Sunday, 20 March 2016

Wetherspoon's Spring Festival 2016

It had almost escaped my attention that Wetherspoon’s annual Spring Beer Festival is already into its second week, with not so much as a whimper about it anywhere in the blogosphere. I haven’t seen any of my CAMRA chums for a few weeks, so I’ve not had any feedback from them, but when I spoke to my old drinking buddy and walking partner on the phone the other day, he was very dismissive of the event saying, "It’s full of  beers  with strange flavours or with twigs floating in them!"

Now my friend is a die hard real ale drinker; even though he’s not a CAMRA member, so I sort of expected a comment like that, but my curiosity got the better of me, and I looked at the festival website to see what is on offer this year.

Before discussing the list further, it’s worth pausing to reflect that there was a time when the Spoon’s festival really was an event to look forward to and to even get excited about, so what has gone wrong?  The short answer is probably nothing, although I suspect that many writers and beer lovers, and I include myself here, have become blasé or complacent even about an event which showcases 50 different beers.

I must admit I was starting to think along the same lines as my friend, that the brewers were just adding things like orange peel or cinnamon to some of their bog-standard beers, just to pass them off as something special for the festival. Being exposed to the goings on in the world of craft beer hasn’t helped discourage the cynic in me, especially when I read about barrel-aged beers, Saisons, Double Imperial IPA’s, Gose and, heaven forbid the oxymoron which is Black IPA!

I’m sure that some of these beer extremes have started to filter down into the real pub world of boring brown bitter and cooking lager, if not physically then at least in name, so I can’t see your average Wetherspoon's John Smiths Smooth drinker being particularly enamoured by what is on offer. Most CAMRA members I know are a little different, and certainly a lot more discerning; discerning enough to give the majority of the festival beers a closer inspection.

As I say, I’ve been out of the loop for a few weeks, but the chit-chat which would normally be taking place amongst our WhatsApp group, just hasn’t happened this time round. I suspect that certain key individuals have their heads down due to work commitments; I have had a very busy few months at work, and things don’t look like easing up any time soon, but surely everyone’s not in the same boat? Have other Bloggers run out of things to say about the Spoon’s festival? Is it just so old hat these days that no-one bothers?

Moving on to the festival itself; there are 50 beers available which include 11 medal-winning brews, from last years CAMRA Great British Beer Festival. As the website says, there is something to suit everyone, from best bitter to port stout, from wheat beer to cask lager. The company have also continued their practice of inviting a handful of overseas brewers over to brew a version of one of their own beers at a UK brewery.

The overseas beers have been sourced from brewers in Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, the Republic of Ireland and the USA. They all look interesting and I’ll certainly be looking out for the Dutch and Italian offerings. On the home front the Vienna Lager from Hawkshead, the limited edition, strong version of Trooper from Robinsons plus the seldom seen Revelation from Dark Star. In addition, amongst the GBBF winners is West Yorkshire-based Saltaire Brewery’s speciality stout Saltaire Triple Chocoholic; definitely a worthy winner in its class at last year’s festival.

All in all then a pretty good line up, and certainly not one to be sniffed at. I probably won’t be making a special trip down to my local Spoon’s, but I’ll definitely call in if I’m passing. You can get full details by clicking on the Wetherspoon’s website here.


Pastey said...

I stopped bothering with the 'Spoons festivals when they stopped being festivals.

They used to try and have lots of different beers on at the same time, they'd move tables and chairs and erect stillaging especially for it and you'd have a choice of twenty to fifty different beers at the same time.

Now you're just getting advance notice of what they're going to be serving over their normal handpumps. That's not a beer festival, it's a pub.

Curmudgeon said...

Top of the list is a limited edition cask version of Robinson's 6.6% Trooper 666. Now that is worth drinking!

I don't, to be honest, ever remember Spoons festivals involving anything more than serving a range of different beers through the usual pumps.

Paul Bailey said...

Pastey, no pub in existence could possibly run with the number of beers you suggest (20-50), and manage to serve them in tip-top condition. Like Mudge, I can’t ever remember Wetherspoon’s beer festivals offering that many beers at the same time, so I wonder if you might be confusing Spoon’s with the old Hogshead chain.

This Whitbread subsidiary did, if my memory serves me right, offer additional gravity dispensed beers as a feature of their festivals, but inevitably there were problems with quality, and I don’t think there were ever several dozen on sale at once.

I cannot see any other way, apart from what Spoon’s are already doing - and why would you want 50 beers on sale at once? It’s not as though you’re going to be able to try them all in one session, and with the current JDW model at least you know there will be different beers available every time you call in.

Pastey said...

I'm not mis-remembering, it was back in the mid to late 90s. In particular the Wetherspoons in Norwich and Leicester Square were the ones I attended.

As for keeping that number of beers in top condition, that depends on your cellar staff and your customers. It's harder for a pub to do it on an ongoing basis, but easier for a one-off event where you have plenty of planning and time.

I used to run the cellar at the Fat Cat in Ipswich where we regularly had 30 beers on in top condition, because we had the throughput, for a single event you don't have to worry about beers from the previous week, or what will need to be on the following week.

As for trying them all, I don't think it would be wise. But trying all the ones you want to without having to keep going back in the hope that they're on, I do think that's a better idea.

Paul Bailey said...

Thanks for the enlightening me Pastey, but I still prefer Wetherspoon’s current festival approach. I can understand pubs like the Fat Cat being able to stock that many beers, but even with the attraction of a beer festival, I can’t imagine the average Spoon’s being capable of keeping and serving that many beers. Not with all those John Smiths, Ruddles and Fosters drinkers around!

This does lead me to ask how much additional custom the festivals generate for the company.. It must be worthwhile for them, otherwise they wouldn’t bother, but our local Spoon’s never seems any busier when the festivals are on; either that or I am visiting at the wrong time.

Neville Grundy said...

One of our two Wetherspoons in Southport, the Willow Grove, has set up an additional separate bar for this festival.

Stono said...

IME (which must be nearly 19 years drinking there now ) the Cat generally only has around 20 beers on from the tap room at a time, for reference they had 15 on the board in total on Saturday and it certainly didnt feel like it was a half empty board, yes you can bulk the overall numbers up higher with beers from the cellar, but those are mostly lagers/cider.

so its not really comparable to a Wetherspoons IMO,who arent going to have a tap room or good lot of space for the setup, and any festival setup is going to be in the bar area, taking away tables and its those tables selling food which is where their main profit is thesedays

but yes they certainly have done it Ive been to one in Bury St Edmunds Wetherspoons that had all 50 on in one go a few years back, and Ive certainly read in their inhouse magazine theres always one pub mentioned that tries it,

though personally I dont think that setup works for them, they dont sell the volume of beer & when the beer is out in the bar area, cooling is non-existent,so its not in tip top condition to start with, and goes off alot quicker and you end up chucking away alot of beer, theres also the element the staff are generally only trained to serve beer one way so...

and yep pretty much all the Wetherspoons festivals Ive been to have involved multiple excursions chasing after particular beers never knowing quite what will be on, the most annoying one being when you see the pump clip and it just says "coming soon" or they start to pull a half and it runs out.

Ive been down twice to this current festival so far, feels no different to the others really, there hasnt been as much variation as Id expected between the casks on the two visits, but thats down to how the area manager orders the beer and how the pubs put it on I know there were some different beers mid week which I couldnt get down to and by the weekend they were back repeating most of the ones Id already tried, so certainly planning a third final visit as theres plenty of beers Id like to try still. The Marstons Eldorado has been the best so far.

Anonymous said...

I think you were right when you said we're blasé Paul. Most Wetherspoons have six to ten different beers on so having a few more doesn't seem a big deal. A lot more village pubs have proper festivals at least once a year than 15 years ago, our Punch local adds 15 to its usual Wherry and Adnams.

I'm sure I was more excited by the Spoons beers 10 or so years back as well, often having their tasters in thirds, but now I'd just prefer a pint of something reliable. The overseas brewers collaborations are generally worth a try though.

Paul Bailey said...

I can’t see many Wetherspoon’s going to the trouble of setting up extra stillage and/or bar space, especially if it impacts on seating and table space. There is also the quality problems associated with keeping casks at ambient bar temperature; as pointed out by Stono.

It may be a nuisance having to make multiple visits, especially if you are after a specific beer, but these days I’m quite happy to take pot luck, and just go with whatever is on at the time. I think we all have become rather blasé about Spoon’s festivals, Martin. There was a time when I would have been rushing down to my nearest JDW outlet; but no longer.

On the whole, I prefer village pub festivals; providing I can get there by public transport or by walking. There tends to be a better and proper festival atmosphere, especially if the event takes place over a holiday weekend. If I can combine my visit to one of these festivals with a nice country walk, with friends, then so much the better.

Anonymous said...

re: not all on at once: I recall the Torquay 'spoon had all 50 on stillage up the entrance walkway one visit about a decade ago.

There seem to be a lot of red beers on this time.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a simple way of reporting which beers are on at which spoons, so we could get down there for a favourite?

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