Leaving home for Manchester yesterday, I had to confess I did so with a hint of trepidation. Not beating around the bush, I’ve felt more than a little let down with some of the CAMRA led beer festivals I’ve attended recently, which is not a dig at CAMRA nor the fabulous volunteers that organise and run these events, it’s hard work and a thankless task at times I know. More a wish that the guys choosing the beers to serve would be a little more “adventurous”, rather than sticking with the same beverages once used to champion the fight against Watneys Red Barrel 😉
Anyway moving on, that uneasiness was not helped by a few comments I’d picked up about Wednesdays opening session which were less than complimentary for various reasons. But, I am very, very happy to say that those feelings proved most thoroughly unfounded on my experience, perhaps first night teething problems on Weds?
Getting to the venue was an absolute breeze, once we established the right Metro platform (which became obvious from those gathered there already), £3 return, ten minutes and bosh, direct link to the festival.
Wisely opting for a quiet afternoon session, there were no queues and with minimal fuss we are in and looking our first brewery bar. Jointly hosted by OffBeat, Blackjack, Ilkley, Bridestones and already I am spoiled for choice, but wasting little time I picked the tongue in cheekly named “Copyright Ingingement” from Blackjack to christen my stemmed half/third glass which gets another tick from me.
We wandered then down the stairs that lead under the track to the main beer hall. As you emerge, although you are in what is basically a bloody big sports hall, it is still an awesome sight as the velodrome opens out before you. The gracious sweeping curve of continuous pine is just stunning, a real first for me and worth the trip for that alone.
Watching Team GB training too was an absolute privilege, where else can you sample wonderful beers with such a spectacular backdrop. The speed at which these athletes storm around the track is at times dizzying, but never stops drawing the eye throughout the day, which could be very dangerous after too many samples..
As I explored the venue further the more I liked it, the main hall is well spread out, with lots of tables, although as usual folks set up camp and close ranks on those for the duration, however it doesn’t feel cramped and the bars are well manned making choice and purchase a breeze. To add to this there are bars spread all around the periphery of the trackside, adding to that feeling of space and with the added bonus of seating opportunities aplenty for those weary or wobbly beer legs. Great views from up there too.
Throwing a negative in here at this point, as you’d expect from a moaning old bugger like me, the food… I’m sorry but very poor, perhaps apart from the ploughman’s stall which at least looked appetising. The Mexican buffet, a row of six or seven tins on warming platters that looked like they had been there all day. A curry and pie area which reminded me of a school dinner hall, and the Teppanyaki sushi and noodle bar. The latter being our selection of choice for both meal and late afternoon snack, and perhaps where the poor description is slightly unfair. The food itself here was actually very nice, it just wasn’t hot which for a style of food preparation based on show cooking was really disappointing. As a tip for the organisers next time, assuming you have choice and are not forced by venue contracts, look at what IndyMan Beer Con do, surely in Manchester there are plenty of top quality food retailers who would do you proud and be glad of the opportunity to showcase their talents.
In true “kiss, slap, kiss” style, back to the beer, and where this event excelled, going some way to restore my faith and hope for future CAMRA beer festivals. What a really wide ranging interesting selection, it just seemed to cater for everyone. There is hope beyond the velodrome!
Yes there were the old faithful standards, some safer bets so to speak, but clearly a lot of folks enjoy them so fair do’s. But there were also a good proportion of newer breweries and some more adventurous brews too.
We were also treated to not one but TWO foreign beer bars ,with a huge, top quality range on draught and in bottle. Highly unlikely I know, but wouldn’t it be great to have another bar, selling the best of British keg at next years bash, to let folks make up their own minds on this most controversial of subjects? (hides behind the sofa)
I can honestly say, with hand firmly on heart, that I did not have a beer that I didn’t enjoy all day and came away with many more that I would loved to have tried if time had allowed. From memory, these were my choices….
Blackjack – Copyright Ingingement
Tiny Rebel – Dirty Stop Out 12 month BA Brett
Hawkshead – NZPA
Marble/Hawkshead – Beer Matts
Marble – 125 Barley Wine
Tapped Brew – Mojo
De 3 Horne – Kerselaere
NMBC – New World IPA Dry Hopped
NMBC – Monacus
Opat Kvasnicak – Coriander
Andechs – Dunkelweisse
Wild – Yankee Sandwich
Oersop/Oedipus – Flavoured Saison
Ramses – Den Dorstige Tijger
Well done to all involved in that selection process and to those who set up served them to the multitudes. There were also some top folks errr, ‘supervising” too..
A quality day out, a serious big thanks and well done to all involved. See you next year and I promise I won’t wear lycra..
“We all need another beer-oh
We don’t ever want to goooo home
All we want is to be back, at the Velodrome..”
Sorry…I’ll get me coat…