Amongst the green fields of the Peak District, there is no division of beer dispense methods or limitations to your measure.
I have to confess that I’ve never properly been camping. As the sort that needs to have a hot shower before I’ll even leave the house for a pint of milk, my need for home comforts makes it difficult. As such, I’ve never been to a music festival or slept in a tent anywhere beyond my back garden.
With this in mind, Peakender – the Thornbridge Brewery summer festival - has never been on my radar. Whilst this was the fourth year I saw promotional material for it from Thornbridge across social media, there was still no intention to attend. It wasn’t until a Meet the Brewer in April that my partner and I decided to give this unknown event a go. And so we attended Peakender ‘17
It was when we started to plan that I realised that I didn’t have a clue what Peakender actually entailed; I’d just instantly dismissed it as something I wasn’t going to attend. After all, Bakewell’s lack of train station makes it a rather frustrating place to get to. I think the image I’d had from its previous home by the iconic Thornbridge Hall was of some form of large village féte style event that Thornbridge sponsored; Morris dancers and Victoria Sponges with a little added Jaipur.
After discussing our aversion to camping for all of 13 seconds, we booked into a B&B that literally faced the Bakewell Showground that would become Peakender’s home for the first time this year. Usually home to events such as the Bakewell Show, it is incredibly central to the village and just over a mile from Thornbridge’s main brewery. From our base it was only a 5 minute walk, passed the campsite where tents were being pitched, passed the numerous food vendors and into the large beer tent.
Instantly we inhaled and smiled. Dressed in our finest farmer outfits, we were right at home amongst this close smell of hay and rural barns. The bar is an impressive size tent with a clear and large board; complete with clearly displayed prices. The staff are ample over our two days here and mostly in good spirits. Certain staff were so friendly we’d seek them out to be served by them. The seating both inside and out is predominantly made of hay bales – another nice touch – with plenty of wooden barrels to form tables.
We were to discover that the bar had actually opened earlier than advertised on this Friday. We arrived at 3pm not knowing what to expect, not knowing that beers weren’t supposed to start flowing until 5pm. But the set-up had been efficient enough to allow the bar to open; before the food stalls were ready and bands were due to play. So we stood in amongst the Peak District hills, supping pints of near-perfect Fyne Ales Jarl.
Not exactly knowing what to expect led to a feeling of contentment over our visit. Peakender isn’t a beer festival or a music festival; nor is it like being in the British Bake Off tent as I imagined (and the pictures suggest.) There is a charm to it that comes with its rural location, but mostly it’s filled with the same levity of any beer based social event.
The beer list won’t blow ardent snobs away, but there is plenty to go at. Obviously there is a large devotion to Thornbridge Brewery and anyone not expecting this is... foolish. Still, plenty of specials come on and off with Hawkshead’s Tiramisu Imperial Stout being the highlight of the weekend for me. Though at this kind of event, pints of Jarl are just as welcome. Some beers come and go off the bar in under 2 hours, showing the immense popularity of certain styles. Some of this isn’t helped though by the number of times I heard the phrase “I only drink beer in pints” uttered whilst that person ordered three Imperial Stouts.
Entertainment on the main stage is varied and sporadic. There is no swarming mosh pit here so acts come and go at a similar rate to the punters. Particular highlights for us were the very talented musician James Taplin on the Friday night and the terrific showman magician in Steve Faulkner on the Saturday. If you’ve chance, you should watch his video about performing at the festival.
Mostly the stage is there to make of it what you want. By all means stick a devil's horn up in front of the artists or just stay by the bar and tap your fingers rhythmically on the top whilst continuing your conversation.
We'd heard a few state that they had preferred the previous location but without a comparison we couldn't comment. We loved it at the Showground so we don't know if people were just finding the transition difficult or not. We also heard a couple of other minor complaints that were non-applicable to us; including one group that complained that the queues for food were too long at 11.30 at night which made their children go hungry. Personally we ate five hours earlier knowing the queues would be at their longest when the entertainment died but there you are.
Our Peakender weekend was always finishing on the Saturday evening due to Huddersfield Town's proud Premier League debut on the Sunday morning (no I haven't grown tired of talking about that yet.) The best compliment I can give the event is after nearly 32 hours around the Showground we were sad to be leaving.
Day tickets are available for those that don't want to camp or Bed and Breakfast. That will be the dilemma for us next year. What won't be is whether we go next year or not. It's the first festival on the list for 2018.
In the year when people grew tired of the country’s largest beer festival, a little Indy Man fatigue set in for some and others complained about the £50 100ml events being held elsewhere, a field in rural Derbyshire filled with great people (and doggos) felt just about perfect.