Category Archives: Beer Festivals

Peterborough Beer Festival 2014

PBF_37Peterborough Beer Festival kicked off again this week, so we prepared by perusing the list of around 400 beers, aiming to narrow them down to a few beers we particularly wanted to try. Living in Cambridgeshire and having previously lived in Norfolk and Suffolk, I thought I’d start with beers from East Anglian breweries, and before even looking at breweries from further afield, I already had a list as long as my arm, with more beers than time or tolerance would allow me to consume. It’s one of those ‘nice problems’ that football managers are so fond of, where the depth of quality leads to difficulty choosing which ones to start with.

Not only are there a growing number of microbreweries in East Anglia – following their debuts at the Cambridge Beer Festival this year, there are first appearances at the Peterborough Beer Festival for Norfolk’s Poppyland, and Cambridgeshire’s Calverley’s and Three Blind Mice breweries, along with a debut for TinShed from Kimbolton – the range and quality of beers in the region has probably never been better, with the more progressive local breweries helping to challenge traditional tastes in the Greene King heartland.

A fine example of this is Bexar County brewery from Peterborough, the nearest brewery to the festival. Papa Steve imperial stout was simply one of the best beers I had last year, while I’ve yet to taste a better Gose than the one Bexar County brought to last year’s beer fest. This year, along with more Papa Steve, beers included Smoked Ciruela Stout, carrying a wisp of smoked oats, a slightly vionous plummy edge, and at its heart a warm, roasty, full bodied stout, and ‘Biere de Garde’ a sweet, malty ale brewed in collaboration with Mile Tree brewery from Wisbech, who also had their own stand again this year. Bexar County’s beers are always amongst the first to sell out. Enough said.

We were also really impressed by the beers from Nene Valley of Oundle, Northamptonshire. The beers we tasted were a big improvement on ones we’d tried previously, the Fenland Farmhouse Saison and the well hopped Big Bang Theory in particular. It came as no surprise when their Bible Black was awarded overall Champion Beer of the Festival this year.

Amongst the friendly faces at the festival were DK and Cheko from Korea who were serving the beer they brewed with the help Brendan Moore at Iceni brewery. They told us they’d contacted several breweries in the UK in the hope they could come here and gain experience brewing the kind of real ales they couldn’t get at home. Brendon offered to host them and help with their OHDOL Beer project, however he apparently neglected to tell his wife who, in her surprise at the sudden appearance of the pair of Koreans, both of whom had completed mandatory military service in Korea, exclaimed “you didn’t tell me there were going to be two trained killers living with us!” – this then became the name of one of the beers they brewed, ‘Two Trained Killers’, which DK, Cheko and Brendan all agreed was their favourite of the four beers they collaborated on. This wasn’t available at the festival (a limited supply can be found at the brewery shop), but we did get to try the Korean Pale Ale, a very grainy beer with a pleasant hint of ginseng to liven it up.

DK and Cheko from the OHDOL beer project

DK and Cheko from the OHDOL beer project

As one of the bigger CAMRA festivals, Peterborough comes under pressure from the bean counters at HQ to turn a bigger profit so money can be ploughed back into campaigning funds, and as it’s a particularly expensive festival to host, a number of changes were made this year to make it more financially viable. As well as seeking sponsorship from local businesses, and working with reduced budgets, the organisers made a couple of changes which would have been noticeable to many of the festival’s customers. First was the tentative introduction of third-pint measures. To gauge more accurately the uptake, while avoiding the additional cost of glasses with third-pint lines, the volunteer staff were asked to first pour the beer into a third-pint glass, then decant that into the customer’s pint or half-pint glass. Perhaps demand had been underestimated, as only a short way into the festival both volunteers and customers alike seemed to be finding this a bit of a faff, so it’s likely that lined glasses will be considered for next year’s festival.

Another change this year was the decision not to serve tasters. The organisers perhaps thought that along with the introduction of third-pint measures, this would encourage people to take a punt on a small measure of beer they might previously have asked for a taster of, and thus provide another saving for the festival. I’ll admit to being disappointed when I read this in the festival programme published online prior to visiting. Personally, I tend to have a taster of a beer to confirm that it’s good enough for me to then buy a pint or at least a half-pint of it. I was concerned that by not offering tasters, this might discourage people from trying an unfamiliar or experimental beer and would work against the interests of smaller breweries as people chose instead to stick to ‘safe’ choices to mitigate against the risk of spending money on a beer that turned out to be ‘wrong’ for whatever reason. However, in practice it didn’t change my own buying habits much, although I ended up buying smaller measures more frequently, it amounted to about the same overall volume of beer. I always tend to try some new or experimental beers as well as some old favourites, and I wasn’t unduly concerned at spending a little more (most thirds seemed to be between £1.10 – £1.50) to do so. Only one of the beers I tried was a miss for me, and I reported the off flavours to the staff and received a replacement so that’s fair enough. Many people I chatted to were also bemused by the decision to stop offering tasters, but likewise admitted it hadn’t really affected their choices, and there appeared to be no impact on the popularity of the more experimental beers being served from the Singles Bar, or beers from less established breweries – indeed amongst the first beers to sell out was Funky Pigeon from local microbrewery Extreme Ales. That said, I’d still like to see tasters being offered again next year – one of the things I enjoy most about working at beer festivals is guiding someone to the ‘right’ beer for them, and this often involves a few tasters to get there – but from the conversations I had with organisers and staff, I’m reassured that the decision will be reviewed in light of customer feedback and beer sales.

Anyway, I maintain it’s the friendly atmosphere, as much as all the beer, that makes this festival such an enjoyable experience. The festival continues until 11pm on Saturday 23rd August.

Peterborough Beer Festival

Peterborough Beer Festival 2013

Peterborough Beer Festival runs until 11pm on Saturday 24th August, 2013. When it ends, the River Nene will swell with the beery tears of disconsolate drinkers.


More than anything, the people are what makes this festival such a special experience – it seems every time I headed towards a bar, I was greeted by the smiling faces of the volunteer staff, willing me on to taste the delights of another beer. And what beers! Here are my picks…

Bexar County Brewery

The brewery nearest to the festival – just over half a mile as the crow flies – Bexar County just happens to be brewing some of the finest, most exiting beers I’ve tasted this year. The rich, roasted Imperial Stout ‘Papa Steve’ might just be the best of them all, the lip-smacking Gose is a briny beaut of a brew, the hop-heavy ‘Anciona’ took silver in the Best Beer from a New Brewery category, and ‘Vaquero’ was one of the first to sell out. Grab them while you can – they don’t hang around long.

Bexar County Brewery

Salopian – Boomerang

The brewery whose Blackwater Rat Race was voted Overall Champion last year, returned with what proved to be this year’s Champion Strong Bitter. I was privileged to be a part of the judging panel, and although the beers were blind tasted, I later learned that this was the beer that’d had us all oohing and aahing like we were at a firework display. A burst of juicy tropical fruits, honey and piney resin – superb.

Redwell – Craft Pilsner

RedwellA ‘hand crafted English lager’, grassy and grainy, few drinks are as crisp and refreshing as this on a sunny afternoon.

Usually only available from keg, here it is available straight from the cask as a one-off festival special.


Peterborough Beer Festival returns next year from Tuesday 19th to Saturday 23rd August 2014

Green Man, Grantchester – May Beer Festival

From 3rd – 6th May the Green Man, Grantchester will be holding an Early May Bank Holiday Beer Festival and judging by the beer list and music line up, it looks like it could well be the best one yet.

Green Man Grantchester

Beers range from the sessionable 3.7% ABV Hawkshead Bitter on cask to the ‘hold on to your seats’ 11.6% Rogue Imperial Stout on keg, from the straw-coloured, citrusy George Wright Pipe Dream to the dark, chocolatey Allgates All Black. Local breweries are represented by Bexar County, Blackbar, Brewshed, Buntingford, Fellows, Moonshine, Tydd Steam and Oakham Green Devil, recently awarded Champion Cask Ale at the International Brewing Awards 2013.

Green Man Grantchester Beer Festival

There’ll be bands playing throughout the weekend, including a Friday evening gig by Split Whiskers, one of the finest blues bands I’ve seen – Johnny ‘Magic Boy’ Wright’s guitar playing is jaw-droppingly good.

Even getting to the Green Man is a pleasure, a mile long riverside footpath crossing the ‘lazy water meadow’ to the ‘lovely hamlet of Grantchester’

Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there

…and very good beer.


Next beer festivals at the Green Man:
May 3-6
July 19-21
August 23-27
September 27-29

Green Man. 59 High St, Grantchester, Cambridge CB3 9NF

Cambridge Octoberfest 2012

The 6th Cambridge Camra Octoberfest was held over Friday 12th and Saturday 13th October. Within an hour of opening on Friday evening it was packed with thirsty drinkers – the Saturday lunchtime session offered a more relaxed atmosphere.

German Beers

Eighteen German breweries were represented, including the ‘Big Six’ Munich breweries. Highlights included:

Andechs Doppelbock Dunkel 7.1% – Despite attending both days, I somehow missed this as it sold out very shortly after it was put on, but it’s a particularly fine beer from a Benedictine monastery that has brewed beer for centuries – I’ll console myself with the bottle of it I have in the cupboard.

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen 5.1% – A beer so full of smoked sausage flavours I have to remind myself that it’s “brewed according to the Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516″ and is vegan friendly. Nevertheless, it is a strangely appealing beer that would be well paired with hot dogs on Bonfire Night.

Fässla Zwergla 6% – A dark lager that wasn’t here last year, it was the best of the German beers I tried this year. Smooth, medium-bodied with a good malty bite of chocolate digestive biscuits, went down really easy for it’s strength.

The Trunk Dunkel 5.2% was a bit over carbonated for me with only faint bitter chocolate and metallic flavours emerging – okay.

British Beers

Amongst the British beers are several with German influences, including:

Blackbar Märzen – Brewed back in March especially for this Octoberfest, some of it made an appearance at the Cambridge Beer Festival in May. Since then the beer has developed even richer sweet, malty flavours. An interesting and enjoyable beer – I hope that come March another batch is brewed ready for next year’s Octoberfest.

Blackbar Märzen

Milton Schwarzwälderkirschesdunkelbier 5.5% – A Black Forest cherry dark beer? Tasted more like a fruity stout with some creeping sour cherry and bitter almond flavours in the finish. Very drinkable and the first beer to sell out.

Milestone Taeberry Bock 4.6% – Supposedly a German style bock beer although that wasn’t really evident in the taste. Plenty of fresh raspberry flavours from the tayberries though, nice enough.

Brewshed Cloudy Summer 4.3% – A really great wheat beer, some initial orange zest and pineapple flavours developing into strong banana flavours reminiscent of those banana mallows from a pick & mix.

There were around thirty other British beers available, including:

Hopshackle – Three beers from this consistently superb brewery. The strongest, 7% Double Momentum, was rich in sweet, resinous and fruity hops with hints of oak and all the flavours of a Battenburg cake, but pound for pound the Hoptane somehow packed the most punch, plenty of hop bitterness for a 3.8% golden ale.


Moonshine – Again, three from this local brewery. The 6.7% Chocolate Orange Stout was in great nick, not particularly strong orange flavours, but with a big bittersweet chocolate finish.

Red Brewery All Saints Ale 4% – a brewery that only started producing beer this year, about 23 miles from the beer fest, this was my first taste of their beer and it was impressive. Roasted and hoppy, good condition, a really quaffable beer and my beer of the festival this year.

Red Brewery All Saints Ale

Next up, the Cambridge Winter Ale Festival from Thursday 19th — Saturday 21st January 2012.

Letchworth Beer & Cider Festival

Letchworth Garden City might not seem the most obvious place to find a beer festival, a town that had a ban on alcohol licenses until 1960 and no pub in the town centre until 1974, but it’s been held for over 20 years.

Letchworth CAMRA Beer Fest

This year was the first in a new venue, the Green House, a glass-roofed indoor market, and it may be the last here if the proposed ‘redevelopment’ of the building goes ahead. We visited on a sunny Saturday, the glass roof giving it the feel of an outdoor beer fest, the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. Perfect conditions for drinking beer.

Letchworth Beer Fest

Good choice of beer too. I thought the Moor Revival was the best on the day, and the Buxton Axe Edge was great as always, but there were some beers new to me that I found particularly interesting – Windsor & Eton Kohinoor spiced with ‘jasmine petals, cardamom and coriander’ and Harknott Cool Fusion with way more than a ‘hint of sweet ginger’, a splash of lemon and plenty of spicy, peppery notes too, but with an earthy hop flavour coming through it all – lovely stuff.

Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out (‘Colour – Slag Heap’) had the best tasting notes:

Tiny Rebel

All this and only half an hour from Cambridge by train? Turns out Letchworth is a great place for a beer festival.

Letchworth CAMRA Beer Fest 2012

Peterborough Beer Festival 2012

Peterborough Beer Festival is back

PBF is Back

A beer festival of this size, one of the largest in the country, usually warrants some preparation; a beer list – an attempt to narrow down the choice of over 350 beers. But after the recent GBBF, where my beer list was swiftly abandoned in favour of more impulsive choices, I thought I’d keep preparation to a minimum – have an idea for the first beer and then just let the empty glass decide on which bar to settle. It turns out that an unfettered pint glass can develop a devilish taste in beer and like the Spanish Inquisition, its chief weapon is surprise. Surprise and fear – Baz’z 12% ABV ‘Bonce Blower’? At this hour? Are you sure?

First beers always go down fast so something light and refreshing was in order, especially at noon on a warm, humid day in August. Hopshackle Simmarillo proved to be a perfect choice – a 3.8% ABV golden beer which turned out to be my favourite of the fest and which I supped calmly at the bar. It would be several hours later, well into the evening session, that I returned for another of Hopshackle’s beers, by which time my composure had gone astray and my beer glass had assumed the character of Withnail, recklessly demanding more booze.

Golden beers and blue skies

PBF 2012

Spot the difference: (clockwise from top left) Magic Rock Curious, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, Oakham Carioca, Salopian Blackwater Rat Race

The afternoon sesison was a relaxed affair, for me at least – Beer Talk had a rather more fast-paced afternoon at the official Champion Beer Tasting Session, supping 22 beers in a blind taste test. Most beer festivals I’ve attended have had welcoming atmospheres, but PBF surpasses them all. I never got round to opening the newsaper, engaged instead in conversations with all manner of bartenders and beer drinkers. At each bar, you can feel the volunteers willing you on to taste another beer, and encouragement like that is hard to resist.

Nevertheless, I was committed to writing tasting notes for at least some of the beers:

Hopshackle – Simmarillo 3.8% ABV: A lovely flush of bubbles when swirled around in the glass, went down silky smooth with gentle flavours of citrus and malt, a lovely starter

Magic Rock – Curious 3.9%: Powerful citrus aroma, full taste of tropical fruit and lemon zest, impressive for a session strength beer

Oakham – Carioca 5.2%: Carries a familiar Oakham hoppiness, flavours of passion fruit, corn syrup and something I just couldn’t put my finger on

Hawkshead – Windermere Pale 3.5%: Easy drinking pale ale. How easy? As easy as Big Daddy beat other wrestlers, accompanied by the chant “easy, easy”. That easy.

Perhaps it was the elderflower in Thornbridge Craven Silk that wasn’t to my taste and though Hackney APA wasn’t a bad beer, I found it a bit lacking in US hops, but they were evident in my last beer of the afternoon session, the Blackjack Aces High IPA I quaffed quickly before time at the bar.

I drank a few of these beers in the company of Roger, whose retirement seemed to consist of driving his camper van to beer festivals and parking up nearby for the duration. After 5 full days at the GBBF in London, he was here for all 5 days of PBF, aiming to try “ten or eleven beers per session”. He always appeared to have two beers on the go at once, so I could well believe he met his target. He also told me in hushed tones that Nottingham CAMRA were planning to be the first to host a festival with over a thousand draught real ales. I found that a little harder to believe, but it seems this years Robin Hood beer fest will indeed attempt to set that record.

Come the evening session I was less committed to making tasting notes and by the end of the evening had reduced the strongest draught beer at the festival, Baz’s Bonce Blower, down to two words – treacle toffee.

Salopian Blackwater Rat Race 4%: Having just been judged the Champion Beer of PBF 2012, this seemed like a good beer to start the evening session with, and the tasting notes enticed with their description of the beer as “a field of hops, a breeze with hints of orange, citrus and lime”. I found the flavour to be more pineapple citrus, with a sweet, slightly sticky finish, but I can’t argue with it winning the blind taste test – a very enjoyable summer ale.

Then it poured down. Everyone moved quickly into the marquee and my beer glass abandoned the summer ales in favour of something darker to match the sky. Some of the darker, stronger beers were to be found at the ‘Singles Bar’, a selection of one off beers ‘found lurking in their cold stores… or unusual dark beers that no publican is brave enough to buy’ according to the programme.

Ever briefer notes followed:

Hopshackle – Restoration 10%: A Belgian strong ale that doesn’t hide the booze, warming as it goes down, hints of stewed fruits, banana and cloves.

Highland – Orkney Porter 9%: Overall, figgy, with some raw coffee beans and unadultered dark chocolate.

Baz’z Bonce Blower 12%: Treacle toffee

And that was that for the notes, and before long we left, casting long, late summer shadows and headed for the train home. Roger was somewhere nearby in his camper van, probably already tucked up in bed. That’s the way to do it – maybe next year…

More Peterborough Beer Festival 2012 coverage

Great British Beer Festival 2012

The Olympia is indeed a grand hall, the glass roof letting in tons of natural light – well, 85 tons of glass in 2,500 plates apparently. It felt welcoming and spacious over the two floors, at least on the opening afternoon we visited.

GBBF 2012 Olympia

It’s estimated over a quarter of a million pints would be consumed over the next few days, so we had to make an early start, roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

Deschutes Doc WatsonThe main draw for me had been the foreign beers, in particular Deschutes, a brewery from the USA whose beers I became very fond of during a trip around Oregon, so my first beer was their Doc Watson, a brew with a solid body of caramel malt nicely balanced with cascade hops.

I followed that with the dark delights of Left Hand Black Jack Porter, a sweet and smooth beer full of rich, roasted malt flavours.

But by the end of the day, some of the most enjoyable beers I’d tried had come from much closer to home. Superb beers from Allgates, Brimstage, Brodies, Gadds, George Wright and Kinver to mention a few…

Allgates, Brimstage, Gadds, Kinver

GK 5X… even Greene King, whose 5X made a limited appearance and seemed to reveal much richer sherry flavours than when tried earlier this year at Bury St Edmunds beer fest.

It was pleasing to see some of my favourite beers from East Anglia win awards – a bronze in the Mild category for Son of Sid Muckcart Mild with Green Jack taking gold in the bitter category and silver overall for Trawlerboys bitter.

It could have been easier to view the beers on the website beforehand, but no complaints from me about the range of breweries and beers – I enjoyed every beer I tried, tried many and still left wishing I could’ve tried more. Maybe that’s looking at it through beer-tinted spectacles, but I drank plenty of good beer, met plenty of good people and appreciate how much hard work goes on behind the scenes. Cheers!

Beer tinted spectacles

Even the antics of Skinner’s Betty Stogs and the accompanying racket of the marching band were tempered by some tuneful singing from the Cornish choir.

Betty Stogs

She’s a Cornich lass. You can just tell.

Finally it was time to leave and head for home.

“The pack on my back is aching,
The straps seem to cut me like a knife”

Clearly, the Stone Roses had also raided the fridges at Bières Sans Frontières.

Here’s a review of GBBF 2012 from Beer Talk