I wouldn't normally write about beer festivals. But then again I wouldn't normally go.
I have a strange relationship with beer festivals but I don’t think I am alone in this. I had a grand baptism to them, as my first came when I was 19 and it just happened to be the National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester. This was when it was still held at the old co-operative building and was a huge event. I was a starry eyed youngster, still dipping my toe into the ale pool, but I held this event with such regale. Hundreds of beers, lots of merchandise stalls and a lot of people. I followed it by going to many across Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire that same year, and enjoying the merits of each one, big or small.
But as I aged my cynicism grew. Soon I was seeing the downside to them. My last NWAF came two years ago where I left early, annoyed that most of the beers I’d wanted to try had already been and gone. The problem is that the none 9-5 working CAMRA lot steamroll in on the Thursday night, drink the good beer dry and leave us hard working Saturday visitors to lap up the dregs nobody wanted. My last festival was the SIBA arranged Manchester festival late last summer, which was so poorly organised I decided to stop going to them all nationwide.
This is a long introduction into my thoughts on the MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) beer festival held last week. At first I wasn’t interested in going, but the promise of drinking amongst steam locomotives, and the realisation that I COULD go on the Thursday, led me to give it a try. And I’m grateful I did.
This festival was different. I had my reservations as soon as I realised entry was £5, which is absolutely outrageous, and that glass deposits were £3, again – well over the top. As I had to buy tokens as well, I was £18 down before I’d had a sip. But I relaxed as soon as I was greeted by a smiling – yes CAMRA, smiling! – young person on the desk, as opposed to the usual grunting 90-year-old volunteer. And we were amongst steam engines – all manner of machines and locomotives stood interspersed with the odd bar. It was much more enjoyable than the usual conservative club style hall these are usually held in. The volunteers were also a good mix of young and older and actually engaged you in conversation. Most festivals I’m practically ignored by ancient, bearded old men.
And I actually got to try the beers I wanted. Unbelievable. The “Outstanding – White” was a fine and well executed attempt at a wheat beer. The “Derwent – Derwent Blonde” was bland, instantly forgettable and nothing like a Weissbier as it claims. The “Barngates – Tenacious Ted” was a lovely, sessionable light bitter with a nice hoppy finish. Whilst “Bootleg – Chorlton Pale Ale” was very bitter on the nose and a little boring.
The best of the bunch were of little surprise. Quantum’s Chinook IPA was gorgeous and the Hardknott Code Black was on fine form, this being the first time I’d had it from cask. However, the winner for me was Marble’s collaboration with Emelisse – Earl Grey IPA. Though I search in vain for the Early Grey tea hiding in the aftertaste, it was still a fantastic, well balanced and hoppy IPA. One that will be sought after by many should they mass produce it.
Congratulations to CAMRA Trafford &Hulme for increasing my belief in the beer festival. My childhood met my adulthood as I stood gazing at old trains with a pint of real ale. This was a lovely evening, with a terrific atmosphere and great beer. Proof at last that they’re not all bad. Would I have said the same, however, had I gone on the Saturday? We’ll never know. Just consider the prices next year, yeah?