Sunday, 1 August 2010
Three Beer Festivals
I've been back from Bamberg just over two weeks now and already I've attended two local beer festivals. On top of that I'm off to the Great British Beer Festival next week, so is it a case of beer festival fatigue?
Not at all, especially with regard to the two local events, both of which were good in their own ways. The first festival was that of SIBA South East, which was held at our local rugby club - Tonbridge Juddians. I was only able to make the Saturday evening session, where I was manning the CAMRA stand, but it turned out to be an excellent evening and I bumped into quite a few people I know.
This is the 4th SIBA Festival I have been involved with; the first two were held at the Hop Farm; a large complex near Paddock Wood that boasts one of the largest groups of oast houses anywhere. Until a couple of decades ago it was known as the Whitbread Hop Farm, and was where a large proportion of the company's hops were grown. Whitbread of course are no longer involved in brewing, and apart from a couple of "show fields", hops are no longer grown commercially at the farm. Staging large scale events, such as the War & Peace Show, or hosting big names from the world of show-biz such as Elton John and Bob Dylan, is what the Hop Farm is about these days, but despite its obvious connections with the brewing industry, somehow as a venue for a beer festival it didn't quite work out. (I could have told the organisers that, having been involved with two failed CAMRA Festivals there back in the early years of the new century, but that's a different story!). Lots of beer ended up being poured down the drain, but as the beers are all supplied by SIBA members, and at their own expense, the losses probably weren't too high.
Last year the event, which is a chance for all SIBA members in the south east to show off their wares, moved to a marquee housed behind Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club; an excellent venue overlooking Tonbridge Sports Ground and, of prime importance, centrally located. This year's event built on what had been achieved the year before, and was much better publicised. What's more, entry was free and that seemed to make all the difference. By the time I arrived on the Saturday the place was really buzzing, and some of the beers had already run out. The organisers from both SIBA and the rugby club seemed pleased with the way things had gone, so hopefully we'll all be back there next year. Just so people know what they missed, there were over 100 beers on sale, from around 30 breweries. Several of these, including Flack Manor, Old Dairy, Redemption, Tonbridge and Wantsum are real newcomers on the scene, but it was good to be able to sample their beers.
Yesterday I spent the evening at another rugby club and another beer festival! This time it was the turn of Sevenoaks Rugby Club to host an event organised by Sevenoaks Lions. The Lions had hosted a similar event the previous year in the town's Stag Theatre, so it was quite a bold step for them to relocate from the town centre to a venue a bit further out.
The beer range was nowhere near as extensive as SIBA's, but did include a few old favourites such as Nethergate Augustinian and RCH Pitchfork and Old Slug Porter. There were also four beers from Whitstable brewery there, which was a bonus so far as I was concerned. The club-house was a superb venue for a beer festival, with views out across the playing fields to the wooded countryside beyond. A game of cricket was taking place and that, combined with a fine summer's evening, gave it that quintessentially English feel. The downside was there seemed to be a heck of a lot of beer left over. There had been a steady footfall throughout the early part of the evening, but it really needed a lot more people to have turned up and help drink the place dry.
I hope next year the organisers will return to the rugby club. I'm sure given more publicity, the event will be a great success.
That brings me onto the final festival of the trio, and the grand-daddy of them all. I am talking, of course, about the Great British Beer Festival which starts on Tuesday at Earl's Court. GBBF needs no introduction except to say it is a "must attend " event for all serious beer drinkers. I'll be there on at least one of the days, and hope to bump into a few familiar faces. See you there!