August Festival roundup...
This month has come and gone in the blink of an eye it seems! We've been super busy with new releases and events. Here's a wee summary of the great festivals we've attended this month...
LONDON CRAFT BEER FESTIVAL
Following the success of Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival in May, we couldn’t wait for the London edition. The folks at We Are Beer work tirelessly to put on some of the best festivals around the country. Grant was joined by Aly, manager at six°north Edinburgh, to help pour for the weekend.
On Thursday we flew down and got ourselves set up and checked in to our hotel. We were fairly taken aback by the sheer size of the venue, yet the layout meant it never felt too big. A logistical nightmare for the organisers no doubt, but a delight for attendees. Over 80 of the finest breweries from around the UK and rest of the world were to showcase their wares.
Having spent Thursday night in the beer mecca that is The Beer Merchants Tap, we were ready for a busy start and London Craft Beer Festival did not disappoint. With our stand in an open air spot and the sun beating down*, it was a popular area all weekend.
* Despite having a great summer up here, it was still a bit of a shock to our pasty systems...so the caps provided by We Are Beer were much appreciated!
Friday was gone in a whirlwind and as Saturday arrived we had a full set of collaboration beers on show, including all threee of the 2018 Foraged & Found series and a cheeky beer cocktail we made with Porters Gin. The crowds were thirsty and we were going through kegs at some rate! The atmosphere remained brilliantly friendly throughout!
We headed to The Experiment in the evening (a joint venture between Verdant and Pressure Drop) who provided the festival brewers with a fine after-party! Thanks also to Deviant & Dandy around the corner who provided us with an after-after-party. Sunday was a little bit more relaxed at LCBF but the corner shop nearby had pre sugar tax Irn Bru keeping us as perky as we were on day one!
LCBF is a fantastic festival and thanks must go to Greg and the team at at We Are Beer for hosting us. Thanks also to the team at Tempest who drove our equipment back up the road, and provided the hangovers for Monday mornings flight!
INTERNATIONAAL STREEKBIERENFESTIVAL ZWEVEGEM
Barely a week later and it was time to get on the road again. This time it was our annual trip to the Internationaal Streekbierenfestival Zwevegem. A great festival in the heart of Flanders that started life as a wee town get together and has now grown into one of the largest outdoor beer festivals in Belgium! 14,000 people flock to Zwevegem on the 14th & 15th August every year to have a few beers, enjoy some live music and appreciate a great atmosphere.
This year was our 4th time attending the festival and Yvan (festival organiser) has even been over to visit us in Stonehaven. He brought his son and son-in-law over this summer, timing their trip to coincide with the Midsummer Beer Happening.
Robert, Denis and Grant set off on the Sunday evening, stopping over in Newcastle as a designated ‘halfway’ point to Dover. It’s not halfway, but it did mean having a couple of beers in the excellent Free Trade Inn so it worked pretty well (obviously not planned that way, just coincidental...honest). The six hour drive to Dover became a traffic-laden nine hours but sharing the driving always helps.
On Monday night we stayed with the ever hospitable Emmanuel and Valerie in the town of Ypres. Emmanuel was Robert’s neighbour when he lived in Brussels and they have remained close friends ever since. We were greeted with a tasty meal and a Westmalle Tripel (what followed was a few more Belgian treats). The catch up lasted until the early hours and this was to be a sign of what was to come….
On Tuesday we headed to Zwevegem for the festival which opened its gates at 3pm. It soon filled up as people finished work and looked forward to a national holiday the following day. There is one thing to clarify with this festival, it is by no means a tasting festival; Jetons cost €3 and will get you a full measure of most beers on show (yep, like a full glass of Rodenbach Vintage for €3. Seriously). Over the past few years we have built a good rapport with the local crowd and it is great to see the same faces coming back each year.
We now know that, being Scottish, we should always bring a beer that has been aged in whisky barrels, along with some other higher ABV beers, as is common place in Belgium. Denis & Grant were kept really busy for the duration. Robert found Glenn from Alvinne at 4pm and returned around 11pm having been out working extremely hard too. That could only mean one thing though, an early(ish) night for Robert whilst the other two found the hotel bar. The teams from St. Bernardus, Gauloise and Redchurch provided ample into the early hours.
Day 2 at the festival officially starts at 1pm but the brewers are invited to arrive a little earlier for a BBQ brunch consisting of Chateaubriand, frites and salad. And to wash it down? How about some Hommel Harvest 2018! Just the thing to blow away the cobwebs before the graft starts again!
Wednesday is more of a family day at the festival but didn’t feel any more subdued as the beers were again well received. We even managed to try one or two beers from breweries that were new to us. No surprises that they were all excellent. Back at the hotel bar afterwards and most of the more local breweries had headed home, leaving us with Dom and Kris from Redchurch to share some unusual beers, dubious stories and general good times (the adjectives for those three are interchangeable).
The festival was over but our trip was not. A Meet the Brewer in Dynamo - Bar de Soif on Friday night meant time on Thursday for a return to Ypres and a day playing Boltra. Boltra is a rather strange combination of curling and bowls, played on an 18.5 metre long half pipe shaped alley. This year should have been revenge for Emmanuel and Grant who last year squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead. Alas, history was to cruelly repeat itself as Robert and Denis again started slowly but picked up speed after their opponents had consumed a couple of local beverages.
TAP TAKEOVER AT DYNAMO (BRUSSELS)
Friday arrives and on to Brussels we went. Arriving at the brilliant Dynamo just as the doors were opening and the beers had been tapped. The bar had been closed for four weeks (as is their annual tradition) so the eight six°north beers being showcased also acted as a ‘welcome back’ to their hordes of regulars.
Food was provided by Voodoo Vegan and they had even incorporated our beers into the condiments which was a real treat. Once again, the hospitality shown to us was excellent, Greg and Nico offered great service and a friendly atmosphere. We will certainly be adding Dynamo to our list of top bars in Brussels.
We were travelling home on Sunday so took Saturday as a nice, relaxed day off. We kicked off with a tour of 3 Fonteinen at 10:30am and were pleasantly surprised by Armand’s honest views on the industry and open chat about the brewery which he has worked so hard to build up for many years. To say that his passion shone through would be an understatement.
We later returned to Brussels to visit some of our favourite bars of old and checked out new bar Gist. Gist is ran by a husband and wife duo who focus on two things when choosing beer for the bar. 1: Is it craft? 2. Does it taste good? Can’t be a bad start!
And that was our trip to Belgium. Yes, it was good fun, but it was also a lot of hard work (disclaimer: Whilst we do have to say that, it was pretty bloody tiring too!). We can't wait to do it all again next year.
The month didn’t end there though, there was plenty to catch up on in the brewery with lots of new releases once we got home. Denis was straight back in the festival spirit as he tended the bar for a brilliant day of charitable rugby in Stonehaven last weekend. Six teams, including a number of former professionals played out the tournament in order to raise funds for the My Name'5 Doddie Foundation. A great charity and it was great to see such a great turnout to support it.
Words: Grant Henderson