The night before I set off to Staveley, the home of Hawkshead Brewery, for their annual Spring Festival, someone said to me, “well, there’s not much on” in reference to the beer list. I feigned mock concern but secretly thought, “I doubt it”. The person making the remark is a fan of Hawkshead and the comment I think was not meant in a derisory way either, but if you travel to lots of standard UK beer fests as he does, it’s perhaps an easy mistake to make.
Personally speaking I’ve been to far too many beer festivals that claim to have 25-250 real ales, ciders and perry to tempt you to venture along, only to find a far too high proportion of them are the same old standards you’ve tried at festival after festival, or in your local, or in the supermarket. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it to a degree, festivals cost money, sponsored beer is sponsored beer and of course if that is what the local punters lap up (or what the festival beer list compiler prefers) that I’m afraid is that.
For me though, it’s one of the many reasons why Hawkshead have the format nailed, and in some ways I feel, shows they were early pioneers of the modern “craft” or mixed serving method festivals we are seeing more and more of as years go by. Back in July 2012, I spent two days at the Summer Festival and had a brilliant time, that was the first occasion I’d had the chance to try kegged beers outside of a specialist bar, so to do it at such an event alongside an exciting range of hand pulled cask was just quality.
At this years Spring Fest (or my first) what Hawkshead seemingly decided, was to choose breweries and allow them to showcase a good proportion of their range, rather than take the scattergun approach and take one individual beer from here, there and everywhere. To the untrained eye or for the festival traditionalist that may make the beer list look a little barren at first glance, but when you look at who those breweries were and what they had on offer, you couldn’t help but be happy. I won’t list beers but those breweries were:
Hawkshead (obviously), Magic Rock, Buxton, Ossett, Quantum, Roosters, Siren, Stringers, Thornbridge, Tickety Brew, Tiny Rebel, Weird Beard and Wild. As you can see, still a good mix of local brews and those from further afield.
It’s not just beer choices though that make the Hawkshead festivals so special, they have such a relaxed feel, a bit like taking a stroll around a big farmers country market with an amazing beverage bonus waiting in the wings, all served to absolute perfection. But, if the beer hasn’t got you hooked already, here are five more reasons why it is one of my favourite beer festival locations, and why you should put a few box X’s on your own calendars this coming July and more in 2015.
1. Freedom I love the openness, there is no entry fee to pay, or programme to buy, so if you want to just pop in for a couple of halves you can do, no problem. I can only liken it to De Molen’s Borefts in that respect on there a fee for a glass and programme is charged. A side product of having the space on your own premises I suppose, but it’s definitely a winner that not everyone could replicate.
2. Munchies Then of course you have the fabulous food, from the Beer Kitchen and various local suppliers, all complimenting the occasion well, Brodies Prime sausages being my particular favourite.
3. Location, Location, Location Although the brewery is nestled at the back of a small industrial estate, that estate is in a picturesque little village in the Lake District, the Lake District is beautiful, the air is clean and it JUST FEELS NICE
4. Four Legged Friends Whenever we go away for a beery trip, inevitably it means leaving the beloved pooch behind, adding to the organisational nightmare and journey times, besides that, she’s family, I miss having her around and she loves a good beer. This year we took her along, as did many many others and it was really enjoyable for us all. Maggie of course revelled in all the fuss and attention (Diva).
5. Folk Everyone is just so friendly, no doubt a by-product of all the above, relaxed, chilled having fun drinking good beer in fine company. As a city boy I reckon life in Cumbria would be tough, but whenever we are there, it always feels like I’m welcome and makes me want to sell up and move in.
In terms of my favourite beers, who cares really, I had a few that perhaps stood out, but more importantly none stood out for the wrong reasons, meaning either I made excellent choices, or perhaps they were made for me weeks ago without my knowledge..
Cheers to all at Hawkshead, to everyone who’s beer I supped and to those of you I supped them with. See you next time