Look who’s back

After an enforced two-year hiatus, CAMRA’s iconic Great British Beer Festival roars back into life at London’s Olympia


GBBF is a rite of passage for any serious beer lover, and it’s true that you never forget your first time. Consciously eschewing the gimmickry and glitz that characterise many beer festivals at the craftier end of the spectrum, GBBF has always cut straight to what’s important: friendship, shared experience, and row upon row of delicious, authentic, uncompromising beer, cider and perry. There’s even a wine and gin bar, for those so inclined.

That’s not to say the festival is without its surprises and headline-grabbers though. For example, GBBF’s inaugural homebrew competition was won by Doggy in the Woods, by amateur brewer Stephen Folland. This barnstorming imperial stout clocked in at a whopping 16.1% ABV, strong enough to catch the attention of the national press. 

Of course, the one thing that has always set GBBF apart from the UK’s other large beer festivals is its reliance on passionate volunteers, manning the doors and pouring the pints. For some, this year was a new experience behind the taps, and something of a learning curve.

Pat Morgan, one such first-time volunteer, says: “I was lucky to be able to be part of the fantastic team for the event in Olympia. I had not previously helped out at a CAMRA event, but was immediately welcomed and shown the ropes. Everyone was very knowledgeable about the ciders and perrys on offer and there was a real team spirit and camaraderie.

“There were two of us volunteering for the first time and we quickly got to grips with how to serve the customers and know about all the ciders with the help of the bar manager and other volunteers. I thoroughly enjoyed my week at GBBF and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I am hopefully going again next year to enjoy the atmosphere, friendly team members, customers and the cracking beer and cider that CAMRA manage to procure for the event."

For others though, it was a welcome return to normality, after two years in which the social side of being a beer lover had been sorely missed. 

Paul Sanders, Regional Director, certainly agrees with this: "It was great to be back to meet up with old friends and work together again, it was almost like we’d not missed a couple of years. I’d forgotten how satisfying it was to deliver a festival with my enthusiastic team and put a smile on customers' faces again to prove we are back. There was a sense that our customers had been waiting for us to be back, I’m sure there were many kids in the candy shop again!"

This sentiment was echoed around the festival hall, to the soundtrack of clinking glasses and easy laughter. Indeed, there was even a feeling that a couple of years out of the annual beer festival carousel had injected a renewed sense of gratitude and community in the proceedings.  

“Being on site and seeing people visibly enjoying their beer, cider, and gin felt like a reward for the courage everyone has shown to make the event happen in the first place,” comments Laura Emson, Bar Manager who recently joined CAMRA’s National Executive. “On a personal note Friday evening I had that magic feeling which was what hooked me 11 years ago - I just didn't want the Festival to end!"

One notable absence from this year’s festivities was the prestigious Champion Beer of Britain award, put on hold because of the impact of Covid on the regional heats. CAMRA reassures us though that the competition will return in 2023, providing another reason to get next year’s GBBF in the diary without delay.

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