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Ilkley Beer Festival: Cask Ale, Abbey Cider, Tasty Pies and Craft Keg

February 12, 2012 17 comments

Ilkley Beer Festival is one of those events that I always hear about before the event itself, but after tickets have sold out.  In the past I’ve tended not to mind too much, because it’s a festival organised by the Ilkley Round Table rather than CAMRA: what could the Round Table know about beer that CAMRA doesn’t?

However, having had the chance to go to the festival on Saturday afternoon as a friend had some spare tickets, I can say that they did an excellent job, and I’ll be quick to snap up tickets for next year.  This is partially due to the long list of corporate sponsors for the charity event: local solicitors, accountants, architects, bankers; the great and good of this predominantly middle-aged, middle class, West Yorkshire spa town which lies in the commuter belt for Leeds and Bradford.

However having a lot of money to throw at a beer festival doesn’t in itself lead to a good festival.  The venue’s pretty good: the King’s Hall in Ilkley is a good size and ornate, certainly a step up from certain other festival venues I’ve been to. The festival also benefits from a stall from the local butchers, Lishmans, which offers hot pies, sausage rolls and “Yorkshire pasties” for a voucher (£1.25) each.

Oh yes, I meant to mention the beer.  I would find it hard to put together a much better list of English cask ale breweries, including Buxton, Mallinsons, Roosters, Thornbridge, Marble, Oakham, Bristol Beer Factory, Dark Star, Red Willow, Hawkshead, Magic Rock, Brodies, Revolutions, Stringers and of course Ilkley Brewery.

I most enjoyed Brodies Citra (on the recommendation of @misterfrosty), a great beer for 3.1%; Hawkshead NZPA and Buxton Wild Boar IPA, both excellent strong, citrusy IPAs; and Revolutions’ Milk and Alcohol, a silky milk stout that Leigh and Dean had a hand in. Another highlight was the superb Ampleforth Cider, as made by a German monk in North Yorkshire, which was a steal at £1.25 a half, given that it’s 8.3% and usually costs upwards of £7 a bottle.  I’m afraid I missed the whisky cask-aged cider from Udders Orchard.

One interesting footnote is the “craft keg” section of the beer list, which had a single British keg offering from Ilkley Brewery, alongside two American (Brooklyn Lager, Flying Dog Pale Ale) and two German keg beers (Jever, Flensburger). All but the local Ilkley beer would have been “permitted” by CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival as “Bières Sans Frontières”, which does seem a little odd.

However I think we’re in real danger of making the term “craft keg” look absurd pretty quickly if we start using it to refer to Jever: a very tasty lager from a large scale brewery which is part of the Oetker Group, the food processor which also owns “a maritime freight business, a bank, a publishing company, an insurance outfit […] and a number of high-class hotels all over Europe”.

Dales Way Pubs: Bar T’at, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Our last day on The Dales Way was from Burnsall to Ilkley, which took us beyond the Yorkshire Dales National Park and also from North into West Yorkshire, having started in Cumbria five days before.  We were fortunate to have another sunny day to wander the last 12 or 13 miles down the Wharfe past caravans at Appletreewick, the Yorkshire Dales ice cream van at Barden Bridge, sunbathers at Bolton Abbey and a family of ducklings on the pavement in Addingham.

Ilkey was the end of the Dales Way for us, although it’s the start for most, and many people stay there for the night before they set out on the walk.  After reaching the official end/start of the walk at the Old Bridge, we walked into town for a beer.  There’s actually a pub just by the end of the walk: Ilkley Moor Vaults.  I’ve visited once, after being caught in the sleet, and found both decent beers and an open fire.  However it was a warm day and I intended to court Mary Jane: there’s no better way to do so than Bar T’at

Bar T’at is a Market Town Tavern pub, along with Arcadia, East of Arcadia and Veritas in Leeds, Cooper’s in Guiseley, The Narrow Boat in Skipton and nine others.  The churlish might accuse them of being overly similar; one could more accurately say that they’re consistently very good, with nice food, helpful staff and a wide selection of ales, from Yorkshire micros and regionals in particular.

Bar T’at didn’t disappoint on this Thursday afternoon and at the end of our walk we quickly sank a couple of glasses of  the lovely, pale, hoppy Ilkley Mary Jane before I also decided to try Goose Eye Chinook, another local pale beer (from Skipton) with a satisfyingly crisp, bitter aftertaste.  I began to notice that one can’t walk through the Dales for five days without picking up at least a hint of a country aroma (i.e. sheep shit with a hint of wild garlic) so it was time to catch the train back to Leeds for a bath.

I hope that this short series of posts is useful for those planning the walk (although make sure you take the Cicerone guide and all the OS Explorer maps). If you are, good luck and I hope you’re as fortunate with the weather as we were.  I really enjoyed our five days on the Dales Way, although the aches compounded throughout the week and by the last afternoon every stile earned a swear word.  Good beer and food in friendly pubs along the way helped a lot, as did the roaring fire at The White Lion at Cray and the warm bath at The Red Lion, Burnsall.

The selection of beer in most places might be more limited to two or three pumps, but you shouldn’t find it difficult to find a Yorkshire bitter such as Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Black Sheep, or a pale hoppy session beer like Mary Jane or Copper Dragon Golden Pippin to slake your thirst, if you’re very lucky something from Hawkshead Brewery like the wonderful Windermere Pale.  Trust me, no drink in the world could be better in the circumstances.

Read all the other posts in this series about The Dales Way here.  If you’ve enjoyed these posts, why not read Andy Mogg of Beer Reviews’ post about beer and pubs on the Coast To Coast walk (and his walking blog linked to in that post) and Mark Fletcher’s posts about The Pennine Way on Real Ale Reviews.

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