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Another Beer Festival: A tale of Two Brothers

Last week I told of how in the Friday I went to Indy Man Beer Con and loved every second. In nine years of beer festival involvement it was easily the best I’d ever attended. What I didn’t mention was that on the following day I got up, hangover intact, to go to Huddersfield Oktoberfest Beer Festival, an annual event that, for various reasons, I’d never attended. I wasn’t there to compare and contrast, knowing this would be a different form of festival, but I was excited nonetheless. I was attending with, amongst others, my Uncle who became the somewhat controversial focus of a post regarding a certain organisation last month.

So how was it? Answer: a crushing return to reality.

I’ll focus on the positives first. This was a well organised, well thought out festival. The venue was practical and roomy. The beer selection was nicely varied, retained a local feel (but in the Yorkshire area that still provides great variety,) and was appropriately extensive. The keg/bottled beer stall, run by the Hand Drawn Monkey Shop, was terrific, especially as it had three German Oktoberfest beers on keg, remembering the theme of the festival. Also, I’m one of those geeks who enjoys routing through the pump-clip box, browsing the old books and memorabilia that are only available at stalls at these more traditional festivals. These aspects were all pleasing and so congratulations to the organisers for this.

Everything that was very wrong attributed to the prehistoric attitude of some of the volunteers.

The first instance happened as I ordered my very first beer of the day. The gentleman who was in front of me in the queue was querying which beer to order and asked the volunteer behind the bar for some advice about a particular one. The response: “Oh don’t ask me, all beer tastes the same to me.” Excuse me? All beer tastes the same? A volunteer at a beer festival, surrounded by people who have campaigned for forty years against this very attitude thinks all beer tastes the same? Mind-blowing. 

Then came the attitude to measurements. We all know that we are liberally treated to generous halves at beer festivals. On some occasions, I’ve ordered a half that is much nearer the pint line. It’s a luxury, not a requirement. However, it was so fastidious here, it couldn’t be ignored. The volunteers stopped the tap near the line, then let it drip slowly as they crouched down to make sure it was bang on the dot and not a sip over. I wouldn’t mind, but it’s the first big festival I’ve ever attended on a Saturday where I got to try everything I wanted. Nothing was running off even though it shut in only a few hours’ time. They were going to be left with 90 half-full barrels of ale. The time to be a little more forgiving had begun

My most jaw-dropping moment came with the ‘bingo card’ style token system. £5 tokens spread out across different coin sizes. Acceptable. Yet, at the end, my card only had 95 pence’s worth of tokens left. The drink I wanted was £1.00 for a third. Surely this is adequate, I think and I ask with a wry smile for my third to the volunteer saying, “I’ve only 95p left, I assume this will be fine.” He looks as though I’ve just told him I kidnap children and torch their bodies in his shed. “Well, I’ll have to give you a little less,” he says. And he does. He actually does. My beer is, what he conceives to be, 5p short of a full third. FIVE ENGLISH PENCE.

My uncle suffered the worst towards the end, with a complete non-explanation of arseiness. The deal at this festival was, if you try five different mild’s, and get a stamp for each one, you get a 6th mild free. He’s had five; he wants to finish on a sixth. He’s also got enough on his token for a half. “I’ll have a full pint of this mild please, using this token and my free half.” “No.” They said, “No, I can’t do that.” “Why not?” “I just can’t.” And they didn’t. He had to have just a half, though he could return for the second half later on. Incredible.

Yes, my uncle was most put out as a man who has volunteered before at several festivals. He told stories of his attitude at them, of the generous halves he dishes out, of the times he’s just struck 75p off a token when somebody’s ordered a full pint, of the extensive advice he’s been able to give those stuck for what to try. But not at this one.

This isn’t an attack on any organisation before people get the sand in their vaginas. This is the first time I’ve experienced attitudes like this at a festival, but then I’ve only been to more independent ones in the last three years. Perhaps they struggled for volunteers this year with so many in attendance in Manchester. It’s just a shame for the organisers of the Huddersfield festival that it fell the same weekend as Indy Man, so comparisons between the two are inevitable. Indy Man was, what the word’s definition once referenced, a festival. People were there to celebrate and enjoy. My time at Huddersfield did not reflect this. The beer was good, the ambience was shocking. A one off? I hope so. I’m not here to begin a crusade.

Needless to say I found much to disgruntle me from the experience. I’m constantly looking for any potential stereotypes of the older drinking generation to be dispelled and for us to all walk to the bar like a family from a John Lewis advert. Instead, I feel like taking these dinosaurs to the local home, coaxing them slowly into a restrained room and saying, ‘It’s for the best,’ repeatedly through guilt-ridden tears. I’m not on anybody’s side. I’m the friend of both the husband and wife who has to sit in the middle and give advice to both.  


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