 71-year-old dad who had come along with us for the ride. Interestingly, though, there were still a lot of younger drinkers, and the twenty- and thirty-somethings seemed to be well represented. We spotted several stag parties and – brilliantly – a hen party. And, we won’t deny it… there were a lot of beards.

Classy headwear.

So GBBF hosted a real mix of drinkers of all ages (if with an overwhelmingly male bias). This was pleasing to see, and it was certainly fun for three twenty-somethings to hang out with a septuagenarian, enjoying a drink they are all passionate about, and for us all to feel at home in that environment. But it appeared that women and ale were still not a natural partnership. Maybe they’d been put off by the independent poster stall trading crap slogans like: “Why are women like computers? Because they’re both useless unless they’re turned on”; maybe they didn’t think the enormous balloon penis hats were very funny – whatever reason, women were remarkably under-represented. Unless they’d been installed to flash cleavage at punters from the other side of the tap (yes, we did notice that the women behind the bars were all pretty buxom and much younger than their male counterparts).

“It’s a shame there are so few women here. But at least there are lots of men with long hair!” – Alex, 27

We took some time out to chat to drinkers – male and female – about why they thought fewer women showed up. And it was revealing. Later this week we’ll have an in-depth report into this – find out why (almost all) the women we spoke to wouldn’t order a beer on a first date, and what women drinkers think the industry can do to help.

To soak up the booze there was a great range of grub available and we were really chuffed to see some more varied fare, for example the International Seafood and El Cantara stalls. Something we really want to champion on this blog is that beer can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle, and it was awesome to see the festival organisers providing drinkers with something other than pies and burgers to choose from (although admittedly we had wild boar burgers. They were delicious). We also enjoyed the Merry Berry Truffles chocolate stand – Pip could hardly believe her luck when she realised her day would combine beer and chocolate. Only D was brave enough to try their “Scorpion Death Chilli” flavour but this didn’t stop the rest of us trying all the other varieties on offer.

Something we missed from our craft experiences was the involvement of the brewers themselves at the event. Speaking to one of the guys from By The Horns at their brewery tap the previous weekend, he said they were planning to go down on trade day, and maybe other brewers made the same decision – but something we love about craft beer is how accessible the people behind the beer are: being able to get up close and personal with the brewers and chat to them about what they do is all part of the fun. Although the bar staff at GBBF were all friendly and helpful, and the format of having a range of ales grouped together in different bars was nice for variety, we did pine a little for the brewers having more of a presence than just their pump clips.

In summary, our first GBBF experience was overwhelmingly a good one. We tried some great beers, didn’t have to queue for a wee and we had some interesting – not to mention enlightening – chats with our fellow drinkers. A good time seemed to be had by all, sharing their love of real ale with friends – and there was chocolate. What could possibly be better on a summer Saturday afternoon?

The only downside was, of course, the dearth of women there that day. As we mentioned previously, we will be following up on this later this week with a full report, so stay tuned.

ICIP enjoying GBBF

Pip (l) and D (r) enjoying their first GBBF. Cheers!

– PS