Beer festivals are continuing to grow in popularity, with the increase in both the type and scope of such events showing no sign of abating. These days it’s not just pubs that are getting in on the act, but sports and social clubs, and even heritage railways, which are holding their own events.
The area covered by West Kent CAMRA has long played host to the SIBA South East Region Beer Festival, staged initially at the Hop Farm Country Park, near Paddock Wood, but since 2009 held at Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club. In addition, our local rail heritage group, the Spa Valley Railway, now have two very successful beer festivals under their belt, helped of course, by local CAMRA volunteers.
Not to be outdone, local association football team, Tonbridge Angels have run their own beer festival, for the past two years, which is held at their Longmead Stadium, in the north end of the town. I couldn’t make last years inaugural event, so was determined no to muss this year’s festival. Billed as Angelfest, beer and music festival, the event certainly seems to have caught the public’s imagination. I visited on Saturday evening, and when I arrived found the place packed.
Now I’m almost ashamed to say that despite having spent nearly 30 years living in the town, I had never visited Tonbridge Angel’s ground, and only had a vague inkling as to where it was. I say almost ashamed, because I’m no big fan of football, despite having shown an interest during my teenage years. To me, the “beautiful game” has been totally ruined by money, is dominated by expensive players bought in from abroad, and played by a bunch o over-paid prima-donnas, who are more interested in their lifestyles off the pitch than what they should be doing on it! In short, football is no longer the workingman’s game that it once was.
Leaving these consideration s aside, as none of them really apply to Tonbridge Angels who play in the Blue Square South League (whatever that is?), the organisers of Angelfest had pulled out all the stops to make the event a success, with nearly 50 cask ales, a selection of Belgian beer, (both draught as well as bottled), plus a succession of mainly local live music acts. As is usual at festivals, beers were served direct from the cask, although the draught Belgian beers were dispensed from a series of pressurised founts.
The beer selection was perhaps slightly unusual, consisting of a number of Essex breweries - Colchester, Crouch Vale and Shalfords, alongside Kent brewers - Gadds, Old Dairy, Rockin Robin, Tonbridge and Westerham. There were a couple from the North East, - Maxim and Northumberland (the latter, definitely not not my favourite), plus Moles from Wiltshire and Sambrooks from London. A mixed bag, so to speak, but something for everyone. By far and away my favourite beer was Yakima Gold from Crouch Vale, followed closely by Amarillo from the same company. Both beers are flavoured using American Amarillo hops.
What was really good about Angelfest, and what set it aside from many CAMRA festivals, was the preponderance of young people, many of whom were female. The ciders and Belgian beers obviously found favour with the latter group, but many of the girls seemed at least willing to try the odd glass of cask ale or two. There was also a healthy sprinkling of what could perhaps be described as Tonbridge’s “alternative society”, drawn possibly by the music, but hopefully by the beers as well.
The event was housed in a marquee, erected between the pitch and the club bar, with access to the latter for toilet facilities etc. Although I was there probably less than 3 hours, I thoroughly enjoyed myself as, it seems, the majority of punters did as well. Admission to the festival was free, but it was necessary to purchase a half-pint festival glass at £2, which was non-refundable. I haven’t come across any feedback yet as to how the event went, but judging by the number of attendees and the fact that one or two beers had run out by Saturday night, I imagine the organisers will have been pleased with how things went, and are probably already thinking about next year’s event.