Tuesday 8 April 2008

What's so "Festive" about an airless dungeon?

In the past couple of years I've been to one or two British beer festivals that I thought were quite good - pleasant environment, a good mix of people and reliably good beer. The 2007 GBBF and Keswick Beer Festival spring to mind. I'm starting to think that beer festivals are improving.

All of a sudden, along comes a BF that shatters my fragile hope – Newcastle Beer Festival.

The location is the basement music venue in the university Students' Union building. The walls are painted matt black and the lighting is harsh chucking-out-time flourescent. The seemingly unventilated room is warm and clammy. An improvised bar dominates the centre of the room; apparently un-cooled casks lurk within.

My brother, two friends and I race in and pick some beers: hmm, so-so. Nothing blatantly "off" but nothing blatantly enjoyable either. All the beer temperatures are above the ideal and all the beers are lacking condition. Flavours are dull and lifeless - "brown". We put it down to luck of the draw. The second round is the same. As is the third. Rob says "sod this" and goes home. Round four provides John with an excellent Timothy Taylor's "Ram Tam". Round five is a write-off.

Dismayed by this dismal hit rate we head upstairs for a cider palate-cleanser, hopefully something gueuze-like. The man who serves us is wearing shabby carpet slippers, and some of the cider tastes something like that. Fortunately Mr Slippers is quite forthcoming with samples and we find some bracingly agreeable dry cider to finish the evening.

Although we didn't specifically see any "showcase for real ale" blurb on  this occasion, this kind of cant is usually attached to beer festivals. Presumably the desire to showcase "real ale" played a part in the motivation behind Newcastle BF like all other similar events. Sadly, it failed dismally in this presumed aim.

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