A good few weeks back, we were intending to go to Manchester Beer week. I don’t know why we didn’t? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that I’ve got it in my head that beer festivals should be entirely charitable, or promoted by non commercial organisations like CAMRA on a break even/any proceeds to the cause basis?
I might have opened a can of worms here, because there is a school of thought that CAMRA nationally is very much indeed a commercial organisation, paying handsome wages to those at St Albans. Having said that, CAMRA are no different to any other charity/3rd sector organisation, which is why, on principle, I only donate to RNLI, The Salvation Army and The Royal British Legion.
Anyway, instead I wandered down the road to The Pax Inn at Thorp Arch, near Wetherby. Somewhere I haven’t been in since I was involved with Thorp Arch cricket club over 6 years ago, even though it’s only twenty minute leisurely walk or a 5 minute bus ride away. Not for any particular reason neither, it’s just that, even in these rural parts, I would have to walk past six other vendors of real ale to get there. It certainly wasn’t a charity beer fest neither, but I went anyway, mainly because they had lots of beer on.
If you have never visited, then Thorp Arch and Boston Spa are two beautiful villages sat either side of an ancient bridge spanning The River Wharfe. There’s a few decent bars now, a couple of Sam’s pubs, some excellent restaurants, stunning riverside walks and lots of Georgian architecture.
Back to The Pax Inn. Five quid entry got you a glass and a free drink. At that point the cynical part of me thinks, I’ve just paid a fiver to stand in a pub that’s just put a few extra beers on and migrated into the car park?
I’d deliberately gone for the start at 4.00pm to have a good nosey round and the first person I spoke to after we’d paid was the landlord who was pulling through the lines. There had been an evening session the night before, and he was doing a bit of pre-opening quality control. I’ve never met him before, but Simon Rowley is a decent guy and we got chatting. At this stage Mrs C handed me my free drink token which said ‘one pint’ on it. Things are looking up and a quick calculation told me that £3.25 or £3.50 a pint for the stronger ones, plus the cost of a glass, is a pretty good deal. In fact when you looked around at what Simon had put on, it was clear the entry fee was barely covering his costs, if at all.
There is a moral to this story and a change in the Coldwell mind set coming on, but you need to read on to find out what.
It was clear Simon has a real passion for beer because when I cheekily asked him what he was having a beer fest for? He said, ‘I’m fed up of going to beer festivals serving gravity dispensed warm beer from mainly local breweries. So I decided to have my own and do it right.’
That sounded good to me and guess what, he’s pulled it off. Okay, among the thirty four, all hand pulled ales there were some Yorkshire brewers. But look who, Great Heck, Roosters. Real ales but with a progressive attitude, something that generally ran through the entire beer list, which you will see went through the country from top to bottom, East to West. He’d also used his regular staff on the bar, people who were used to pulling pints, through a sparkler, properly.
Being involved in running and volunteering at beer festivals myself, I was interested in the set up. Like, I couldn’t see any casks just a row of hand pulls? Simon invited me into the business side of the bar and I was mightily impressed. Powerful coolers using a water loop system through the casks which were horizontally racked on a gantry with the extra ones double decked over the bottom row. Simon told me the entire bar system had been hired. I thought the cost was reasonable as well, considering the whole set up gets erected and dismantled as part of the deal.
I stood at the bar listening to folk, until it got too busy, I reckon I might be a bit of a beer snob. I couldn’t believe, with the quality of what was on offer, a well to do gent, exclaiming that whatever he was drinking was okay, but he still thought that Doom bar was as good as it gets!
Another frequently heard cry was, ‘Oh, there’s too many to choose from.’ Followed by, ‘Have you got an IPA?’ All brewers, please note, call your beer IPA, it probably doesn’t matter whether it is or not, most people won’t know. They do know however that IPA is bang on trend and Oh don’t we all know that!
As well as the very well presented beers, there were a couple of keg lagers, wine, prosecco and if you got hungry, a mobile wood fire pizza oven with sensibly priced £5 – £6 pizzas. A whole hog was just getting started off in preparation for the Sunday session.
I remember thoroughly enjoying Leeds International Beer fest last year, and that wasn’t a charitable event, in fact, I bet someone trousered a right wad. Now everyone has to make a living and I don’t begrudge that. I had a good laugh anyway, and I got to sample some really good beer from all over. Beers that I might not see all that often in local bars and pubs. In fact, I can’t remember seeing Weirdbeard on anywhere near here, anytime recently and even then, not very often.
So, perhaps I got off on the wrong track. Maybe, I’m not getting ripped off at commercially organised festivals. Maybe, I should have gone to Manchester Beer week and sampled some of the excellent beers, brewers and other products that their event was showcasing. Why should I though, when I could just walk a mile and a half down the road and sample some of the well kept, quality real ales from across the UK that Simon had showcased for us. Maybe, these ‘commercial’ beer festivals are actually doing us a public service by showing us what we’re missing? Giving us an opportunity to try something new, something different, breaking the mould even?
The Pax is well worth a visit, look at the website for the beers they have on, they also have a reputation for good food. A day trip on the Harrogate and District 770/1 from Leeds or Harrogate, could combine sightseeing with a visit to The Pax Inn, Stew and Oyster, either or both of the Sam’s pubs in the village. Although I’ve heard they are taking OBB out of the Admiral Hawke, a trend seemingly common across the Sam’s estate at the minute? There is also real ale on at fifty50 and Sir Duke’s, of Wetherby, are opening a new bar in what was Aprés. Oh, and a rumour, just a rumour mind, that Timmy Taylor’s are sniffing round the long closed, almost derelict Crown (now an ACV, courtesy of local villagers). The only apparent problem being that Tesco’s are litigating against Enterprise for not selling it to them? Please, please let it be Timmy Taylor’s.
I went for a natter with Simon a few weeks later. He’s now well on with opening a brewery on site. No massive aspirations, just a few quality Firkins a week for the pub. He’s got all the kit and is currently starting some trial brews, with an expectation to be fully on line around Christmas 2016 and I can’t wait.
In terms of the beer festival, he thought it was a real success, despite having lost a little financially. He’s having another one next year though, at which I will definitely be doing all three sessions. With the sort of quality and variety on offer it would be rude not to.
N.B. Date of beer festival was 19th June 2016.