The United Kingdom is proud and passionate when it comes to its beer heritage. If there is one product that is quintessentially British, it is a pint of real ale. What sets real ale, also known as cask conditioned ale distinct from its keg-conditioned counterpart is the presence of yeast, actively fermenting sugars derived from barley into alcohol inside the nine- or eighteen-gallon vessel from which it is served. A living, working product, cask conditioned beer offers freshness and a ‘fresh-squeezed’ taste that is far superior to pasteurised products.
On any given weekend, somewhere in the country devoted enthusiasts will be holding what is known in the UK as a Beer Festival. Run by members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), these events are run by local branches to showcase the massive range of new beer styles that have evolved over the forty years since the organisation was founded by four young men who had become dissatisfied with the dead, tasteless ‘fizz’ that was flooding the market in the early ’70s.
By far the largest beer festival throughout the year is the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). It is held for five days beginning on the first Tuesday in August. Each year since 1977, visitors have had an opportunity to sample from as many as 450 different examples of eight styles of British real ale. Around 200 foreign beers are also available from countries like Belgium, Germany, the USA as well as Italy, Nigeria and Japan. Held from 1992 to 2005 at Olympia Exhibition Hall in Kensington, West London, it moved to Earl’s Court in 2006, having outgrown Olympia. The 2012 event will be back at Olympia because Earl’s Court will be hosting sporting events.
Outdoor festivals are held in Peterborough, Reading and Ealing. Because of the capricious British weather, these are held inside giant marquees. Although not as massive as GBBF, these events all offer a wide range of British and foreign beers, as well as real ciders and perries.
The CAMRA website will confirm that some branch, somewhere in the UK, there will be a beer festival on any given weekend. Start planning your future as a beer tourist today!