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Vegan at the Great British Beer Festival

The first time I went to the Great British Beer Festival, CAMRA's yearly celebration for all things hops and malt, was many years ago. So many years (or perhaps beers) ago, in fact, I can't remember when it was. Five maybe? Seven? More?

I can tell it was a decent amount of time ago, though, because I remember trying to find vegan beer during that first visit and being roundly disappointed. A grand total of around a couple of beers had labelled themselves as vegan, and I drunk them happily, but I wouldn't have minded a bit more in the way of choice.

Flash forward to this year's festival, and there were over 70 beers that were vegan, and a surprising number of food stalls offering vegan options. While the vegan food choices were mainly listed on the GBBF website, you had to email CAMRA to get the vegan beer list - which was a bit of a pain in the arse. Still, I wasn't going to let a bit of personal admin put me off, and armed with the gift of knowledge, I went to go try a few ales.

Like always, the GBBF was held in Olympia, with all the concretey charm (or lack thereof) that entails: it's like walking into an aircraft hangar with huge bars as far as the eye can see. Most of them, happily, had at least a couple of vegan beers available. I endeavoured to try one from each bar - I'm not sure I succeeded, but I did get to enjoy some cracking drinks.

I loved the fact that you could buy drinks in one-third of a pint size - for a lightweight like me, that meant I could try a few more beers than usual without feeling grubby the next day. Result.

I managed four beers: Hop Back's Halletau Blanc; Angel Ales' Elderflower Ale;  Vibrant Forest's Summerlands; and Durham's Belle Saison. The first was good, the second was definitely good, the third and fourth were extraordinarily good. So good, in fact, I had to keep turning to Mr Flicking the Vs and saying 'this is great' and nodding enthusiastically, while he looked on bemusedly. (He's a cider drinker, so he was in enemy territory) If only I didn't have to get up the next day for work, I would have happily worked my way through the rest of the GBBF vegan list. (Well, a few more beers at least.)

Of course, if you're aiming on having a few beers, you need a good feed first, right? There were four vegan choices on the GBBF site, and I spotted another one while strolling around the show floor. 

I had a mind to try the vegan wurst, but the queue was too long and Mr FtVs had a yearning for chilli. Despite my complaints, I allowed him to drag me to the Louisiana Chilli Shack. While I can't think of the last time I ordered a bowl of chilli when there was almost anything else on the menu, but Mr FtVs has a peculiar gift for picking out the best option from any number of vegan foodstuffs, so I followed his lead.

Yet again, he picked a corker - the chilli was really good. It was full of quinoa and beans (go on, ask me where I get my protein, I double dare you) all nestled on a bed of rice, with more toppings than you could shake a stick at. Along with tortillas, lettuce, jalapenos (lots please), lime, coriander, and salsa, the Louisiana Chilli Shack even vegan yoghurt as an alternative to dairy sour cream. Well played, the Shack, well played.

All in all, it was a big smoky plate of satisfaction. I may have been down on chilli in the past, but I wouldn't pass up a return trip to Louisiana.

Kingsley Amis wrote in the book Everyday Drinking: "An under-regarded but surely very powerful argument against wine is that very few of us can afford to drink quality wine with any regularity, whereas a fair number can afford reasonable amount of the best beer available most nights of the week. It's hard to prefer somebody's Light Fruity red to a well-chilled can of export lager, let alone a glass of pub plonk to almost any real ale." That's one of the reasons why I love beer: you can afford the good stuff for not very much cash. At the GBBF, I could try some new (to me at least) vegan ales for around £1.50 for a small glass.

The stall with the most vegan options was the Manchester Bottle Shop, and as well as beer to drink at the show, it also sold bottles to takeaway. I grabbed a couple of unusual bottles, and they're now calling to me from the fridge:

I'm hopeful that next year, there will be even more vegan options at the GBBF. Who wouldn't drink to that?

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  1. I'm not a beer fan, but definitely a food fan - the chilli looks great! It's a shame vegans have to go to the trouble of emailing for the beer list, but at least you were well catered for. Definitely a good sign!

  2. I've never been to a beer festival, but it sounds like fun! And how cool that they had vegan vendors! Chili is always hit or miss - so I tend to be weary unless I make it. Glad you found one that was delicious!

  3. Wow, what a difference a few years make! Glad to see so many more vegan options. And that chili! one of the best looking bowls o' chili I've ever seen. :-)


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