I love a festival. Whether it be beer, music, film or any other type, the word festival creates the same sense of excitement within me as the word buffet does.
I went to four relevant festivals last year, all very different from each other, 3 of which are already, or becoming a tradition I hope.
The first is the Chelmsford Beer Festival. I have been to this festival two years in a row and it really is one of the highlights of my year.
I go with Michael Wheeler and it’s a great day out. The only problem with Chelmsford Beer Festival is that it’s in Chelmsford. It’s so close yet so annoying. The bus is £15 return and takes an hour or so which is ridiculous or you have to change at Shenfield if you’re getting a train which is a right ball ache as it seems to take ages on that platform.
It’s worth the rigmarole though, especially on a pleasant day. If you’ve never been to a beer festival before there’s quite a surprising amount of different people. Most people expect it to be a mixture of Detectorists, Saxondale and men in Iron Maiden T Shirts supping on a pint of best but it’s far more diverse than that. Of course those people are there but there’s also quite a lot of young people there and quite a few ladies. Though I suppose to be surprised by that is pretty prehistoric.
Theres always great food available and some cover bands, it’s just really pleasurable. These festivals are only about a fiver to get in so I’d really suggest getting some mates down in the summer months for a lovely relaxing afternoon.
And of course there’s beer, and plenty of it. I always download the programme beforehand so I get a little heads up on what I am gonna get before I arrive. That’s just because I am a geek though.
I was aware there was 3 beers from my list at this year’s festival so a pretty good haul.
I started with Exmoor Beast from Exmoor Ales. This is a luxurious rich strong Porter. Lots of rum and raisin, and coffee coming through. At 6.6% it’s not the strongest Porter in the world but it’s certainly warming. A lovely beer I’m sure to sip on a winter evening. Not sure about it as the first pint in a sunny field though!
My second was more in keeping for a sunny day. Coniston Bluebird Bitter is a pale with lots of Citrus. It won Champion Beer of Britain in 1998 and I have seen it used numerous times as examples of the style in various textbook. It was nice but I found it a little dated.
The final beer from Chelmsford was Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild. This is an older beer having been first brewed in 1921 and is a rare example of a strong mild. It was quite smoky with a little chocolate liquor. For all its history and how much I would liked to have liked it I wasn’t that impressed.
Next up is a little music festival called Bandcamp hosted by Paul Noble and his lovely family. It gave me a chance to set up my first ever bar and I really enjoyed doing it.
We preordered a couple of ghostship polypins and the rest I picked up from work or Bookers.
It went really well and it was good fun dishing out the pints with the help of Pauls dad Keith, even if it is what I do every day.
I made a bottle list up of world beers like every self-respecting festival bar should and of course I included a couple of beers from the list.
To start, Dale’s Pale Ale. This is a lovely refreshing pale from Oskar Blues Brewery out of Colorado. It’s regularly revered as one of the finest examples of its type, with some pretty hard hitting juicy hops. It’s also cited as being the fore runner and one of the main advocate of putting craft in can. Up till this point canned beer was seen as the reserve of the big boys, Bud and whatnot whilst craft was more from the bottle in the old English/homebrewing style, how beer should be packaged. Dale changed all by pointing canning was better for the environment, more convenient and less chance of skunking. It’s a debate that has rattled on ever since and its getting hotter and hotter this side of the pond.
I followed that with a Fuller’s Golden Pride. This is a great example of one my favourite styles of beer, barleywine. Always quite a strong style this example is no different coming in at 8.5%. It actually started as a 9% beer in 1967 but was reduced a little in the 80s.
A lovely beer deep and fruity, the historic Fuller’s have reinforced this style for me yet again.
My second music festival of the year was on abit of a grander scale. End Of The Road, is a 4 day indie affair that I’ve been to 4 or 5 years in a row now and is always a great craic. They themselves always have a good selection of ales available and some made just for the festival. They also have a meet the brewer every morning and some guest speakers. This year I managed to catch Pete Brown who is a fantastic writer, and was very interesting to hear some of his anecdotes from his new book Miracle Brew. I was lucky enough to meet him afterwards and sign a copy of the book. Nerd checklist tick.
The festival has embraced the craft beer revolution too with Beavertown alloted their very own bar, which is cool but a pricey way to spend a weekend with each can of 330ml costing around a fiver, so they soon add up in the sun.
On the way there me and Noble like to stop off at a brewery for a pitstop. Last year we went to Hogsback which was very nice, and this year we went to Windsor & Eton with Leighton in tow and it was even better.
Windsor itself is a lovely town just west of London. All very royal with the castle and what not and I have never seen as many swans in my life.
The beer I was after from the little tap-room just a short walk from town was called Republika, which is quite an ironic title seeing its born in such a royal backdrop.
It’s a beautiful Pilsner, how lager should be. A taste of Europe in middle England. Tasting this makes you wonder how we could have got so far from what lager is supposed to be when we see the bland few massive chains up and down the country.
Finally the Pigs Ear Beer Festival at the Round Chapel in Hackney. This festival was held in a really sensational venue. Grade 2 listed church which is now an events hall, this remarkable building is beautiful to look at and, like many buildings in London, evokes such an amazing sense of history you feel privileged to be there. I went up there with Nick Elliot from my old work as a little farewell before he moved off to pastures new in the Balearics.
The festival itself was a pretty standard CAMRA affair and though they had many interesting cask offerings but as usual I was more interested in the world bottle bar.
There I found the final beer of this blog, Verdi Imperial Stout.
This beer made in the village where the famous Italian composer was born helped launch the Italian craft beer movement. Its an Imperial Stout with the interesting addition of chilli peppers. I’m not sure it’s psychosomatic but it definitely felt warming to me, though this may have been due to the generous 8.5% ABV. Either way it’s an enjoyable Stout and a nice way to finish this blog.
So there we go, that’s festivals. If you have never been to a beer festival I really recommend you going. Like I mentioned earlier it’s hardly any money, £5 at the most, and it’s always a friendly, convivial atmosphere. Come along to the Chelmsford one and hopefully me and Michael will meet you there!