“ London Olympia. 31 July- 4 August 2001. For more information: CAMRA, 34 Alma Rd., St. Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 3BW. tel = +44-727-867-201, Fax: +44-727-867-270. Also check the website below. „
As stated previously - I appreciate this states 2001 Beer Festival - but had to write about this years, last years and the year before's! My husband is a big CAMRA & real ale fan and has frequented this and many other beer festivals over the years. He nagged me to go - but with 3 children in tow - I wondered how I would be able to enjoy it too!! So a couple of years ago I agreed to go as I was assured there were excellent family facilities. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised!! The festival is held in the main arena at Earls Court, London. On he upper level - probably where there would be bars or seats for concerts - there is a large section barricaded off which is the "family room". You have to wear bands to enter and leave this room and there are volunteers on the doors here to check the bands. Inside there are lots of activities - all provided free of charge for the kids. There are plenty of toys for all from babies upwards. There are dressing up boxes, games, painting and drawing corners, make & create tables as well as a tuck shop. The tuck shop is great as well as the kids can have sweets and pop at normally if not lower prices. They have lots of 1p sweets for the children to choose what they want. There are also a number of volunteers that help the children make things like paper mache masks, do face painting, balloon creations. My children range from 13 to 2 and all 3 are occupied throughout the time there. The room was open from midday until 9pm and there is no-one saying you have been there too long! It also meant that my husband and I could take it in turns going downstairs for a look round the stalls, which are not only beers, but ciders, fruit wines, lots of food stands, T shirt |& jewellery stalls, etc. We could bring drinks and food upstairs - so we could get the children some hot food. Whilst sitting in the family area - you could look down and see the arena with all the people and stalls and be glad you had a sit and space to relax!! I would have no hesitation in recommending a family attending the GBBF and using the family facilities. My children love it and can't wait for next years.
I appreciate that this is for the 2001 Festival, which was the first festival I attended, but I have been going to the GBBF ever since, most recently last week's 2009 event. The Great British Beer Festival is essentially a huge pub in a convention centre. Run by CAMRA (the campaign for real ale) it show case proper beers, mostly from smaller breweries, from around the UK, along with a small showcase of foreign beers and a selection of ciders and perrys. In addition various foodstalls are present to enable you to line your stomach while drinking. The usual practice is to pay your entrance fee (£5 in 2001, now £10 - so much for recession prices) and then acquire either a pint glass or half pint glass. You pay a deposit on these glasses and can either keep them or get your money back at the end of your visit. With glass in hand you can visit the various bars and order either a half or full pint of what ever you choose. Prices are usually not expensive. However, make no mistake that this event is for only a section of the alcohol drinking market. Here you will find no gassy lagers and no fine wines. The concentration is on the dying traditional pub culture and British brewing. Its is very much a shame that so many people in Britain today would rather drink gassy rubbish than have a proper British beer. On offer here are some truly wonderful beers (and some truly awful ones as well!), which makes for an enjoyable time. You aren't there to get drunk, rather just to enjoy trying different flavours. Unfortunately there are some who go to abuse and you always get your ubiquitus green sand patches, which often are covering up vomit patches, but largely people behave. The food stalls are always good. On offer are traditional British fare such as pies and sausages, the usual burgers, curries, thai food and sometimes the exotics (such as crocodile, kangeroo, spingbok and kudu at the 2009 event). The dishes are just enough to compliment the beers and to not leave you drunk on an empty stomach. All in all its great fun and I will be going back again next year.
A few Friday afternoons ago we attended our first Great British Beer Festival ~ one of the biggest Beer Festivals in the UK. We were quite nervous about going because we had been told how big and busy it was. As it turned out we had a lovely day and really enjoyed the atmosphere. ~~~WHERE IS IT AND HOW DO YOU GET THERE? The GBBF is held at Olympia in the Kensington area of London. We got a train from Chesterfield to St. Pancras and then took the Piccadilly Line (on the Underground) to Earls Court (you can also go to Barons Court, Hammersmith and High Street Kensington. From Earls Court we got the District Line to a stop right outside Olympia ~ trains were less frequent so make sure you check the times back so you can leave accordingly (it is walkable from High Street Kensington and Earls Court, but a train is preferable as it is about a half hours walk). A friend of ours went by bus and told me that the buses that serve Olympia are the numbers 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and 391 ~ she got a Routemaster bus from near St. Pancras. For any other information you can visit the main CAMRA website and follow the link to the GBBF (www.camra.org.uk). ~~~USEFUL INFO. The Festival is usually held during the first week in August. It opens on Tuesday afternoon and is then open daily from 12 til 10.30pm from Wednesday to Friday and then 11 til 7pm on the Saturday. This year tickets cost £5.00 for the Saturday and £6.00 for the other sessions. If you are in London for a week you can attend all the sessions using a Season Ticket that costs £17.50. If you are a CAMRA member you will also get a £1.00 reduction (and members also get access to a members lounge in the cooler balcony area). Tickets can be bought on the door (the queues can be VERY long at times) and, up until the week of the Festival, in advance via the CAMRA website. We did this and were really pleased because we didnt have to queue at all. I would certainly recommend doing this! If you want it a little quieter the afternoon sessions are preferable ~ it didnt start to get too busy at the bars until about 4pm. Be aware though that beers can start to run low as the week goes on and sometimes they will temporarily close a bar down to reserve stocks for busier times. I did like my afternoon visit because it was less hectic and not quite so hot as it could have been. ~~~IM INSIDE WHAT DO I DO NOW? Once youve got into the main hall and handed in your ticket you are given a programme and directed to the glass collection area. To get drinks you can either hire a pint or half-pint glass (for £3.00 and £2.00 respectively) or take your own glass (which has to be a lined glass to ensure the correct measure). If you hire a glass you can either keep it as a souvenir or get your money back. Just make sure you take care of your glass ~ if you lose it or break it you WILL have to hire another one and pay again! Once you have your glass you are now ready to hit the beer! Unlike some Festivals beer is purchased using cash ~ usually we have to buy beer tokens; meaning ANOTHER queue but, thankfully not on this occasion! The bars this year were arranged into regions (mostly in the main hall and some in the smaller hall with the stage) and there were also separate bars for some of the main breweries (for example Batemans, Tetley, Fullers, Hook Norton, etc). There was also a bar for beers from other countries, a J.D. Wetherspoons sponsored new beers bar and a separate Cider & Perry area. This may sound really complicated, but the map in the programme was very clear and the bars corresponded to either a number or letter. At certain times during the Festival there are also events and entertainment. These ranged from Chas and Dave (!) and pub games, to tutored beer tastings (although the Beer & Chocolate session was sold out well in advance). The tastings are limited and ticket only, but the entertainment happens all the time and is either on the main stage or around the edges of the halls. ~~~FOOD & FAMILIES & ACCESS. I was actually really surprised at the range of food on offer ~ it was certainly impressive and very varied. For lunch Alun had a Pork and Leek sausage sandwich from the Real Meat Sausage stall (this was £3.00) and I had a really nice Cheese and Onion Pasty from the Proper Cornish Pasty stand (very large and only £2.50). For tea I went for a crab and salad sandwich (a trifle pricey at 4 quid, but huge and VERY tasty) from the Seafood stall and Alun had an Aberdeen Angus burger from the Splendid Meat Company (£3.50 and massive). As well as what we had there were marinated Olives, Indian food, different cheeses, meat pies, chocolate, fruit and nuts. Another thing that surprised me was the number of families at the Festival. Children are allowed into the hall for the afternoon sessions ~ be warned though that it is strictly over 18s after 9pm! Also be aware that children must stay in the family area (a club room known as Half Pints) accessible via a lift to one side of the main hall and must have an adult with them at all times. In this area you will find sweets, soft drinks and lots of entertainment for the smaller visitors ~ they seemed to be having lots of fun face painting, playing games and listening to stories and watching the entertainment. This family zone also has great views down onto the Festival below. Access for the less mobile is pretty good at Olympia. There are lifts to the upper floor, disabled toilets and ramps for easy entry. There are also quite a few open spaces and seating areas for anyone who needs to escape the crowding and have a rest. Olympia is also air-conditioned so it didnt get too unbearable even though it was sunny and extremely hot outside. My top tip is to get there early and bag a table and chairs in the middle of the main hall ~ this part of the hall doesnt get the direct sunlight and stays cooler. It is also best to get a seat if theres a group of you because it can be a long tiring day and they never give you enough hands for the amount of things you have to carry (programme, glass, bag, money and a burger)! ~~~SO JUST HOW GOOD WAS IT? I had a wonderful day and thought the atmosphere and organization were top rate. The staff worked hard (and they are all VOLUNTEERS) and there was lots to do and see. The place was busy but, despite the consumption of alcohol, there was no trouble and everyone seemed good natured. I did see security people about but I didnt see them having to deal with anything bad (whether this changes later at night I couldnt say). Facilities were great too ~ I loved the glass washing machine and, even though lots of people were about, the toilets were really clean and didnt run out of paper!! Seating was limited, but (especially in the Members Lounge) comfortable and staff came round collecting rubbish regularly. The entertainment wasnt intrusive because it was in the smaller hall ~ I thought this was good because it meant the music wasnt too loud. You could still chat and choose whether or not you wanted to listen without being overpowered. Surprisingly I dont really have any real gripes about my day (except with Midland Mainline for delaying my train by 2 hours 10 minutes so I only had four hours sleep before work on Saturday!). Beer cost from 90p to £1.50 a half (stronger beers, ciders and the foreign beers cost the most) ~ not bad for London. Everything was well organised and well laid out and we didnt have to wait too long to get served (be a bit patient at busy times though). The beer range was excellent and offered a lot of choice for people who like all styles of beer ~ there were even some interesting European Lagers to try (the Black Budwar lager was a good choice). The Festival catered for all palates and gave me lots of scope to sample beers I wouldnt normally come across at home (my real surprise of the day was the Bananatana a continental beer brewed with sultanas and bananas!), as well as offering the old favourites like Hook Norton and Bombardier. So a great day! I will be booking my tickets for next year as soon as I can. ***PLEASE NOTE - DOOYOO KINDLY (?) ADDED THE GBBF 2004 (THE YEAR I VISITED THE FESTIVAL) ON THE GERMAN DOOYOO SITE BY MISTAKE AND HAVEN'T RESPONDED TO MY EMAILS...SO I'VE HAD TO PUT IT HERE***