Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Beer Glut

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Beer Glut

Article excerpt

VICTORIA MOORE visits the world's biggest ale tent

Bowling home from a summer evening spent drinking crisp white wine, I am alarmed to find my path blocked by a bearded man in an old T-shirt. I edge round him only to encounter another. And another. And another. I stop in the middle of the street, close my eyes, count to ten and open them again. I am still in the midst of a thicket of beards and paunches.

I approach one and politely enquire as to the nature of the exhibition at the adjacent Olympia Exhibition Hall. "Beer festival," he says, with the high-wattage beam of one who has just emerged after several days in a well-stocked cellar. I think I had better go, too.

Beer fiends will be well aware that the annual Great British Beer Festival, organised by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), is now in its 22nd year. People actually fly from the US to come here. Perhaps because until now l have never knowingly met one, I have always been as wary of Camra members as I have of ladies with overly sharp red talons. I imagine them to be tribe-like- suspicious of outsiders and contemptuous of those who do not share their thirst for knowledge about specific gravities.

And so I arrive with my cousin at the beer festival very highly strung, fearful of encountering evangelical tirades levelled against my undiscerning palate. After all, my short yellow dress picks me out from the milling grubby jeans-wearers like a beacon on an ancient hillside.

From the vantage point of the balcony, the image-conscious organisers try to pretend that there are lots of women here. I observe that most of the ones I can see below in the throng are being towed around by men. There is laughter and an admission that this is indeed the case. Displaying signs, at least, of outward normality, the organisers go further. "Camra is about choice," they state rationally, "and about ensuring that the market stays diverse. …

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