From Palate to Pallet

Volunteered at this year’s Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) on the final Saturday, having been once before, as a youthful punter, at Alexandra Palace in the late 1970s.

Assumed that as a newbie I’d be assigned mere drudgery, but in fact was asked where I wanted to work. Somewhat taken by surprise, I said the New World Beer Bar simply because the person in front of me had been offered that.

A busy day as it turned out, some schmoozing with nerdy beer buffs and even the occasional buff ladette in between a fairly constant stream of opening and pouring bottles, glass washing and cash taking.

As well as beers from America, Australia etc, the bar also featured Japanese craft beers from two breweries, Baird Beers and Hitachino Nest. The missus and I are off to Japan soon, so I’ll try to sample some Baird Beers on home ground. Their taproom in Harajuku looks like a handy pit stop if we make it to that particularly fascinating area of Tokyo.  They also provide a manual for retailers giving an insight into the complexity of serving real ale.

Daytime drinking is not really for me, so I simply sipped some samples now and then. These included what the bar manager had flagged up as one to flog based on its dire (IHHO) taste – Revelation Cat 3 Year Old Lambic (Laphroaig), from an obscure Italian brewery.

Come close of play, I was ready to saunter off to the staff bar and cafe. However, I discovered what the little monkey sticker on my volunteer’s pass represented when I was told in no uncertain terms to report to the pallet truck area.

There a Northern gentleman of ample girth, even by CAMRA standards, sternly explained that once allocated one of his pump trucks, with accompanying wristband, I was not to let it out of my sight. I was eventually entrusted with Inigo Jones (“Ah give them awl names – not military or politicians – it makes it bit more personal, like”) and dispatched to the cheese stall.  It was almost an hour before I could make my excuses and leave Earl’s Court.

Visible ethnic diversity was wholly absent from the volunteer cohort and rare amongst the punters. But there were a significant number of what I would loosely call foodie types who perhaps go to GBBF in much the same way as they would attend a Kenwood picnic concert or stroll around, say, Borough Market. And it seems to me that CAMRA has not sufficiently embraced this demographic.

The Festival still seems to be largely (pun intended) geared to middle-aged trainspotters standing alone or in pairs at the various bars and sinking pints. It is difficult, almost impossible, to leisurely sit around a table and take the opportunity to match the incredible range of beers with an equally wide range of complementary food (the food is there, but almost wholly in a separate area with hardly any seating).

Of course the overall atmosphere is one of bonhomie and good cheer. Speaking of which, one of the things that occurs throughout the day is a  “Mexican roar” rippling through the hall – I do not know if this was wholly spontaneous or triggered by a glass being dropped or similar.

In contrast, despite the logo on our volunteer t-shirts describing us as “official dispensers of mischief “, the prevailing mood was, perhaps understandably, rather earnest and workmanlike.

Still, next (Olympic) year in Olympia. Unless I’m behind the bar in Harajuku.


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