a celebration of choice and quality
For details of Beer Festivals in your area, scroll down or follow the links on the left....
The Campaign for Real Ale has always been
at the forefront in organising beer festivals.
These must not be confused with the popular
mental image of Bavarian binges with excesses of oompah bands, sheeps
knuckles and buckets of lager.
Instead, they are a celebration of the art
of British Brewers.
The beer is not free; CAMRA has to buy it from brewers and wholesalers, and we sell it at local pub prices. The staff you see are not brewery employees either; they are all volunteers; ordinary folk like you and me, who care enough about their heritage to join CAMRA. They will be keen and knowledgeable, however, and will be happy to recommend examples of the styles you choose.
The atmosphere at a CAMRA Festival is invariably good-humoured and relaxed; ideal for a civilised sampling session for you and your friends.
One of the great advantages of CAMRA membership is that you can get into our Festivals, either free or at a reduced price. Better still, if you volunteer to help out for a few hours (no experience necessary), then you will find that your beer is free or at a reduced price. This is a good way to meet people, make new friends and have a good time.
Follow this link for a useful review of of some of the local Beer Festivals held last year.
Chatting at work about our weekends, I mentioned that I had been to a Beer Festival. Quite apart from the raised eyebrows that this usually evokes, one colleague commented, in a wondering tone, ĎYou really actually like beer, donít you?í Talking further, it became obvious that most people had no idea what happened at a beer festival.
So, for those not in the know, here follow some of the questions I had to answer.
Do you sip, taste and then spit it out? You can if you want- although it is not polite to do this in public! It is not a wine tasting. We do actually drink the beer- after all, we have paid for a half or a pint. We do sometimes sniff before tasting, to savour the aroma, which, as with wine, can tell you a lot. We may also hold the beer up to the light, to check for colour and clarity- unless itís a wheat beer, we donít like it cloudy!
How do you avoid getting a beer you donít like, and then being stuck with it? Many festival programmes come with tasting notes. You may be able to ask the staff behind the bar (many will be CAMRA members), and many will let you have a small taste, before you commit yourself to a proper measure (but they may not be obliging if you have too many tastes!) Bear in mind that the bar staff can be very busy and are unpaid volunteers.
What do you mean- types of beer? I only know Bitter and Guinness. Bitter comes in a variety of strengths, some with a low ABV are easy to drink and not too strong. Then there are the stronger, premium beers (sometimes called Best Bitters), Milds (light or dark in colour and i a range of strengths), Stouts (of which Guinness is the heavily advertised, but not the best, example) and Porters (dark, and often strong and sweet). Derived from our continental cousins, there are also refreshing Wheat Beers (often deliberately cloudy and sometimes spiced with cinnamon or orange) and fruit beers (peach, cherry, banana, raspberry; you name it). Try some of each until you know what you like.
ABV? Iíve seen that on handpump clips. Alcohol by volume- an indicator of the strength of the beer- 3.6% is lowish, 4.2% to 4.8% is average, above 5% strong- watch out for the 8% and above! You learn to pace yourself (or most people do).
OK, so what about me? Beer Festivals are for men, surely? Women donít like beer. Most festivals have real cider as well as beer, or a foreign bottled beer stall (with premium lager-style European beers or fruit beers). However, WOMEN DO LIKE BEER- and I should know. Wine, gin etc are not thirst quenching, lemonade and coke (and alco-pops) are too sweet and fizzy. Beer is refreshing. Try a dark mild (eg Black Cat), or, if you are used to lager, a light, pale bitter or a real lager (eg Schiehallion).
Anything else? Most festivals have food available- sometimes hot, and usually cheese and bread or similar as well. Some have better food than others, just as pubs do. Many have live music at some sessions. Venues range from a tiny village hall, through marquees, large Victorian edifices, even Olympia (the Daddy of them all) or the vaults below a large cathedral.
Where do I start? See our listing above for details
of Beer Festivals in your area. They all have a different character, often
changing from session to session. Macclesfield, for example on Friday
or Saturday night is like a big party; crowded and noisy, with live music,
while Saturday lunchtime is quieter, traditional and free to get in!
Next time you are out with friends, ask the bar staff or one of your companions for a taste of the real ale. You have nothing to lose but your innocence.
Wherever you go, try it and enjoy the experience. Real Ale does not all taste the same. You may find yourself in time remembering distinctive tastes or names and acquiring your own personal favourites.
It is about trying different beers- as many
as you like- in a friendly atmosphere- with music in the evenings, or,
should you prefer, at a quieter lunchtime session. Different beers? Beer
comes in all colours and tastes, from the stronger dark ales through to
the lighter flowery golden beers- and the only way to find out which sort
you like is to try a variety of types. I love a cup of tea- but I can't
stand Earl Grey- so don't assume that all beer tastes the same- it doesn't.
This is an independent site full of all sorts of useful stuff, including a pretty good listing of upcoming beer festivals.