Walking out of the city centre to where I thought the festival should be I started to get a bit worried. I’d pinged the postcode to my mobile so I must be going the right way, mustn’t I? I saw a gent walking in front of me, definitely a beer ticker, so I’m going the right way. I turned left down what looked like a dead end street, just off Denby Dale Road, but the other guy carried straight on. Time to check my bearings again. As I stood peering at the phone, cack handedly turning it, so my compass and it’s own were pointing the same way, I heard someone shout, ‘Follow us mate, it’s down here.’ So I followed them through the entrance to an anonymous warehouse. I wouldn’t have done if it was dark. But, having said that, they seemed decent blokes, not scruffy, but not smart neither. The rucksacks gave them away. As I followed them through the metal gates, one of them turned and with a big grin, pointed at a banner fastened to the wall, Wakefield CAMRA Beer Festival .
Round the back of the warehouse I found a queue of around thirty people, even though it was only five past eleven on a Friday morning and they had only just opened the doors. Once inside I was greeted by ‘The bloke from Hull’, he gets everywhere. He gave me one of last years festival glasses for a refundable quid and told me to sign in as a CAMRA member. It was four quid for non CAMRA members which included a 2015 souvenir glass. The glasses were pretty decent, half pint tankard style, with a striking logo and lined for a third. The inside of the warehouse was the opposite of the exterior. Blue and white chiffon drapes covered the ceiling and cut glass chandeliers embellished the scene. A sort of Tardis effect but in the appearance dimension rather than the spatial. Once you are inside it’s a really good venue. Quite surprising and slightly impressive. I grabbed a chair at one of the many tables, resplendent with smart linen table cloths. It was a good job too because by noon you couldn’t get a seat for love nor money.
I’m not going to bang on about the beer, am I? There were 105 different cask ales, something like 20 real ciders and berries plus 33 bottles including Lambics and Oktoberfest beers. Stand out three for me were; Brass Castle Mosaic 4.3% (is this my favourite hop?), North Riding Neilsen Sauvin 4.3%, which was a late addition and not in the programme, I like the subtle pun on Stuart’s (brewer) surname, and lastly the sublime Holsworthy Green Goldings 4.3% which is brewed with freshly picked green hops. I think it must be the same ale that is badged as Green Hop ale on their web site, whatever it was delicious and don’t let anyone tell you I just like the powerful bombs of the ‘C’ hops. Prices varied from £1 a third to, I think, £1.30 for some of the stronger ones, it might have been £1.20? Either way, the prices were reasonable, I thought, obviously halves were pro rata, I stayed on thirds myself. Overall there was a terrific selection of beers, from local brewers, as well as from further afield.
One of the best bits about a CAMRA festival is the friendly people you meet. You know, people you’ve never seen before, who you end up chatting with as if you’ve known each other for years after less than five minutes of knowing them. I sat with a group of blokes who were having a Swansea University reunion, which they have held at Wakey beer fest for the last ten years. One of them said to me, what’s that all about, marzipan? The tasting notes for Granite Rock Brewery Bronscombe Vision 5.2% said, with lovely overtones of fresh marzipan. I went and got a third of the quite dark coloured bitter, tasted it, offered it to him, and I’ll not tell you everything he said but it went along the lines of, ‘It really does taste of marzipan!’
The other interesting beery fact was the presence of a couple of wooden casks on the racks. The casks had originated from The Junction Castleford who specialise in real ales drawn from wooden casks, sending their own casks out to be filled by locale brewers. I tried both of the beers with ‘The bloke from Hull’, who explained all about the pub, it’s history and the wooden cask experience. He’s writing a book about it, I reckon it will be worth a read when it comes out. Both beers from the wood were stouts; Five Towns Brewery Nowt 6.7% and Ossett Treacle Stout 5.0%. I enjoyed them, they were both excellent ales. There was definitely something of the wood about them, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Possibly, very, very subtle retsina notes on the Five Towns Brewery stout and both had a sort of ‘old fashioned’ feel to them in the mouth. It would have been nice to do a comparison of the same beers in a modern cask.
Anything I didn’t like? Some of the names of the beers. For a start, there were two Dirty Ruckers from different breweries! Come on, it’s all a bit twee, you can do better than that folks. If anyone wants any help or advice with beer naming then get in touch, please. The other thing was the lack of under 45’s. Yeah, I know it was a Friday and a lot of people are at work and the staff were already bracing themselves for a hectic ‘ticket only’ evening session, it just worries me about the fragmenting factions of beer lovers, which unfortunately has a very age related distinction at the minute.
Oh, and I forgot to give back the glass I hired, sorry folks. I’ll bring it back next year for you.