Starting off with the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), organised as it is by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), unsurprisingly the focus is almost exclusively on cask conditioned real ale. Although there is a little bit of keg beer being allowed at this year’s festival, it is a minute proportion in the grand scheme of things. Even the American bar features beer in cask which is quite a feat as this is not a format common in the USA. This means there is a larger proportion of beer from more traditional, and often (though by no means always) larger family brewers. Expect Fuller’s, St. Austell, Marston’s and many regional microbreweries. Popular styles tend to be best bitters, golden ales, milds and darker beers. Beers tend to feature more British hops, meaning more earthy notes, less tropical fruits. Whilst there are some delicious strong beers, the majority of the beers are in the session range of 3.5% – 6% ABV. None of this is a bad thing of course. Properly conditioned, well kept cask ale is amongst the best in the world and the GBBF really is a great showcase of this uniquely British style at it’s best.
Modern keg is the name of the game at the London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF) and this is no accident. The majority of the brewers exhibiting are less than 15 years old and most are at the forefront of the modern wave of craft beer across the world. Therefore, expect many more DDH (double dry hopped) IPAs, Double IPAs, Milkshake IPAs and sour beers on offer. They’ll be a few Imperial stouts reaching above 10% plus you’ll probably even see a few ice slushy beers going around. It’s not all weird and wonderful, there will be plenty of session strength, well made pales and porters too, but the LCBF does tend to encourage brewers to bring out the big guns, beers that attendees probably won’t have had the chance to try elsewhere. Expect to see big craft names including Burnt Mill, Verdant, Mikkeller, Northern Monk and TO Ǿl amongst others.
On the other end of the spectrum, at the GBBF, drinkers get the choice of 3 glass sizes – ⅓ pint, ½ pint or full pint (GRR!). It’s interesting to see who goes for what size. In our experience (and this is purely anecdotal), the older generation of drinkers tend to go for the pints whilst younger folk opt for the ⅓ or ½. This is reflective in how they drink too – the habit of drinking in pints is a hard one to drop for some, even at a beer festival. For us, that kind of defies the point because it means you can try less variety of beers but each to their own. Each beer is sold at the bar rather than being included in the ticket price but prices are very reasonable and the ticket price is much lower than LCBF.