Beer Blog

York Beer Festival – The Big One on the Racecourse!

York Beer and Cider Festival is the largest beer festival in the North of England and I’m guessing, probably third biggest in the UK, behind GBBF and Peterborough, in terms of size with it’s 500+ beers.

I went along to the trade session on the Wednesday afternoon to have a look what it was all about. Well, I would have gone to the trade session but we sort of got stuck with the good people at York Brewery in their Tap House on Toft Green sampling their excellent beers for longer than we ought and we didn’t get there until after the one o’clock start.

 

Now just in case your reading and thinking about going on Saturday, there’s a special festival bus (number 198) that goes from the station every hour to the festival, and back. £2.50 each way or £4 return isn’t bad at all. Just think on, if there’s three or more of you then it only cost £6 one way in a very friendly taxi from York city centre.

Although the festival was mainly in a very large portable building, that’ll be a huge tent then, it’s location on the course enclosure of York Racecourse at Knavesmire, bang in front of the impressive grandstands, is second to none. In fact the only way it could be improved was to have the festival on at the same time as the races. Now that would be impressive, and pretty messy from what I’ve seen of a lot of ‘so called’ racegoers wending their way home in the past.

I’ve said this many times before, but it’s so true; you never get anyone carrying on at beer festivals, however many pints they’ve downed. And it’s the fantastic people who go that give beer festivals their unique feeling for me, whether they are everyday punters or those who are responsible for making it happen, be that organising, volunteering or actually producing the beer.

York festival didn’t disappoint, and for a change, I hardly wrote anything in my little note book. Okay, there was a fair bit of beer drunk and glasses passed around and murmurings like, ‘Nice’, ‘Oh thats from so and so’ and an occasional ‘I’m not that keen.’ But there wasn’t much in-depth analysis or groundbreaking discussion. In fact there was more chat about life in general than any serious commercial negotiation. The conversation focussing on social niceties, and some not so niceties, and generally having a laugh. I certainly bumped into loads of old friends that I hadn’t seen for a while.

I couldn’t stop laughing when I saw Stuart Neilsen’s tweet proclaiming the results of The Yorkshire Brewers Pouting Competition 2017. Stuart’s got a bit of a thing about pouting at the minute and his Twitter feed and FB page are littered with pouting poses of him with a load of random people.

Stuart's pouting pic

I didn’t think Roger Protz would be up for the pouting thing, but it was nice to see him signing copies of his new ‘IPA book’, and a few older titles, it doesn’t seem two minutes since his Historic Coaching Inns of The Great North Road book was published. Maybe it wasn’t that long ago. I asked him who would be doing the GBG next year. He just smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Not Me!’

 

The brewery bars were the principal attraction for most folk at the trade session. They were focussed on those brewery’s in the North Yorkshire area, quite right too, and they showcased the best of the Locale brewing scene, with outfits like Brass Castle, Brew York, Bad Co, Bad Seed, Great Heck, Rudgate and Turning Point.

A lot of the brewers, or at least well known brewery representatives were on the bars or amongst the throng. See how many you can name from the photos, I’ll buy the first person, or best attempt, to name and place, everyone featured in the photos a pint; answers in the comments section please.

 

As a starter for ten, you need to get 4 publicans, 2 beer writers, 10 brewers/ brewery owners/brewery employees, one master cooper, a beer tour operator, 2 prominent SPBW members and a well known CAMRA volunteer from Manchester. Random ones with extreme hairstyles, incidental volunteers, duplicates or the ones in the Tweet pic are not required.

York Beer Fest-8

Funniest bit was at the entrance when Neil Midgley discovered he was the only one of the four musketeers not to have any business cards, turning to me he asked, ‘Have you got a pen and paper I can borrow Rich?’

Second funniest bit was when, resplendent in his ‘The Junction Castleford – Beers From The Wood’ jumper, he asked for a particular beer. You should have seen his face when they told him it wasn’t available on cask but they had it in key keg. I didn’t have my camera out at the time, but here’s one of him when the tale was retold!

York Beer Fest-16

The organisers were holding back a number of  beers until Saturday, which is a good thing in two ways. Firstly it means those who are stuck at work get to sample some of the headline beers, and secondly it shows the festival are confident they will get plenty of folk through the doors on Saturday, one begets the other really.

The more progressive brewers had quite a few key keg beers on their bars, and there was a separate section of global and thirty two key keg beers available on a rotating basis, but clearly the focus was heavily on cask beers.

 

It was slightly disappointing to see that a lot of the casks, outside of the brewers bars, didn’t have any cooling. I’m sorry, a grotty damp towel just doesn’t cut it for me, even though the casks will get a decent natural chilling every night. I wasn’t taken with the polycarbonate glasses at first neither, they were quite thin though and if I’m going to be honest, I soon forgot they weren’t glass.

Best beer? Mmmm, like I say, I didn’t make any notes. Five Towns and Fernandes collaboration brew Man’goes into Fernandes was brilliant and stands head and shoulders above all other memories. Brew York Tonkoko stout was probably second (I bottled out with the Imperial version at 7.6% and really wished I’d tried it now). Another beer that hit the spot was Moor Beer Return of the Empire, an English IPA with Jester hops that got full marks.

It tended to be a day of darker beers for me and the Bad Co. Dazed and Confused taste test was an interesting one. Same stout, one barrel aged, the other not. You could instantly see the deeper tan coloured head on the Speyside version which was dryer, sharper, more complex than the un-aged version. I love to investigate the little nuances like this and it fascinates me to gauge the subtle differences barrel ageing gives to an already good beer, which won one of the Locale Beer awards that I forgot to write down!

York Beer Fest-6

If I had a magic wand to wave, I would ask for all prejudice in the world to be removed, particularly the petty prejudices around beer styles and dispense systems. Yeah, I’ll say it again, if it’s good beer then it’ll do for me. The Man’goes into Fernandes highlights just where we are. Wakefield isn’t the most trendy hepcat of places in the UK (it is however a very good place), but two local breweries are turning out a hazy, vegan friendly, cask 8.2% DIPA with Simcoe, Mosaic and Citra hops and huge dollops of Mango pulp. Similarly with a lot of the other brewers making what other people might term Craft Beers. I just think they’re excellent progressive brewers with good beers.

I couldn’t find fault with anything really, the toilets were excellent and numerous, and I think they’d catered for everyone, which is nice to see, we need to encourage as diverse a crowd of people as we can to events like this. There was a goodly selection of, just over one hundred, real ciders and even a quality line up of wine, plus as many different food stalls outside as you could wish for.

York Beer Fest-17

The biggest compliment I got all day was from a West Yorkshire Brewer who acted as beer broker for our little Clifford Beer Festival – ‘You’re the guys who wanted all those really expensive casks of hard to get hold of stuff aren’t you!’

The second one was from the guys from Kirbymoorside’s Turning Point Brewery who just loved my line, ‘Murdering Disco Classics’ regarding their Beertown2017 musical escapade. Just as at Beertown in the summer, their Disco King 5.1% American pale didn’t disappoint neither.

Just in case you’re thinking that all the beers were from Yorkshire brewers, I’ll put you straight and tell you they weren’t. There was a very well curated selection of beers from highly regarded brewers from across the UK, as well as the best of what Yorkshire has to offer. Personally, I thought that the beer selection here was better than GBBF2017.

In fact, I think whoever chose the beer here is properly in touch with the tastes and styles appealing to modern day drinkers, and the people at GBBF got a little bit stuck in the mud (although there were more unfiltered and unfined beers here than at GBBF!).

Anyway well done to whoever chose all the beers (Programme tells me it was Mr Alan Conner, cheers Sir!)

In terms of prices, all the beers varied and it was a cash bar, and I was enjoying myself so much I never took much gorm at what they were charging, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining.

All in all, a top day out with some brilliant people in a superb location at a very well organised beer festival with some very excellent beers. What’s not to like about it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 replies »

  1. You mention the process of choosing the beers for the festival. I get the impression you have done this for a smaller festival elsewhere. I’m curious how the selection process works? Do you typically choose by brewer and let them choose what they bring? Do you just choose types of displays like key keg? Or does it go all the way down to asking for very specific beers? I would think specific beers could be quite a challenge. Just curious.

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    • Hi Dave, For Clifford Beer Festival a small team of us choose the beers. We try and curate a selection of beers that will appeal to a wide variety of drinkers (as well as being what WE like and want to see) – Pale, Golden, Trad Bitters, Mild, Stouts, Porters and an odd speciality beer. You only need a couple of each of the last four styles, a broad audience tends to go for Pale/Golden and traditional Bitter. We choose exactly which beers we want and then use a brewer (or distributor) to supply them. We used Keith & Sue Brown at Brown Cow Brewery almost exclusively for several years until they started to cut back on what they are doing, we used Bingley Brewery last year and they were also very good.

      The problem comes trying to get hold of specific brews that may be in great demand, or logistical supply problems occur. In that case a beer may have to be substituted – a lot of small brewers brew their beers in rotation, or infrequently with speciality or premium beers. At CCBF we have around 30 cask beers and a few keykeg beers – we have used Brass Castle to supply the beers and dispense equipment for several years now and they are also very supportive. I hope this answers your questions? But, in essence you need to be choosing your own beers, and what is chosen is what sets some festivals out from others.

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      • Thanks for the detailed answer. I find that very interesting. Your post made me wonder more about how this works. Honestly, I would have assumed the selection process was more random based on brewer rotation. As always, great posts.

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