Beer Beauty’s Guide to Beer Festivals

bb-at-walsall-beer-festival

Beer festivals ROCK. The End. No, seriously they do. And this article is filled with some handy tips and hints you might need so that the next time you go to one, you a) get the best out of it, b) you get home in one piece and c) you’ve tried as many beers as your stomach and bladder could stand 😉

The last fest I went to was Stourbridge CAMRA’s at the lovely town hall just off the High Street. Roberto Ross and his trusty team invited me, and what made it even better is that two of my most favourite girl beer geek pals, Shea and Jane, made the effort to come up from London to spend the day with me.

Shea, me & Jane at Stourbridge Beer Festival - May 2011

 

For me, summer means a bomb ass time (i.e. good) at beer festivals, so if you’ve not been to one already, then pull your finger out and go find one to go to. Either get your butt to a CAMRA festival near you, there are loads up and down the country the whole year round, with anything between 6 and 700 beers on offer. But also keep your beady eye on your local pub or food festival cos one might pop up soon.

I’ve got a couple more lined up: next week it’s the Stafford Beer Festival with my pal and top reporter mate off the telly, Laura May. And then the week after that it’s the annual pilgrimage to London’s Earls Court for the GBBF – Britain’s biggest beer festival. My pals from Marston’s will be there, with 10 of their beers on their own bar. And they’ll be talking about the fask cask technology, deconstructing a wooden cask, plus real life version of their Hobgoblin beer character will be performing (the mind boggles)! The lovely team from Thornbridge will be there too. But there won’t be a Brewdog bar, as hotly anticipated. There’s much debate on whys and wherefores about them not being at the GBBF supplied on the web link above.

So beer festivals essentially are gatherings in big halls where you can have the best beer fun with your mates outside of a pub or pub garden! So grab a bunch of pals (beer-drinkers and non beer-drinkers (cos nine times out of ten there’s a cider and perry section there too), have a spot of lunch to line the stomach, then head off. But before you go, here are my top Beer Festival tips: 

 

 

Plan your arrival time & date in advance

Beer festivals usually run from a Thursday evening to a Sunday lunchtime. I say usually, they can start earlier or later but that just seems to be the norm.

The annual Nottingham CAMRA beer festival in October is mega-popular. It’s always teeming with hundreds and hundreds of people. It started on the Thursday. But last year we couldn’t get there until the Saturday lunchtime, only to find much of the beers that me, The Main Man & his bro wanted to try had run out. There’s only a finite amount of beers on site at any festival, so when it’s gone, it’s gone. (See ‘Have A Strategy’). It was a stark lesson of disappointment, I can tell you. And one I don’t ever want to repeat.

 

Have a strategy

Along with your beer glass, you get handed a programme with a full list of all the beers you can try in some sort of reasonable order so you can find them: numbered, by county/region, or in alpha order. If you’re REALLY up for it, most festivals will publish the full beer list on their website a few days beforehand.

I take 5 minutes to examine the list before I get started and pick off the beers I want to try. If a mate of yours has been raving on about a beer for ages and you want to see what all the fuss, make sure you’ve got the name of the beer and brewery which produces it. You might have read about beers you’ve not had and you’re curious. Again do the same.

I like to order the beers in strength, and work my way up from the lowest ABV on my list to the highest ABV. I figure if I’m going to spend 5 hours getting happy on beer I don’t want to crash and burn in the first half an hour after being punched in the face by a 10% Imperial Russian Stout 😉  (Although The Main Man would beg to differ)

You don't really want to end up stumbling home like this

 

Take it slow; don’t go in hard (unless you really want to!)

I love the GBBF, cos the glasses they give you are marked with both THIRD PINT and HALF PINT measures. Third pint measures for me are a licence to seek and destroy  – like a cruise missile, moving faster through my beer list one by one. And smaller measures give me the option to re-try something that’s surprised me, without succumbing to too much liquid volume.

Not every bf does thirds though. So a half pint is going to be smallest measure in most places. And I’ve found that although every server isn’t likely to everything about the beers they’re handing you (unlike most trained bar staff in a pub), what your servers are ready for is to be MORE THAN HAPPY to give you a little taste of a beer, so you can try before you buy. I love that!

 

Set yourself a challenge

Yes, there will ALWAYS be the beer you want to have to make you feel at home, your fave beer in the entire world. For me it’s Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, a wicked and luscious taste of the Black Country.

But then I want to try beers I never had before, or even ones that I’ve tried once, wasn’t sure about, or didn’t like for whatever reason, and then wanted to give (to quote our esteemed Prime Minister) a ‘second chance’.

 

Take cash

Few beer festivals will take your entry fee by credit or debit card. It very much depends on the venue though. There might be an ATM but be prepared for it being one of the ones that charge you a rotten two quid to take cash out. It’s most likely that stall holders won’t be geared up for taking card payments either, so save yourself the potential embarrassment and the bother, and fifty quid should see you right for an afternoon.

When you get there, your entry fee will entitle you to a beer glass and card(s) representing your beer tokens, which you exchange for the good stuff.  When you get served a drink, the server will mark off the cost of the beer and hand you back the card. Once those ‘tokens’ run out you head back wherever you first picked them up (or designated token stands) and buy a few more.

If you have any tokens left over by the time you’re ready to go home, most CAMRA festivals will have a charity box. Instead of claiming your unused 50p back, drop the card into the box to donate to a good cause! All the festivals will make it very clear which cause your lovely cash is going to.

 

How do you think this new Jimmy Choo bag might do down at a bf?

 

Take a bag (or rucksack? *%$£”%&)

There’s usually at least one book stall to tempt you into parting with your cash. Sometimes there are stands selling other cool stuff like crazy old beer mats (yes I have bought some), branded beer towels, CAMRA membership, t-shirts and loads of other beer paraphernalia. At some bf’s you can buy a container of beer to take home with you, so be smart and bring something you can carry all your joyful souvenirs home in.

 

Pack a pen


I like to scour the beer list to mark what I want and tick off what I’ve had. Yes, I’m a beer geek. But you know this already. The pen* will also be useful for scribbling down any phone numbers of people you chat up 😉

*See ‘MAKE YOUR OWN ENTERTAINMENT’

 

 

Make your own entertainment

There’s never a fat lot going on at bf’s, other than people standing around drinking, looking at barrels and nodding and chatting amongst themselves. The offerings seem to range no musical or fun interludes whatsoever to a few Morris dancers and an Um Pah Pah band, right the way through to full stages & PA systems set for a rock bands. Needless to say I’ve had to leave my innate love of Classical Music, Grime and Dubstep at the door of every beer festival. It’s alright.

To pass the time, especially if I’m rocking up to a bf with a bunch of girlfriends, some of whom are single (*) we play ‘Spot The Hot Guy**’ (Guys, I give you permission to ‘Spot The Cute Chick**’)

* See ‘PACK A PEN’
**obviously replace with whichever gender fits your persuasion

 

Wear comfy shoes

There usually is some seating around at bf’s, but much of it often gets nabbed quite quickly, so be prepared for a few hours on your feet nursing your beer. Girls, 4-inch heels ain’t gonna do your feet any favours. Be warned.

Oh, and Boys, it’s NOT the night for those Cuban heels you love to wear so much 😉

 

 

Don’t expect an extensive food choice

Crisps, peanuts and scratchings are a given. Beyond burgers, hotdogs or curry, you’re not likely to get much. Bearing in mind most beer festivals are local CAMRA office on tight budgets, food obviously IS a consideration, but of course it’s all about the beer. Go figure 😉

I love hawking my butt around as many bf’s as I can to compare who offers what in terms of nosh. Nottingham’s BF in the city’s castle and the GBBF at Earls Court have had the best offerings I’ve seen of any (Thai food at the GBBF, no less!)

 

AND FINALLY…

 

Simon Pegg! I met him on the London Underground once! Nice fella.

 

….Be resigned to failure

You’re not, repeat NOT, going to be able to drink all the beers at a beer festival, unless you go for the each and every day of said festival with the sole aim of systematically working your way through the entire beer list.

There are people who do that. I never met these people. If you are one of them, then please present yourself to The Priory clinic swiftly. Or give me your number and I’ll call you an ambulance 😉

 

So have you ever been to a beer festival? If so which one? Or are you planning your summer beer festival season out right now? Where will you be headed? All my tips are based on my experience of bf’s so I hope you go out there this summer and have a blast! And if you see me at one, then come and say HELLO!!

4 Responses to Beer Beauty’s Guide to Beer Festivals

  1. Alexandra Armstrong says:

    Hi Marverine,

    good advice, I also take some food with me to festivals, just in case the choice is not good or non existant. It also helps soak up a bit of the beer and there is an incentive to eat it all to make room in my bag for all the beer goodies.

    As far as entertainment is concerned, my friends and I play the “How many beer related freebies can you acquire”. We also designed and made a Beer version of Top Trumps which usually causes a bit of interest from other people when we start playing!

    The next festival we are going to is in Bulkington in September (which is not too far from you, you should come along)

    Cheers

    Alex

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Packed lunch! Great idea to be on the safe side. Yes, the beer-related freebies is a good game, branded carrier bags are usually available, aren’t they? I need to see pics of your TOP TRUMPS cos that sounds wicked. PS Will you send me the Bulkington link/details? xxxxxxx

  2. Perdita says:

    I totally agree with all of these! I would also add, if going with vegetarians, check what food there is (I’m not veggie but both my beer-fest-partners are) as the CAMRA catering can be ‘meat in a roll’ focussed.

    We sometimes play games with words (e.g. a beer for every letter in a name, or beers with animals in) – lots of fun but best if you are on the 1/3rd pints of course!

    When looking for beer festivals, with other ladies, one with a good cider selection is good too! As most circles of female friends have fruit-based-drink drinkers and they can enjoy tasting too then.

    • BEER BEAUTY says:

      Perdita, these are perfect tips. You’re right about cider cos I was at a beer fest on Friday night with 2 bf virgins (!), one of whom is a wine and cider drinker so I tempted her with a couple of beers but she also tasted some terrific ciders and English wines. I love the sound of playing games – another one to add to my cheeky ‘Spot The Hot Guy/Chick’ game! Thanks for sharing them xxxxxxxx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *