I guess it’s sods law? After being sat in the garden the day before, it’s raining on the day you decide to go somewhere. It got worse, just as the bus turned into Vicar Lane where I get off, and there’s only so many arcades and shopping centres you can walk through, I was drenched when I got to Leeds City Station.
Platform 11c was packed and everyone’s clambering to get on. I nipped in front of two old bewers as the doors opened. I shouldn’t have done, but they had very slow suitcases, the train said Blackpool on the front. I needn’t have done neither, there was hardly anyone on the train. For some reason they sat right in front of me and started shouting at each other about not much in particular. Presumably they thought they were engaged in quiet conversation? I turned the volume up on my i-Pod all the same.
Hebden Bridge is easily accessible from either side of the Pennines by a regular train service which rumbles along, through flashes of sunlight and glimpses of Yorkshire stone mills across a heavily wooded, steep sided valley as the railway weaves in, out, alongside and between river, canal and road.
Alighting the train was a ‘stepping out onto a film set’, experience. Hebden Bridge Station is straight out of a post war Hornby catalogue with it’s upside down garden fence style edging to the canopy, original signal box and waiting room with piano. Wonderful, even though it was still raining.
You enter the Town Hall through the late 19th century facade only to arrive in a very modern community centre with a nice café, courtyard and the Waterfront Hall event space. If there’s a better view from the window at a beer festival then I’ve yet to see it! Actually it’s not a window, it’s a set of bi-folding doors which open onto a balcony and ducks swimming on Hebden Beck, as it gently tumbles it’s way to the Calder.
As one of a small number of ‘off comed’ volunteers, I received a very warm welcome, a theme which continued throughout the day. Joint organiser John Hartley talked me through the beers which included five Woodies.
I was quite impressed with the beer list, which only had one alteration from the programme, it was quite progressive in a traditional sort of way. Okay, there were no key-keg beers. If I wanted them, I should have gone to Manchester, but I had committed to volunteering here before I got the offer of a ticket for the Friday day session at Indy Man and I don’t like letting people down.
Each of the forty seven beers had been directly ordered and supplied from the brewer, and no distributor was involved at any stage. Electric Bear from Bath had to send their Firkin of Spilt Milk stout up by courier, I’m glad they did, it was excellent, 4.5✮.
There was only one beer from each brewer, unless they had donated a cask, some of the local brewers kindly had and were represented with two casks; Elland, Eagles Crag, Slightly Foxed and Vocation.
A wide variety of glasses were available; pint glasses, half glasses, straight ones, handled glasses, you name it. All of them were surplus from previous years festivals and most were lined at third, half and pint. You could choose which glass you wanted so for those wanting a branded Calderdale & ‘Fax CAMRA glass from a few years ago you could have one for a quid, or you could get your deposit back. In these days of austerity it seemed a pretty good idea to me, and anyway why do we have to have a unique logo/glass for ever year, so long as everyone’s got one to sup out of who cares?
Stand out features? Quite a few actually. Bingley Lock Keeper, was in a wooden cask for the first time ever, 5✮. Brass Castle Bad Kitty also had a rare outing in the brewery’s only wooden cask, 5✮. Elland had supplied an eleven woodie of five months cask aged 1872 Porter 5✮+, seriously, the ageing creates greater complexity and certainly a greater degree of dryness to what is already a stunning beer. Half Moon Brewery’s Robustus Lunam (I think that’s Latin for Full Moon) was also in a woodie for the first time ever, 4.5✮.
I’m convinced about the extra dimension wooden casks can give to a beer, other real ale fans I spoke with weren’t so convinced – they need to have a word with themselves! More than a couple of punters I spoke to gave me the impression they thought it was a bit of a gimmick, something new just for the sake of it – FFS! Just shows how peoples minds work (or don’t work) doesn’t it. Thankfully the festival organisers thought it was a good idea and I applaud them for showcasing some very fine beers from the wood.
It wasn’t just dark beers in wooden casks neither. The Five Towns Peculier Blue was a very progressive hop forward IPA, all grapefruit and initially intensely bitter, which also benefitted from being in the wood 5✮. A beer that would have rapidly sold at Indy Man.
It was nice to see every brewery within Calderdale and Halifax CAMRA area represented. Halifax’s Stod Fold Brewery launched their Oktoberfest German style ale at the festival. Sightly Foxed produced a rare cask of Rhubarb Special, which smelled divine. On remarking this, another member of the bar team said, ‘Yes, but it tastes like cold tea!’ So I gave it a miss.
As well as the 1872 Porter, Elland Brewery had an official launch for their celebratory Gyle 3000, although the beer was superb, 5✮, it too would have been even better in a woodie! I was surprised how many erudite punters didn’t know what a Gyle* was? Here’s a photo of Elland Brewery Director’s Mike Hiscock and Steve Francis behind the bar, which is timely, because if you read on you’ll discover one of their beers was judged Supreme Champion of the festival
Hawkshead Brewery also had a new beer on, XPA, in fact it was so Extra Pale you could hardly see it, still very nice though, 4.5✮.
There was a very keen interest in the newer brewers; Eagles Crag from Todmorden, the valleys newest brewery, Donkey Stone Brewing Co. from Greenfield and Northern Whisper from Rawtenstall. I can’t type that without a chorus of, The Rawtenstall Annual Fair, Ta ra ra! But, having tasted their BBB* Blighty (which was OTB at the festival) a couple of weeks ago, I can tell you it’s superb.
Other beers I drank were Heavy Industry Brewing Co. Pigeon Toed Orange Peel, an unusual orangey tasting, obviously cloudy, Hefeweissen, another that would have flown out if it were on at IndyMan in a key-keg, 3✮. And I couldn’t not have at least a half of Vocation! Search & Rescue, 5✮, a limited edition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Calder Valley Mountain Rescue in 2016, who were the festivals charity and had a stall selling bottles, t-shirts and their own branded bits and pieces. Yes, believe it or not, at the top of the mossy valley are some very exposed moors and wilderness. I guess that’s why most of the houses are in the valley then?
The only thing that surprised me, given the attention to detail in the beer selection, was the lack of a professional cooling system, of any kind. I don’t include damp towels as a viable option. Having said that, the beer was spot on in terms of temperature (and overall quality), so what do I know?
I knew that Vocation Brewery had a tap house in Hebden Bridge and I’d passed a few pleasant looking ale houses as I’d walked from the station so I enquired of one of the organisers, regarding the town’s pubs? Thrusting a professionally printed pamphlet in my hand detailing the town’s fourteen pubs, bars and tap houses, along with a handy map, he knowledgeably marked my card. Nowhere is more than half a miles walk away and the town is a hot bed of real and craft ales, in traditional and modern premises, and I’ve arranged a return ‘day out’ with friends in a couple of weeks time
If you wanted food then the excellent café was in operation at very reasonable prices, or you could avail yourself of the wrist-band entry system and a short walk into town. I did hear there were one or two excellent butchers and bakers, and noticed some interesting and thickly filled tea cakes*.
The programme also deserves a mention, not often you get one you can take home and properly read. The prices were also competitive, the dearest session for non CAMRA members was £2! Beer prices went up with ABV, from £3 a pint to, from memory, £3.80 for a couple of the stronger more esoteric brews. Drinkers could chose thirds, halves or pints and paid via a token system, purchasing a card of tokens at £5 a time (no refunds, but you could donate unused tokens to the Mountain Rescue charity). There were also a couple of Ciders and Perries if that’s your tipple, I’m not sure I would have trailed out all this way for a range of five though?
Punters? They came in various types; older ones at opening time, younger ones towards the late afternoon, and there were two obvious sittings, those who had obviously been at work replacing those at leisure as the day wore on. They came in decent numbers too and the venue nearly reached capacity at a couple of times during the day.
There was a nice mix of Yorkies and Lankies, the Red Rose County being closer than many of the more urban parts of GOC. To be honest, it’s brilliant to see and hear the mix of wonderful accents in an area where the Red and White Rose cultures pleasantly come together. The festival contributed to this by having a, buy six halves get one free, Roses theme, with ribbons on the qualifying casks and hand pumps denoting the relevant county. The theme even continued into the towns pubs who featured ‘Roses’ beers in a complimentary ‘Best Beers of the 2 Roses’ competition over the festival period – Who says Beer Festivals are killing pubs?
All in all, a very good day. There’s no wonder they call it ‘The Friendly Festival’. If there’s a better small to medium sized festival going on anywhere then I’d be surprised. Definitely one to visit on the beer line up alone.
I’d like to thank the organising committee, especially Alan and John, for letting me work at their very excellent festival. In the words of the Governor (of California), ‘I will be back!’
If you are interested, the champion beers were as follows. Interestingly they had to create a new category of ‘Most popular beer of the festival’ to reflect the high number of customer votes, as opposed to points scored for Bad Kitty, although it did also come second in the Stout/Porter competition in it’s own right;
BITTER/MILD OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Rum & Raisin Dark Mild, North Riding Brewery
PALE ALE OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Pale Eagle, Eagles Crag Brewery
GOLDEN ALE OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Citra Star, Anarchy Brew Company
STOUT/PORTER OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
1872 Porter, Elland Brewery
SPECIALITY ALE OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Summer Schöps, Eyes Brewing
THE EDWARD LEE SUPREME CHAMPION ALE OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
1 Elland Brewery, 1872 Porter– Supreme Champion – Gold
2 Rum & Raisin Dark Mild, North Riding Brewery – Silver
3 Pale Eagle, Eagles Crag Brewery – Bronze
MOST POPULAR BEER OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Bad Kitty, Brass Castle Brewery
PERRY/CIDER OF THE FESTIVAL 2017
Winnals Longdon Perry, Newton Court
Gyle – The whole of the beer produced from one brewing. In layperson’s terms ‘a batch’ or ‘a brew’.
BBB – Boring Brown Bitter.
Tea cake – You can call it a Bread cake, Barm, Bap, Bun, Cob, Roll or whatever. I call it a tea cake. N.B. there is an obvious difference between plain tea cakes and currant or fruit tea cakes.