Friday, June 6, 2008

Beer festivals and lessons learned

I haven't attended many beer festivals, which is a terrible shame because they excite me greatly and being in the prime of youth with an understanding finacee and without any children to hamper me I should be trotting the globe in search of wonderful beer in all its forms. For reasons that I don't fully understand this does not appear to be the case. Those which I have attended proved to very enjoyable, especially those I have shared with unashamed beer geeks and enthusiasts. The beer talk often peaks at a level quite unsafe to those who do not share our passion, and for this reason civilians really are better off tucked up in bed while we drunkenly wax lyrical about hop aroma and residual extract and get into fights about beer styles and definitions.

Beer festivals in Ireland really are few and far between, but this is a situation which is rapidly improving much to the excitement of the beer loving community. We have one dead cert annual fest held in Cork each year which is eagerly anticipated, and a further one in Belfast which doesn't get as much attention by those in the South of Ireland, but provides the opportunity to try quite a number of cask ales should the need fall upon you. With the availability of cheap flights around Europe, London is a short hop away and the Great British Beer Festival is always worth a visit.

It was at the GBBF that I had my first proper beer festival experience, an experience I will never forget for a number of reasons, good and bad in equal measure. I was almost light headed with excitement at the thought of trying so many real ales and eased my way in with a third of a pint of mild. A timid start I think you'll agree, but the beer selection on offer was vast and a small part of me thought I was going to get through them all, a third at a time. I stuck faithfully to these small measures for quite a while until the ethanol started to exert its insidious influence and my temperate regime was slowly eroded, not helped by my brother who fell in love with Badger's Tanglefoot and kept on returning with pints of the stuff, which I dutifully finished off because the various pies I had eaten had made me bloody thirsty. I was helpless, really. All common sense had been muffled by the alcohol and the pies contained more salt per ounce than the Dead Sea. My carefully thought out survival guide was in pieces, and I finished the night drinking the strongest beer in the place, of which I recall an American Imperial Stout hopped as aggressively as an IPA. It was an intense and potent beer which left a tar like residue in my glass and no doubt my internal organs also.

We had been in the beer hall for 6 odd hours, but a lack of any natural light and the effects of drunkenness had completely thrown my sense of time and it was with a an intense sense of temporal vertigo that I stepped into the bright light of the near setting sun at around eight pm, certain in my fuzzy head that it was the early hours of the morning. It was horribly confusing, but I soon gathered my senses and managed to hail a cab for my return to the hotel. While in the back of the taxi I recall that the driver stole furtive glances at me through his rear view mirror. It never occurred to me that I looked the worse for wear, but when I stood in the back of the taxi to pay the fare I chanced a peak of myself in the mirror and realised the taxi driver had good reason to be fearful. I looked not dissimilar to Richard E. Grant in 'Withnail and I' when he was pulled over in his car by the police. I almost felt the urge to blurt out 'I've only had a few ales!', but I resisted, the relieved taxi driver bid me adieu, and I made my way to the hotel where I promptly smashed against the revolving door my souvenir over sized pint glass that a kindly CAMRA volunteer had help me negotiate into a plastic bag. Despite the disgusted looks of my fellow hotel guests in the lobby, I did not break my stride and headed for my room to inflict myself upon my unwitting fiancee, because despite my love of beer, this level of intoxication was very rare for me. Luckily I was taken great care of, and M ventured out into the unfamiliar streets of London to track down a Big Mac and Fries for me (It is for this reason and myriad others than she will become my wife later this year).

Thanks to our early finish I was in a position to stay awake for a few more hours during which time I polished off a burger, fries, two litres of water and bucket like measure of Coca Cola. All of these helped stave off what would no doubt have been a monumental hangover and I was in a position to fly to Prague the next day and enjoy yet more wonderful beer, albeit in a far more responsible manner.

So, my contribution to The Session this month is perhaps a lesson in how not to do a beer festival. But as Robert Byrnes said; 'The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, Gang aft agley'.


The Beer Nut said...

It's posts like this ("temporal vertigo" -- nice), and today's piece by Impy Malting, that put me right off going to the GBBF.

It sounds awful.

Thom said...

It can't be denied that the shear size of the Earls Court venue makes one feel a little isolated despite being surrounded by thousands of people. But as for the inebriation, well, that was just amateurism on my behalf. I am certain it can be done well, and I plan to ty again this year.

Boak said...

Nice post (I'm only just catching up with the session)

If I didn't live in London, I don't know if I'd go to GBBF. As it is, I can usually persuade a few "normals" to go, and there is a lot of very interesting beer to be had.