Beer festival season is upon us once more with the top two London beer festivals taking place next week. The Great British Beer Festival takes place from 6th – 10th August, whilst the London Craft Beer Festival (LCBF) is 9-11th August. If you’re a beer fan, then both are great but they are certainly very different. So we’ve decided to unpack them a bit and give you the lowdown on what to expect.

The Setup

LCBF Brewery Bar
This is one of the major differences between these two festivals. Whilst the GBBF sets out its bars by region, with each one featuring a selection of beers from breweries of that region, the young upstart LCBF very deliberately decided to put the brewer front and centre. As such, each brewer has their own bar at which they can do as they wish. GBBF bars are staffed by CAMRA volunteers, which arguably means the customer has to do more of the thinking on what to drink. LCBF bars are staffed by the brewers and their teams, meaning they can guide the drinkers better as they know the product intimately. Both setups have their virtues, although we are partial to the brewer centric configuration as it’s great to be able to meet the people behind the beers. That said, hyped brewer bars can be carnage when it comes to queues, not something you get as much at the GBBF.

The Beer

LCBF Beer Glass
As you might expect, the beer is the main event at both these festivals – I mean, they’re called Great British Beer Festival and London Craft Beer Festival after all. But not all beer is the same of course and this is very evident when attending both festivals.

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.

The Serve

GBBF Glassware
Another big differentiator. At LCBF, drinkers are given a branded glass (last year it was a lovely Teku) and all pours are ⅓ pint (or at brewer’s discretion). All the beer is included in the ticket price so attendees can drink as much as they like, but it’s not a volume game in terms of each beer. The idea behind this approach is most definitely to encourage trial and experimentation. Removing price tags and large measures induces the drinker to take chances they might not want to if they’re waivering over price or volume.

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.

The Entertainment

DJ Set
The entertainment that goes alongside the beer is an important part of both festivals. Whilst at the GBBF, you can expect to see morris dancers and German Oompah bands, LCBF prides itself on hosting some of the best DJs and artists from across the world. Both offer a range of talks and workshops, featuring beer tastings, food and beer pairings and other educational sessions, with LCBF seeming to focus a bit more on working in the industry. Food options are available at both although LCBF definitely wins in terms of quality and variety, featuring some of the most exciting street food vendors around at the moment. Either way, you don’t need to spend the whole time drinking – there is plenty to keep you busy throughout the day at both festivals.

In Conclusion

To sum up then, it’s clear that the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival share not much more than a devotion to beer and overlapping dates. But we think that is what makes them great, that they are so different. They appeal to different audiences and offer different things – variety is the spice of life after all. Which you opt for will obviously be personal preference but we’d urge you to give them both a go if you haven’t been to either, or try the ‘other one’ to the one you’d usually go to if you have a preference. Either way, they are both two of the best beer festivals happening here in the UK and we’re looking forward to checking out what delights each has in store for us next week.