A highlight of my recent London visit was the Pig’s Ear beer festival, arranged by the East End and City branch of CAMRA. This was a five day event, I was there three times, which means I got through a significant part of the British cask ales on offer, while I barely touched the imported beers.
The venue is the Ocean, an old building which now functions as a club venue. It has a large hall in the centre with bars lining the room. I think the premises were OK, although there could have been more tables and chairs, especially as I seemed to be in the younger half of the audience.
The concept is fairly simple: You pay your entrance fee, then you pay a deposit to get a tasting glass. It is up to you if you want a pint, half pint or third pint glass. The 1/3 pint size was well suited for samples.
The main bar, with the cask ales, had row upon row of ale casks, clearly labeled with their contents. The printed programme gave brief details about each beer, and then it was just a matter of jumping into it.
The advantage of British cask ales is that most of them have a fairly low alcohol content – some of them below 4.0%. This means that you can more easily sip your way through many more beers than you could in for example the Low Countries.
Most of the beers on offer were bitters, but there were quite a few stouts and porters as well as milds and the odd wheat beer and barley wine.
The bottle bar at the other end of the hall had a good range of German and Belgian beers plus some fine picks form Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands. There were cask ciders and perries, too, but I never got around to try them..
Everything is staffed by volunteers, and there was a fast and friendly service behind the bars.
How is it to be a foreign visitor to an event like this?
It was very friendly and including. It must be said that I knew some people who were coming along, so I knew I would be in good company. But if you sit down at a table or hang around by the bar, you will soon be talking to people, and they all have their special interests. Some prefer the Bavarian beers on tap, some collect beer cans or other items, some are serious tickers who have to have a sip of everything. The festival was not really crowded at any time, which meant little time spent on queuing for beer (or food).
(to be continued)