The Great British Beer Festival: So What's Brewing?

Rebecca Ratcliffe,  |  Updated: July 18, 2017 12:20 IST

The Great British Beer Festival: So What's Brewing?

 A beer lover at the Great British Beer Festival, organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra). Photograph: James Gourley/Rex Shutterstock

Britain’s brewery boom means London’s Olympia is awash with new flavours this week – but not every visitor is happy to swap their real ale for a craft beer.

Chocolate-orange flavour and fruitcake flavour beers are just some of the unusual creations being offered to connoisseurs this week at the Great British Beer Festival.

At the Olympia conference centre in London, the selection of more than 900 real ales, ciders and perrys from more than 300 different UK breweries is more eclectic than ever before. A boom in independent breweries has attracted a young crowd of drinkers who are bored with bland lagers.

"When some people think of real ale, they associate it with a bloke in the pub with his dog and his crossword, but it's not like that anymore," said Jane Monaghan, an administrator from Birmingham and a volunteer at the event, which is organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra).

Jane first joined Camra 10 years ago, but said things have changed a great deal since then. "When we went to the first branch meeting 10 years ago, the age range was probably around 50 to 60, but it's come down since," she said, adding that there are also more now more women getting involved.

The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia exhibition halls, London.
The Great British Beer Festival at Olympia exhibition halls, London.Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Jake Foster, 19, from Wolverhampton is one of real ale's new recruits. It was trips to the pub with his uncle that first got him interested in ales, he adds: "It's far more common for young people to drink real ale than it used to be. Three or four of my friends only drink real ale, and they're all 19 to 20. It's because of the choice that's on offer now " it's huge."


Kimberley Owen, 32, from Leamington Spa, says: "It's just become more accessible, there are lots of local breweries around us to choose from."

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Paul Scrivens, 31, who is volunteering at the event's real cider bar, said picking which drinks to showcase was proving increasingly tough because of the surge in producers. "Obviously there's a limited number that we can showcase, but this year we've got ciders from around 100 producers " that's out of a total of 600.

"We try to make sure that the bar is geographically representative, so we've got a couple of Scottish ciders and perrys that aren't very widely available. We've also got cider that's straw-pressed in Devon."

Visitors at the Great British Beer Festival.
Visitors at the Great British Beer Festival.Photograph: James Gourley/Rex Shutterstock

While the Devon cider was reportedly going down well with punters, the more unusual tastes on offer aren't always appreciated by the older, more traditional drinkers. "It's all the craft beers that are bringing in the odd flavours," said Dave Porritt, 64, from north-west London. "That's not for me " it's a bit too American."

Craft beer has proved divisive among real ale enthusiasts. The young, hip cousin of ale has soared in popularity over recent years " in March, the Office of National Statistics announced it had been added to the basket of goods used to calculate the rate of inflation. But craft beer shouldn't be confused with real ale, according to Bill Fleming, a retired teacher from Falkirk. "Craft beers are pasteurised, whereas a real ale is still fermenting in a barrel " the end result is different. "I stick to real ale, it's what I've always drunk " there are plenty of real ales to try before moving on to a new type of beer."

Despite the fierce debate over craft beer " and whether Camra should be campaigning for it as well as real ale " most say it has given traditional real ale a boost. "Twenty years ago there was a very small choice of very poor beers," said Jack Wheatcroft, 67, from Reading. "Now there's far more on offer " it's just about trying it."


The London borough of Hackney, for example, now has five breweries, said Clive Prince, 75, from south-east London. "It's fantastic " we go to the beer festival there, and the one at Battersea " wherever we can go using our bus passes."

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