It’s been a bit hard squeezing in time to be beer geeky recently, as I’ve been training to walk the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge for the Alzheimer’s Society. However we did manage to make a trip to the Hawkshead Summer Beer Festival last weekend, as it was conveniently positioned next to the outdoors.
After a long walk through the Lyth Valley on a sunny Saturday afternoon, we showered, napped and headed out to Staveley Mill Yard and the Hawkshead Brewery. No dedicated beer geek would be seen dead at a beer festival on a Saturday night: all the good beers have gone and the place is full of people drinking to have fun, rather than carefully rating the beers in four categories and posting the results online, as the brewer intended. No, for the beer geek it is best to get to the festival on the first day, or even to wangle an entry to the trade session, so you’re only drinking with the judges and professionals, when you can impart your helpful advice and learned critiques of their beers to the brewers directly.
This particular Saturday night at a beer festival was full of people having fun: local businesses had food stalls out, a band was competently playing songs from the DFS adverts. Loads of drinkers – yummy alt mummies, mountain bikers, suspicious teenagers, orange girls caked in makeup, fell runners, middle-aged men in aged brewery polo shirts – were outside in the decidedly un-Cumbrian weather, but they also packed the new Beer Hall, the older River Bar and queued for the loos.
We got a seat in the River Bar and noticed, as could be expected, that the beer selection was dwindling by the third evening, and the pump clips were turning their faces away by the minute. I had a feeling that the conservative Cumbrian palate might have shunned the hoppiest beers in favour of the easy drinking bitters. However this didn’t seem to have been the case. In fact, they were guzzling down 6-7% New World hopped IPAs like no-one’s business.
However the beer list was so good (and with such a focus on hoppy pales) that even the leftovers were brilliant: Hawkshead’s own spiky USPA and NZPA were just what the doctor ordered, and Dark Star Renaissance did well in a similar weight-range. Presumably only because Hawkshead has good stocks of its own beers, Windermere Pale was still on the bar outside, one of the few session beers left standing, and one of the best.
The one beer that seemed unfairly overlooked, to the point that it was the only one on the River Bar by the end of the night, was Moor Old Freddy Walker. It made sense that this 7.3% rich, dark, fruity vintage ale was left moping around the bar at the end of the warm evening when all the other beers had been paired off. However it made for easy pickings for the predatory beer geek, and paid off in spades.
Hawkshead was a great, inclusive, friendly beer festival on a Saturday night. I’m sure it would probably be very enjoyable on a Thursday afternoon too.
I do like beer festivals. CAMRA are subject to a lot of criticism (some of which is justified) and stereotyping (some of which is hard to disprove), but the organisation and volunteering behind local beer festivals is a testament to a common interest that these people are willing to sacrifice their time pursuing and promoting.
So, in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy at the weekend, I went to a beer festival in a churchyard and tried a lot of nice beers, the best of which (to my mind, and of those that happened to be still on in the four hours I was there) was Moor Illusion, a nice hoppy porter/black IPA (Who knows? It smelled great and tasted really good).
I sat outside on garden furniture; chatted with my brother and his girlfriend; listened to some live light jazz; witnessed a dramatic moment when a plastic gazebo was destroyed by the wind; ate a roast pork sandwich; saw two friendly vicars; used a chemical toilet of only moderate eurgh-ness; and was surrounded by people who were having a good time.
Chorlton-Cum-Hardy seems very Nigel Slater: jute bags; yummy mummies; designer cupcakes; and yoga. I live in a not-dissimilar (but not quite as marvellous) area of Leeds. Days like this, and the Chapel Allerton festival in Leeds (not strictly a beer festival, but usually served by a Roosters stall) help us think that we live in villages even though we don’t: we live in cities and arguably, in both cases cited, unrepresentative middle class enclaves inside those cities.
We actually live in a massively complex overlapping Venn diagram comprised of electronically-connected diasporas of shared social and economic interests, rather than simply geographically proximite communities. As such mutual interests go (knitting; yoga; accountancy; battle reenacting; comics; medicine; death metal; crown green bowls; dogging), beer is a good one for me, and I’m very grateful for the volunteers that allow us to enjoy and share such an interest, in the sunshine with friends, on days like this. Because we all need to feel like we belong, and a good beer or four helps that process immensely.
Yesterday I had the good fortune of going to the National Winter Ales festival in Manchester. I was especially lucky to get trade tickets and also to go with a few brewers and bar folk. After getting the train over from Leeds I met up with James and Andy from Summer Wine Brewery and Dean from Mr Foleys in the Marble Arch on the Rochdale Road. A great pub connected to a wonderful brewery, yesterday the beers included the spectacularly hoppy Utility Special IPA and the great Driscoll’s End, Dominic’s goodbye beer to the Marble brewery, before he heads across the Pennines to sunny Thornbridge.
It was good to meet members of the beer literati who we hadn’t met before, including Rob from Hopzine, Matt from Hawkshead (who had been judging) and Brian from The Grove, Huddersfield (along with a whole posse of Grovers). Even as a newcomer, it was a really nice, friendly, festive atmosphere, before we even got to the venue. Unable to resist, I bought myself two big Marble bottles before we left: a Utility Special and a Stouter Port Stout.
At the venue, which is a perfect size for the purposes, we were also introduced to more titans of the beer world from darkest Cumbria, the legendary Jeff Pickthall and the semi-mythical Hardknott Dave. Jeff was kind enough to give me a bottle of Croglin Vampire to review. We also bumped into Matt, Jim and some of the other staff from North Bar, as well as Matt’s wife Alice, now immortalised as the namesake of Brewdog’s Alice Porter, brewed with Matt’s input. We were even able to witness the elusive Tandleman working diligently at the festival, apparently unconcerned by the lack of Northern Methods Of Dispense despite the Mancunian setting.
Of course the beers were good too. Although the general view is that most of them were a bit on the fresh side, it being the first day and all, everyone who tried it seemed to be very impressed with James and Andy’s Diablo, a great IPA with dominant Citra flavours (although it also contains Centennial). Thornbridge’s Hark was a very nice beer, and was a little more interesting than Merrie, which was by contrast merely good. It was good to enjoy Hawkshead Brodie’s Prime on cask and Thornbridge St Petersburg was also very good. I liked the Fuller’s Brewer’s Reserve too. I enjoyed festival champion Entire Stout by Hop Back, although it wasn’t necessarily the most interesting beer I tried. I’m sure the other beers I tried will come back to me over the next few days.
Of course after all that it was very clearly time to get a taxi back to Piccadilly for the long, challenging train home to Leeds and the struggle to recover adequately for work the next morning. Nevertheless the day was very enjoyable and well worth the hangover. Thanks to Tandleman and the rest of the organisers, but as I say, I was especially happy to meet so many friendly members of the international brotherhood of beer, who were far more welcoming to a mere prole than they had any reason to be. I’m looking forward to Twissup, by which time I should almost have recovered. Cheers!