Dish of the Day: Pig’s Ear Beer Festival 2013 – Celebrating the Old and the New
It’s that time of year again. On my way home the 38 bus rolls past the Round Chapel Church on Lower Clapton Road and the banner is up – “2013 Pig’s Ear Beer Festival Here” – the 2013 clearly taped over the 2012 from last year. I breathe a comforting sigh at the lack of gloss; a festival is being constructed, my kind of festival, and one that sets out to showcase the best of London’s brewery boom.
Organised by the East London and City branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) the festival takes its name from the old cockney rhyming slang for beer – pig’s ear. This festival has been going for 30 years, making Hackney its home for the last seven, and witnessed plenty of the ups and downs that British beer has experienced in that time. This year the festival hopes to celebrate both the old and the new with a theme that focuses on innovation and tradition – a fitting one for a CAMRA branch situated in the heartland of London’s brewing renaissance. One in four of the 50-something new breweries in the capital are located in the east of the city. The festival overall will feature 27 London breweries and between them they are supplying 65 beers.
The innovation element of the festival is seemingly being taken care of by the new bloods of the brewing world: Kernel are supplying an IPA double hopped with 4C; Weird Beard, a half Imperial IPA half Imperial Stout; Howling Hops, a Berliner Weisse macerated with local fruits.
It’s good to see these breweries being embraced and celebrated at a CAMRA festival, as at times the organisation can feel a little slow to react. As organiser Derek Jones puts it, “CAMRA has fought the good fight for Real Ale for 40 years, so it’s wonderful to have all these new breweries flourishing with flavoursome and time-honoured Real Ales.” The branch’s role in supporting their local breweries would have made it impossible to ignore them when selecting the festival line-up, although it may take little longer to filter upwards – offerings from these breweries at the Great British Beer Festival this year were sparse.
Festivals like Pig’s Ear are important in spreading the word about London brewing to a wider audience, as branch member Bill Green told me, “As a branch we are proud of these breweries, we want to celebrate them. If you’d have told me 20 years ago that we would have a flourishing real ale renaissance in the UK I wouldn’t have believed you. Festivals play an important role for new and small microbreweries; it’s an opportunity to showcase their beers to a wider audience. We have people come every year from all over the UK. In the same way I go to the Manchester Winter Ales festival to find out about what’s going on in their breweries, people come to us to see what is happening in London right now”. Given the care taken with the London beer selection, it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with the capitals new breweries.
As well as showcasing the new, tradition is being brought to the festival through the acknowledgement of the 50th Anniversary of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. There are several wooden barrelled offerings, including a one-off special 7% classical Red Ale from Cambridge’s Moonshine Brewery. All these breweries regularly brew and supply their beers in wooden casks, something generally unfamiliar to me and I’m looking forward to finding out more, clearly there is still a demand in the UK for beer served in this way.
For me, this festival is what should be good about CAMRA in the shifting landscape of modern British brewing. Embracing the new, supporting new breweries and celebrating independently produced beer in all its forms, while ensuring that the traditions and history of British brewing are kept alive, through educating and showcasing them at festivals. Pig’s Ear is embracing London’s brewing scene with open arms, and if anyone has any doubts that the capitals new breweries are producing some fantastic beers, they should come and put that theory to the test.
Pig’s Ear Beer Festival Runs from Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 7th of December at the Round Chapel on Lower Clapton Road
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