Tuesday, 16 July 2013

SIBA South East Festival Overview

This year’s SIBA South East Regional Beer Festival, was probably the most successful  to date. Held over last weekend, from Friday to Sunday evening, and hosted by Tonbridge Juddians Rugby Club, the festival featured around 150 cask ales alongside a range of bottled beers, all brewed by SIBA members based in the south east region. This is a large area, stretching from Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the west, to Kent in the east, but also taking in Berkshire and London as well.

As I mentioned in a previous post, as well as giving the general public the opportunity of trying a wide range of beers, many of which they rarely see, there is also a serious side to the event. Prior to opening its doors last Friday evening, some intensive tasting and judging of different beers (eight styles for draught and six for bottled) took place, with awards for Bronze, Silver and Gold in each category. Those interested in the final results can see which breweries won what by clicking here, but the overall winner, ie. the beer judged to be the best from the winner of each category, was Hopspur, from Redemption Brewing Company based in North London.

By the time I’d made my way down to the festival on Friday evening, shortly after 9pm, this beer had already sold out. As is often the case at festivals, the strongest beer on sale, Chocolate Vanilla Stout from Canterbury Brewers – a 9.6% stunner, was also in danger of running out, and by the time I’d worked my way up to sampling it had indeed disappeared.

Apart from the obvious skill which had gone into brewing this beer, one other reason for its popularity may have been due to all beers being sold at the same price (£3.60 a pint). In such situations, those interested in oblivion rather than enjoyment will view such beers as “more bang for their buck” and so without any thought or reverence to the craft of the brewer concerned will go straight for the strongest beers on offer. On the other hand though, uniform pricing kept things simple for the bar staff, especially as a token system was in place, and for beer geeks, who really wanted to try this beer, it was available at a bargain price.

The majority of the staff were volunteers from Tonbridge Juddians (TJ’s). Each year the beers are all racked in a large marquee adjacent to the clubhouse; a convenient arrangement as the tent is hired for the club’s end of season ball, and then kept up for a further week to accommodate the beer festival. Last year though the unseasonably wet summer really put a spanner in the works, and the tent, together with the majority of the already racked beer, ended up under several feet of water and the event had to be cancelled,

There were no such concerns this year, and with wall to wall sunshine the weather was, if anything, a trifle too hot. Despite near record breaking temperatures, the cooling system employed on the beer ensured things in the main stayed cool, and the beer remained in good condition.  (It appears not everyone was satisfied though, as we did notice one gripe from a Twitter user claiming the beer was lacking in condition – something I would, by and large, strongly refute).

As well as Friday evening, I also put in appearances on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. Our local West Kent CAMRA branch had a small stand there, publicising our forthcoming festival with Spa Valley Railway in October and of course promoting CAMRA’s aims and achievements in general. I didn’t stay right until the end on Sunday, but imagine most of the beer would have run out. .

All in all it was a jolly good event and, as several of our members pointed out, we are extremely lucky to have an event of this magnitude, offering 150 different beers, right on our doorstep. Long may this continue, and here’s to next year’s festival!

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