Like woollen hats which make the wearer look like they have an animal head, glasses without any glass in them and the plague of posters, cushions, mugs, cards with that ‘Keep Calm’ logo emblazoned upon them, beer festivals seem to be very much ‘in’ these days. However unlike all of that other nonsense, a beer festival is very much to my liking.
Skipton Beer Festival was first held in 2007 after the manager of the Town Hall decided the venue needed to stage more high profile events. Situated in the centre of Skipton, set back at the top of ‘UK High Street of the Year 2008’ the town hall is a decent central venue for this now annual shindig, organised by the Keighley and Craven branch of CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale). Despite a few gripes from some punters about the suitability and size of the venue (the beer and food is served in a small, often packed annex leaving the main hall free for people to stand, sit and drink), the festival is always good value and very well attended.
This year we are treated to a dizzying array of booze - a choice of 65 real ales in total, including a dedicated bar for Skipton based Copper Dragon Brewery, plus a choice of some bottled European beers and a selection of ciders, perries and British wines. Oh, and some soft drinks. And pie and peas. And bacon sandwiches.
So, armed with a notepad, a camera and my festival pint glass (with the now standard sheep based logo – the name Skipton is derived from the Old English for ‘Sheep Town’), I ventured forth to do some thorough investigative work.
The festival was officially opened by the town mayor, who seemed to have been enjoying the festival for a couple of hours when I arrived. Later in the evening the gentle hum of people chattering over their beers was broken by the crash of a pint pot hitting the wooden floor. Cue the inevitable cheers – which only grew louder and soon turned into laughter when it became apparent the glass dropper was the mayor himself – greasy palms?!
It’s fair to say this is a very friendly festival and has a very local feel to it – the evening raffle underlined this – almost like a school fete. The prizes were a trip for two around Copper Dragon Brewery, a meal for two at The Devonshire (the Wetherspoons in town, and not the Michelin Starred restaurant at Bolton Abbey with the same name), a Salamander Brewery t-shirt and a Trappist Monk ale glass. I didn’t win anything sadly.
So what about the booze then? Here’s what I tasted:
This pale brown beauty certainly was a dark horse and bolted from my glass pretty quickly
Bushy’s Brewery (Isle of Man) – ‘Ruby (1874) Mild’ 3.5% ABV
Described in the programme as a ‘classic full-bodied ruby mild’ this was a great way to start the festival. Nicely dark, but pleasant and not too heavy, I enjoyed this one very much. I would definitely buy this again if I spot it down the boozer.
Dark Horse Brewery (Hetton, North Yorkshire) – ‘Best Bitter’ 3.8% ABV
This brewery is located not far from Skipton, in a hay barn in Hetton. They distribute their beers to several local pubs and nationwide. This, their ‘Best Bitter’, is a lovely easy drinking session beer. This pale brown beauty certainly was a dark horse and bolted from my glass pretty quickly.
Exe Valley Brewery (Exeter, Devon) – ‘Darkest Devon’ 3.9% ABV
This was a lovely dark mild beer, with hints of smokiness, treacle and chocolate. It actually had a dark golden tint to it. Very pleasant drinking, but not the best dark beer I’ve ever tasted. Probably not worth the drive to Devon to find it again, but throw in a cream tea and I might just think about it.
Goose Eye Brewery (Keighley, West Yorkshire) – ‘Goose Eye Bitter’ 3.9% ABV
The brewery is based in Keighley but takes its name after the magnificently monikered village of Goose Eye. This beer was a treat. Despite only being 3.9%, it tasted much stronger and certainly tickled my taste buds, leaving me wanting more. Thankfully this is fairly local to me so I should be able to track it down again.
Hook Norton Brewery (Oxfordshire) – ‘Hooky Bitter’ 3.6% ABV
Hoppy and fruity, a decent session beer but nothing really stood out for me on this one. This was probably the most disappointing ale of the evening for me, but I’ll leave you to decide yourselves if you find it – it may taste better hand pulled rather than poured from the cask.
Houston Brewery (Renfrewshire, Scotland) – ‘Peter’s Well’ 4.2% ABV
This was an excellent, fresh and fruity ale, with as the programme says “the aroma of fresh cut grass”. In a word - delicious. I would definitely try this again. Very good indeed and highly recommended.
Kirkstall Brewery (Leeds, West Yorkshire) – ‘Three Swords’ 4.5% ABV
Beer has been brewed in Kirkstall since the Cistercian monks lived here at Kirkstall Abbey in the 12th Century. I think they’d have been rather proud of this offering – a very tasty, drinkable , fruity, citrusy beer and one of my favourites of the evening. Disappeared down the hatch very quickly and definitely a beer I could make a habit of drinking.
Moles Brewery (Melksham, Wiltshire) – ‘Mole Catcher’ 5.0% ABV
A delicious full bodied copper ale. Hints of spices, fairly hoppy and very pleasant. My initial thoughts were it smelt and tasted of the countryside – country air and ploughed fields. It would probably be a very good accompaniment to a massive ploughman’s platter. Excellent.
Phoenix Brewery (Heywood, Lancashire) – ‘Arizona’ 4.1% ABV
Despite being ‘over the border’ in Lancashire, I doth my flat cap and wave my ferret in appreciation of these fine brewers. This beer is exceptionally good. My initial thought was it smelt of hot cross buns – the mouth-watering citrus and cinnamon smell you get when they’re hot from the oven. A beautiful pale golden colour, light and refreshing, this ale was frankly superb and my favourite beer of the evening by a very long way.
Titanic Brewery (Burslem, Staffordshire) – ‘Titanic Mild’ 3.5% ABV
The Titanic was famously deemed to be ‘unsinkable’ however I’m pleased to report that this ale was quite the opposite. A nutty, dark beer with subtle hoppy hints, this was a pleasant experience and a good way to finish off a good evening.
You can follow Andy Long on Twitter for ale and food based mutterings, and anything else which he feels like banging on about: www.twitter.com/NutcaseOReilly
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