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London Drinker 2007

by Ashley Cotter-Cairns

London Drinker 2007: eyes wide open

London Drinker 2007: eyes wide open

London Drinker 2007
London, UK

I suppose I should come clean and admit that this year's London Drinker was my first British Beer Festival. You might find it quite shocking, coming from the Secretary General of a beer organisation, but at least you'll be spared hour-long tales of how I blagged my way into a CAMRA fest in 1983 using my brother's ID, or how festivals simply aren't the same anymore now that the UK licensing laws have become less draconian.

You can be assured, at least, of a piece of eyes-wide-open reportage like none other since Charlie was invited inside the famous chocolate factory. For yes, this was like being a child in a wonderful fantasy adventure movie.

London Drinker has been held for 23 years at the Camden Centre near King's Cross St. Pancras station. First-time visitors could be forgiven for missing it entirely, as there are no signs or posters around the venue to help you find your way there.

Persistence pays off, as your £3 entry fee (£1.50 to CAMRA members) buys you access to an amazing art deco edifice that is like Doctor Who's infamous Tardis: seemingly way too grand and enormous once you're inside to be contained by the dour, council-occupied slab it's housed inside.

The main hall is a real pain in the neck. You'll wonder whether to gape upwards in awe at the giant, gorgeous ceiling (impossible to photograph with any accuracy), or snap, Wimbledon centre court-like, around the hall at the dozens of barrels of beer waiting for your thirsty palate to pick and choose from.

Manager John Conen showed us around and generously provided us with commemorative London Drinker 2007 festival pint glasses, plus a wonderful page of little brown raffle tickets. Each ticket could be exchanged for a free half pint of any beer we wanted! And better yet, we discovered that we could ask for a taster of any of the beers before committing ourselves to a larger amount. This was going to be a long day...

It became abundantly clear that my pre-festival ideas of trying around 20 of the tremendous beers at London Drinker 2007 were sadly misguided, even with myself, the camel-thirst-like Douglas Gloag and his far from lightweight drinker wife Junko wielding a pint glass each.

Reviewing a beer in the comfort of your home, with all the time in the world to form an opinion and the chance to find another can or bottle if you mess it up, is far easier than in a crowded hall, especially when you might have tasted seven or eight beers beforehand and are therefore both drunk and jaded.

We started with a half each of Ossian's Ale from Inveralmond, one of the few beers from Scotland at London Drinker 2007. This was easy to drink and so without much of a break, we moved on to three different brews: Beauty Spot from Old Spot Brewery, Gales Festival Mild from Fullers and Dark Star Hophead.

Next up was Black Hole from Peakstones Rock, Ridgeway Organic Ale and Devil's Elbow from Hexhamshire. We found time to try Ambeardextrous from Beartown, Ginger Nuts from Acorn (possibly my favourite of the day) and even squeezed in a couple of video reviews, Copper Dragon Challenger IPA and Castle Rock Black Gold.

By now it was getting late. We all had places to go and people to see (possibly people wielding a stomach pump and twelve-step rehab guide), so we popped into the canteen for a snifter of the foreign beers. Doug picked Keesman Bock and Junko chose Trunk Dunkel, while I opted for Keesman Pils. Though I tried theirs as well, I couldn't tell you a thing about any of them. It was getting rough in there...

We ended our day by beating an unsteady path towards the cider and perry section and trying a few of the various dry and medium ciders. Truly, something for every taste awaited visitors to London Drinker 2007.

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