I would like to thank Séan Billings for affording me the opportunity to write an article for the ICB website on the OghamBrew Festival Samhain 2008. The Festival, which took place in Na Fianna GAA on Mobhi Road, Glasnevin, had 15 teams of homebrewers in attendance, all competing for the, by now, coveted awards of People's Choice Award and Judges' Choice Award.
The judging panel consisted of two OghamBrew judges, our head judge George O'Mahony and first-time judge Richie Fass, and two ICB judges, the aforementioned Séan Billings and John 'Beer Nut' Duffy. They were seated at the top table of the venue, overseeing the night’s proceedings, and charged with the task of selecting which of the 19 brews would receive the accolades.
How could I justify yet another trip to the UK in the same year? I had been once in May, another for the christening for a friend's child in early September. Another trip within the space of a month?! This needed another reason to go and I didn’t have to search long before I found it. Which came first, the egg or the chicken, the Wessex Beer Festival or the Great British Cheese Festival? What mattered was that both festivals were being held on the same weekend, the last weekend of September, 26th to 27th to be exact. We were soon on our way.
Having read a couple of nightmare accounts of the Great British Beer Festival I hadn't been planning on going any time soon. CAMRA's headline event is held in the vast Earl's Court exhibition hall and the sessions closer to the weekend are famous for being packed full of sweaty-beardy-farty Real Ale aficionados mixed with loud groups of younger men and women whose behaviour would put a Temple Bar stag or hen party to shame. The queues for both imbibing and expelling liquids are uncomfortably long and, worst of all, many of the most popular beers have already sold out. I've no first-hand evidence of the truth of this, but understandably wasn't in a rush to change that. However, when it was suggested that I ask CAMRA for free tickets to the opening trade-only session on the Tuesday my interest was piqued. Doors for this open at noon, and until 5pm the festival is open only to brewers, publicans, journalists, exporters, distributors and anyone else who thought to ask CAMRA nicely if they could get in. I'll give that a go, I thought.
Thirds of a pint are the way to go at the Great British Beer Festival. The huge number of beers available puts pay to your dreams of trying them all, but a well thought out strategy and a third of a pint measure can help you make the most of your time there. Saturday is a very different event to the trade-only day earlier in the week. Firstly, and sadly, a lot of the more intriguing beer is gone, but don't worry: for the real ale starved beer lover there is more than enough to keep you busy and contented. Secondly, the crowd is no doubt a different one. For the most part it resembles a normal modern day pub crowd. There were of course a number of impressive beards and bellies on show, but frankly I'd be disappointed if there wasn't. With respect to food available at the venue, you can't argue with the fact that it is really bad for you, which of course means that it tastes bloody good. Pies, pasties, hot dogs and cured meats are but some of the delicacies you can indulge in, and indulge you will because the beer just cries out for something savoury and cardiovascularly unsound to be partnered with.
Ask not what your country can do for you...
There are times in our lives when we have to step up to the plate and do our duty. We may not like it, but sometimes it has to be done for the greater good. So it was in Tara’s Speciality Beer House in Ballina last weekend, when I was asked to step in as third judge for the homebrew beer competition on the Saturday evening. For the sake of humanity I agreed to spend an afternoon sampling beers. A tough task, I’m sure you’ll agree.