The strap line atop the Beer List and tasting notes strewn around the venue summed up the event quite nicely;
Welcome to Harrogate’s very first ‘celebration of women and beer’. Thank you for being here. We hope to make this an annual event, so all feedback is welcome. Enjoy!
So that’s it then. No need for any further details. Blog over. Enjoy the photos;
You didn’t think I was going to leave it at that did you?
For a start, I promised to mention Rachel Auty, who came up with the idea of WOTFest and along with Andrew Cameron was the driving force, plus Richard and Danni from the Little Ale House (more of them later).
Although the festival ran over three days, I didn’t manage to get over until the final Sunday afternoon. Sat chatting, in the small, but pleasant, drinking yard of the Little Ale House, Rachel told me things had been hectic all day Saturday and it was nice to be able to sit back and have a bit of a chilled out Sunday afternoon.
The whole ethos of the festival was to champion ‘women in beer’ so for the entire three days all the beers on at the Harrogate micropub were from breweries run by, or brewed by women brewsters; seventeen cask ales, plus five keg beers. There were some well known names on the list too, and a few that might be more unfamiliar to some. Dancing Duck was a new one on me? You’ll have to wait a bit before I tell you about this Derby brewery; both casks had sold out by the time I got there!
Even Melissa Cole, London based female doyen of all things beer, had made the trip. Her tasting talks were the highlight of the Saturday session; an hours talk, a bit of food pairing and six thirds of beer for twenty quid. That doesn’t sound bad value to me. I know some would turn their noses up and say that’s only two pints for twenty sobs! Personally, I take the view that it’s not just the beer you’re paying for and it’s worth it to have someone of this calibre venture so far North to give added value to the event. Apparently the talks were very popular, well received and nearly all of them ran well over the allotted time owing to the sheer enthusiasm of the erudite speaker.
I thought the beers Melissa chose were quite interesting, for several reasons; Firstly I was present at the birth of Nomadic Beers Itza (and can confirm it was entirely brewed by ladies). Secondly, I know Sue and Keith Brown, of Brown Cow Brewery, and her award winning mild is very good (Keith will always stress that it’s Sue who is the brewer and he’s merely a hired hand). Melissa’s full choice for the tasting and pairing was: Prospect – Silver Tally, Atom – Rare Earth, Brown Cow – Captain Oates, Nomadic – Itza, Atom – Phoebos & Deimos, Steam Machine – Turkish Delight. As well as the six chosen beers, twelve beers on the list had suggested food pairings, which was a nice idea and something that should be encouraged. Anyway, if you didn’t want to pay for one of the three tasting sessions, the rest of the event was free, just walk in off the street, have some beer and support the event!
Just to give an extra dimension and a bit of class, there was an exhibition of local artist, Frances Payne’s work all around the venue. The impressive, and delicately cut out, light boxes, down in the cellar had an almost magical, other worldly aura to them, which shattered when I saw the £800+ price tags; a privilege to view in a pubic space, but they won’t be coming home with me!
Rachel thought the weekend had been a resounding success; good beer, excellent guest speaker and tons of positive feedback. She told me that after printing, promotion and sundry costs her and Andrew had probably lost a bit of money. That didn’t matter though as the ‘championing women in beer’ box had been firmly ticked. They were already looking to next year and WOTFest2018. Although the venue was small they would like to have some food available next year.
Rachel said she’d like to thank everyone who attended and supported the festival in any way, particularly Danni and Richard Park, the husband and wife team who own and run the Little Ale House, and bought and sourced the beers.
They opened their Harrogate micro pub twelve months to the day this will be published. Previously, they’d both had various highfaluting jobs in the city (London, not Leeds!) and they wanted to do something for themselves, something a bit different. Richard had always wanted an intimate cosy pub and when he saw the micropub trend emerge he saw an opportunity. I argued, I didn’t think it was a micro pub (we didn’t actually argue, both Richard and Danni are really, really nice people) and will continue to maintain that Little Ale House is more than a micropub and has the style and feel of a proper boozer. If pushed I’ll meet in the middle and coin the term ‘Micropub Plus’. Either way it’s a smashing little place, so much so it’s Harrogate CAMRA POTY 2017.
I guess the main concession to being a micropub is the cellar behind a glass door arrangement at the side of the bar where the beers for the five cask and four keg lines are racked and kept cool; they were also dispensing direct from the cask for WOTFest. Every time I’ve visited, all the beers I’ve tasted have been of the highest order. In terms of beer selection, Richard will only have beers from small or micro breweries in his pub and he only purchases direct, saying he has to know who made it and exactly where the beer comes from. No Lager. No Shandy. No spirits, barring Harrogate’s Mason’s Gin.
Looking forward, Rachel is keen to keep the WOTFest momentum going with some WOTFest socials, which sounds a good idea to me. I’m glad the event had been a success. I think promoting the idea of ‘women in beer’ can only be a good thing, not to people within the industry, I think most insiders realise women can brew ale as well as men. And run very good pubs and bars. And be involved in lots of complementary roles in the industry, like beer writing and promotion and logistics and everything really. I really hope that lots of casual drinkers popped in, discovered a brilliant event and are now down their local telling everyone, how good that ‘women’s beer’ festival was!