This year I only went as a punter, not for any other reason than time and I only went as a punter on the quieter Wednesday opening day.
The biggest change this year was that the whole concourse surrounding the track was available. This had enable about half the bars to be placed on this level (the same level as the toilets and the enterance) and allow more room downstairs for people.
So in one fell swoop they solved a great many problems that were associated with the first festival. Plenty of seats in centre of the track, less of a walk to the toilet and then to get beer, less hurry in fact.
In doing this you often felt that you might lose a sense of atmosphere, that by halving the bars in the centre, you have the crowd size.
But looking at the photos on the event Twitter feed you can see that there is a fair old crowd still in the centre. Plus the walk around the concourse means you don’t have to be stuck at the sometimes upcomfortable temperatures in the centre of the track needed to appease those healthy heathens cycling around the facility.
Yep, they’ve started doing stemmed glasses.
CAMRA have clearly taken pointers from a lot of the smaller independent festivals and their popularity, not just in glassware but in general attitude.
It is hard to say that they’ve become more professional because, as stated in previous reviews (1) they are all volunteers and (2) they generally host things to a high standard most of the time.
This year there was an extra sheen to the festival, no small thanks in part to a very professionally run media aspect giving constant updates and reminders (see above twitter feed and the website).
The beer choice itself also seemed to have upped its game too, a greater emphasis rightly so put on the local brewers, which I sometimes feel is lost at other beer festivals, regardless of their location, but specifically Indy Man don’t often trumpet Manchester brewers often enough at their shindig, something that CAMRA do do and do well (Da Doo Ron Ron).
It seems that the 2014 festival was an abberation to that extent, which can’t not be unexpected (hmm, triple negative), the only thing to let this festival down (like those before it) was the food; acceptable stodge – but quantity over quality and choice.
So it is again thanks to all the volunteers, staff and organisers that made this possible.
Stupidly I didn’t take a pen along, so this is all done be recall and having said that there now follows a list of beers and brewers that I really did enjoy at the 2015 festival with limited notes but a hearty recommendation for all:
This was going to be part 2 of the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, but from the point of view of a volunteer.
However, I’ll get around to that, I figured in the meantime I’d weigh in (late as ever) with a shocking 2nd blog post in as many days, about the pros and cons of the place and the general reaction and where the future might hold. All in the glory of rhetorical questions and offering no solutions, except maybe buy more beer.
*No pictures, just prose.*
The Pros – which may have ended up turning into negatives.
1. The location of the Velodrome was a fantastic and original setting, which may well have drawn the merely curious out to see it, leading to the large numbers of people in attendance.
2. Transport links were good – well if you can ever use Metrolink and good transport in the same sentence. I just felt like I’d wasted £3 every time I’d got on.
3. 300+ beers and ciders – speaks for itself.
The Cons – which will effect different people to different extents.
1. The walk – but can’t do much about the building.
2. The seating – which is one for the future.
3. The beer running out – the worst one of the lot.
4. The sometimes wanton unprofessionalism of whoever was in charge of the @mancbeerfest twitter feed…
So whoever was responsible for this tweet:
@minutemat If you don’t like it, don’t come back. If you can find a better venue please advise – we spent four years looking.
No they are a bunch of volunteers (in the vast majority of cases) but these tweets belie what I think was generally at fault with the festival.
The Sheridan Suite had bus links, which were subsidised to £1 each way to get there and were an equivalent walk to the venue that the tram is to the National Cycling Centre for this year’s festival.
There were 4,000+ people who attended on the Friday alone.
The Saturday that I worked seemed as absolute bedlam as I imagined Friday’s session was.
Now I’ve no idea if this year’s was advertised more heavily than any other year.
Or if the venue is really that big of a drawn.
Or if the unfortunate timing of a Citeh FA cup game versus Watford compounded the beer running out.
Or if in the past year beer has become THAT more popular.
Maybe there is wisdom in the paraphrased adage “if you book it, they will come.”
Festival Saturdays are notoriously beer light times. But I still hold no truck with fucktards whining about “working” – what so you work harder than say the 8000 others who attended the other days, or who volunteered?
Jog on, you self-important bollock-head.
Problem is, if you move to a new venue, you are probably going to get fewer people turning up.
But of course it does depend on the venue. I mean, where were these 10,000 people in 2013 or 2012 and years before when it was the Winter Ales festival.
I wouldn’t discount the weather too – most times of a Winter Ales Festival its been snowing, this mild climate at the moment (not due to climate change of course, no need to look for other energy sources, lets just keep burning dinosaur matter till it runs out and we can then kill each other over every rain drop) may have led to the heavier foot-fall.
A benefit of the festival running out of beer was everyone skulking off elsewhere – to give much-needed business to local pubs and bars. I went over to the Microbar mini festival they had on and got talking to a proper City fan (one who has always gone to the matches. Not someone who ‘refound’ the team, or changed Manchester colours, or one of those 4 irksome American girls in their clawing sky-blue and white scarves I had the misfortune to serve on Saturday).
This very nice and very well-informed chap who spoke a massive amount of common sense about beer, brewing and pubs was trying to figure out why the (very excellent) Crown & Kettle was busy and was very happy to learn that this may have been the reason why getting his pie dinner and a pint was delayed, and offset by about 500 yards.
But where does this leave the festival in 2015 and beyond?
Have those people who just turned up to see the venue going to return a second time?
Are those not liking the seating/walking/stairs going to bother too?
More importantly are those who had to leave 3-4 hours earlier that the advertised 7pm finish and then told all their mates ever going to return?
Will Team GB even hire out the venue again?
Is CAMRA really putting profit before actual beer promotion?
Do you get in more beer if the foot-fall is possibly going to be lighter because of bad press?
I’m sure the higher up bods in CAMRA are debating this right now.
I volunteered at this festival and my thoughts on that will be in Part 2, which may also include more rants about people ranting about the festival.
So, as people have recounted, this would appear to be the replacement for the Winter Ales Festival which moved to Derby. Previous years had seen that event in the Co-Op Building (when they were putting their money into worthwhile things and not being completely foolish trying to be a bank that they never were going to be and thereby losing the ‘moral banking’ selling point in one fell swoop) and in the Sheridan Suite in The Venue on Oldham Road.
Reading the twitter feed (by person or persons clearly getting more narked and sadly less professional with each non-constructive criticism the festival received) this was 4 years in the planning and it was a huge and impressive undertaking.
So lets us get what would seem the well documented negatives our of the way first.
25 more than Richard Hannay had to deal with.
That was the distance down and then up from top-tier (near the food and importantly the toilets) to beers. That doesn’t include the walk round the place from the Metrolink (if that is how you arrived) and the distance from getting your glass to the top of the stairs.
I walk everywhere (when I’m not wasting my time waiting for delayed trains and trams) so this was never a problem for me, but I can see how the infirm and disabled would see this as a massive hurdle to overcome. I offer no solutions other than a temporary bridge – good luck getting that one passed by Team GB Cycling.
The temperature – this was apparently a problem for some, I’d raised it on twitter (science nerd alert), but I went on the Thursday and it seemed no warmed than how hot the Sheridan Suite used to get at its busiest. The beer was unaffected as far as I was concerned.
The running out of beer – I’ll talk about this in Part 2 – but sarcastic “some of us work” comments are no excuse for only getting there on a Saturday afternoon. Plan ahead you self-indulgent arses.
The lack of seating on the beer floor – this was resolved as best as could possibly be done after the first session on Wednesday. Though I think some would happily see a lot more seating by removing the shops (or placing them round the sides), but standing seldom bothers me either.
The amount of people – well, that is the price of success. 10,000+ people went to this thing over the 4 days.
Oddly, in spite of my misanthropic nature I was surprisingly relaxed about all this, once I had a beer in my hand
Writing of which…to the beer…300+ beers (and ciders), in a 52-page guide.
Entry prices varied throughout the festival depending on the session (£1-£3 roughly), discounts available and how late you could turn up thinking there would be a full selection of beer on a Saturday afternoon while Citeh were playing at home after a previous 3 full days.
Glasses were £2.50 (returnable deposit) dropped to £2 on the Saturday for ease of change more than anything.
The beers were available in 1/2s and pints (and also 1/3s which I entirely forgot about until my 4th half, I blame stress) and were priced, depending on volume ordered of course, anything up to £3 a pint for super strong beers – I didn’t make it over to the foreign beers or the bottles sections.
In alphabetical order…
Allgates Brewery was actually my first start drink too as it was the Sloe Stout at 7.1%. Now I’ve said that there other strong stout (Mad Monk, 7.2%) made me fall asleep and when you drink it you know you’re tasting something that is stronger than a regular drink, so you are warned. Sloe stout on the other hand is a more subtle affair. More soft and smooth than its bastard sibling, which it probably due to the Sloe berries themselves.
Bradfied Brewery had got a 4.9% Farmers Belgian Blue which was indeed bluey-purple in colour which came through in the head of the pint. Very fruity and with a lasting sweetness.
Brentwood Brewing provided a Chocwork Orange (6.5%) which tasted of neither orange nor chocolate, but this wasn’t a bad thing, you knew you were drinking an Old Ale and I like the taste of those, just I’d like to see how they would offset the other alleged flavours. Green Jack Brewery was next with an Orange Wheat Beer (4.2%), which was orangey, but not in the least bit like I’d expect a wheat beer to taste like. Fine for me, but another one that doesn’t do what it says on the pump clip.
Hopback Brewery had a 4.2% golden ale called Taiphoon in which you could really get the lemongrass flavourings – a nice session ale.
At about ten minutes to 1800 hours it was announced over a very poor PA system that there was going to be a Meet the Brewer session with the head of Hawkshead Brewery so ambling over to the brewery bar, I was stopped on numerous occasions by a lot of worried looking grey-haired men enquiring if “I want to meet a brewer?”, “did I have an interest in beer?” and “was I hear to meet the brewer?”
A small crowd of about 20 then watched as Alex Brodie took us through the finer points of hops (and a not so subtle dig at big brewing behemoths not realising the ground swell of young brewers and new micro breweries). Now I’ve sniffed many a bag of pungent smelling dried plant products in my time, but never surround by 1000 people. And so it came to pass that I ended up with very yellow hands as I crushed Goldings, Bramling Cross, Fuggles, Amarillo and Citra hops between my palms, dropping the husks in a bucket and inhaling the aromas.
I would post a picture of my yellow, 20-cigs-a-day-look-a-like hands but I don’t wish for the NSA and GCHQ to get my fingerprints. Suffice to say it was good fun and there were lots of these other sessions on around the festival, which was new to me at this event so this is a big positive.
Okells Ales had two beers I sampled; Jiarg (4.7%), which I’m sure I’ve had before but was a very good red ale and Aile which was an excellent smoked porter, which to me had a Stilton like taste. I love Stilton, so does one of my cats. I’m leaning to this being my favourite of the festival.
Red Willow Brewery had provided the Faithless XXX. A 5.0% stout with beetroot. Now sometime last March or so I tried the Faithless 26 or 27 (I can’t remember) which I think may have been the first attempt with beetroot. That was purple and earthy and full and I proclaimed (and still do) that it was in my Top Stouts of all time. Faithless XXX, while being a very good stout, was neither purpley nor earthy and hence a bit of a disappointment. But that shouldn’t be a negative, just how much I loved the original (?) version – add more beets next time please.
To break up my long prose, allow me to put in this rather topical picture, which in no way reflects my feeling towards the next brewery, but apparently, as of writing this, some of their (former) employees clearly don’t agree and I suppose you can understand – I just think its funny and also my favourite swear word…
365 days I’d waited for the next drink. Thwaites had won awards for this beer in 2013 and I was hopeful of getting it at last years do. It had sold out. Yet my twitter feed kept cropping up full of people who’d tried it. I searched. I searched in vain. I had to wait. I then had to worry because it wasn’t in the exact place I thought it would be on Bar 3 this year, but there it was Fallen Nun all 7.4% of it and boy was it a good. Strong, full-bodied and complex drink. The guide called it a Barley Wine, and a Black IPA. Either way I enjoyed it.
Tiny Rebel Brewing Company has been tempting me with their beers for a good 8 months now and I got hold of a Dirty Stop Out (5.0%) which as another excellent porter with smoky tastes and smells, easily in my Top 3 of this year.
I’ll treat you to another photo now, and this is from the Saturday, during a small break (because it was fucking mayhem) I managed to get hold of the Gold Award Winner which was the 5.0% Cumbrian Five Hop by the aforementioned Hawkshead Brewery.
Even got it for free, what a lovely and unexpected treat. Now if you read my thoughts often enough (you’re a masochist) you may be aware that I’m not a fan of massively hoppy beers, but my fears were allayed upon my first smell and taste. A most excellent golden ale, which belies its strength in what would be a quality session ale.
Ilkley Brewery had their own bar, from which I got their Fireside Porter. A lovely, fruity and spicy 4.2% winter warmer if ever there was one.
Wilson Potter Brewery had produced Rock It Fuel (4.1%) which was a great amber ale with a very light ginger twang.
The last beer I got to consume was on the Saturday and it was the 5.0% Oat Mill Stout from Bollington Brewing and it was a stout that went straight into my Top 3 for the festival. Rich and full, sweet and bitter. Wonderful.
Oh, I forgot about the food. It filled a hole – there were pies (big canteen ones, not individual) and burgers, a Mexican Buffet and a Cheese bar oddly. Nothing ground breaking or homely but filled a hole, but my one gripe is that the layout of the food area was confusing, and too close to the stairs where the major foot fall was.
So that is my review of the beers at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2014.
Part 2 to follow shortly.
In the meantime, I’m off to sniff some more plastic bags full of dried plant products.