After having finished my business in the afternoon, it was time to get on the London Overground, a rather pretentious name for railway tracks running in an arch west-north-east where the commuters are tightly packed. I got on at one of the first stations, meaning I got a seat, but most of my fellow passengers were not as lucky.
Anyway, arriving at Hackney Central it was only a few minutes walk to the Ocean, a venue that has been used for this festival for a number of years now.
Being a veteran, I left my coat at the designated desk and headed for the main hall.
The Ocean is well suited to this purpose, with a high ceilinged main room and plenty of space at the back of the bar for the CAMRA volunteers manning the festival. Near the entrance and the foreign beers there are some tables and chairs, but for most of the visitors its standing room only.
Luckily some of my drinking buddies tend to be there at opening time and, as usual, a bunch of ratebeer people had occupied a large table and were well into their sampling session.
Last years theme was smoked beers, this year stouts and porters was the main trend – some of them with dangerous alcohol levels.
I won’t get into the details of the beer sampled over the evening, but some highlights were:
Boggart Hole Rum Porter, with lovely rum spiciness in the background, yet oaky dry. Ashes, roasted grain and nuts.
Broadies Superior London Porter had burned toast and campfire, managing to be both fruity and dry at the same time.
De Molen had blended and bottled a special beer for the occasion, the Lood and Oud Ijser. A very Christmassy beer with stewed fruit , molasses and spices as well as some mint. Spearmint in the finish, warming alcohol. In hindsight, I should have bought a few bottles…
There were other temptations in the foreign bar – Mikkeller’s Santa’s Little Helper on tap, the lovely smoky Schlenkerla Ur-Bock and a seriously sour Bocker Foederbier on cask to finish the evening.
But it is, once again, the pleasant company that’s most important. But good beer and good company are reinforcing each other, they are certainly not mutually exclusive.